2019 felt like a tipping point for NC State. It wasn’t, and if you really dug into the details, you would see that there was still a wealth of building blocks for Doeren to play with, but nobody could be blamed for thinking such a thing. It made sense from a distance that NC State was done, having careened off a cliff to a 4-8 tire fire of a season that coincided with the resurgence of its in-state arch-rival. Throw in the fact that Doeren rebuilt his entire staff and was met immediately with the challenge of a very limited preseason, and NC State failing to be competitive in the ACC for a second straight season was the logical conclusion.
But it proved an erroneous conclusion, and an enormous amount of credit is due to the staff for overcoming a minefield of obstacles to produce a team that is now 5-3 in the ACC and 6-3 overall. It’s not just that NC State is a solid football team. It’s that it’s a solid football team under circumstances that would seemingly render that impossible. If you had told me that, after everything in the offseason, the Pack would lose three starting DBs and Devin Leary for the season, I may have never even turned on the TV this year.
But NC State forges on. That is something to be said about this year’s team in contrast to the 2017 and 2018 editions that were Doeren’s best teams. This team doesn’t stack up against that group in any world, but who cares, it forges on anyway. It isn’t defined by its mistakes and injuries, of which there are many. It’s being defined by its ability to fight through them, and that is something we haven’t seen before.
Nowhere was this more true than Saturday night against Liberty, when NC State set an ACC record for how far up its ass it could stick its own head. But it won anyway. In the face of a mountain of largely self-inflicted errors, it still dug its heels in and invented a way to score more points than the other team. I can’t think of a State team in my lifetime, and certainly not under Dave Doeren, that’s had that distinction. But here we are, State is 6-3, and sure, it could easily be 7-2, but it could also easily be 3-6. After years of finding a way to be worse than it should be, it’s no longer that team. It’s found a way to be better.