RALEIGH, N.C. —
Stressed-out North Carolina State sure could use a breather. Coach Tom O'Brien doesn't expect one this week — not even against last-place Virginia.
The Wolfpack (5-3, 2-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) have played four straight games that have come down to the final minute, so when they face the struggling Cavaliers (2-6, 0-4) on Saturday, they hope they can put them away much earlier.
Yet they aren't expecting anything resembling a carefree afternoon against the only team winless in ACC play.
"They're not a 2-6 football team," O'Brien said. "All week long, we've talked about, 'You're not playing a team that's 2-6. You're playing a good football team. You've got to be ready to play.'"
O'Brien has a decent teaching tool at his disposal to emphasize that point — the game film from last year's matchup.
Back then, Virginia was flying high and contending in the Coastal Division while N.C. State was in a mini-tailspin, but the Wolfpack claimed a 28-14 win.
"This is a back-against-the-wall game for both of us," O'Brien said.
That's because both teams are looking to bounce back.
N.C. State is coming off a 43-35 loss to rival North Carolina in which the Wolfpack allowed the winning touchdown on a long punt return with 13 seconds left. That bitter result left them 2-2 in their stretch of four dramatic finishes — a run that also included an upset of then-No. 3 Florida State.
Virginia spent its week off trying to figure out how to snap its six-game losing streak in which three of the last four losses were decided by seven or fewer points. A win keeps the Cavaliers' fading bowl hopes alive, while a loss will clinch their fourth losing season in five years.
"You can look down the road at those things, but my main concern is the most and the immediate," coach Mike London said. "That is the next game, the next game with N.C. State, with the opportunity to, if we play well, have a chance to win. Then you can worry about adding up wins after that."
The Cavaliers figure to test N.C. State's potent passing game with a defense that has played better than perhaps the final scores would indicate. Virginia ranks third in the league in total defense, giving up nearly 357 yards per game, yet is just 10th in scoring defense, allowing an average of nearly 31 points.
Their young secondary, which has four sophomores and three freshmen on the two-deep — will try to slow a Wolfpack passing game that is the league's second-best and has thrown for at least 300 yards in three of four games.
"You hear about that on the TV games they play, not letting it be kind of be seven on seven where he jumps back and he can stay in the pocket and just throw the ball," London said of N.C. State quarterback Mike Glennon. "He's definitely a major concern for us."
The Wolfpack know they can't afford any more losses if they are to catch Atlantic leaders Florida State and Clemson and play their way into their first ACC championship game.
The ninth-ranked Seminoles and 10th-rated Tigers each have one league loss while N.C. State has two — and still has Clemson to play — so O'Brien's team has no room for error the rest of the way.
"Now we've just got to move on, keep worrying about ourselves and hope Florida State loses," Glennon said.