This rivalry is weird. Every game is like a heightened experience. There’s something about it that brings out different looks in these teams than what they showed the rest of the season. Mack Brown doesn’t have the same animosity of “I simply must beat NC State” that Roy Williams had. That guy loved beating the Wolfpack, and honestly, I have to respect him for it. Game recognize game.
Dave Doeren, on the other hand, has spent the last decade absorbing every inch of tarheel dislike, letting it soak deep into his subconscious. In the last two decades as far as I can recall, there has not been a previous NC State coach across basketball and football, men’s or women’s, that has said out loud how much they want to beat unc. It’s unheard of in the current era of curated “coach-speak”. Most coaches would talk about, “yeah it’s a rivalry matchup, but we want to approach it like it’s any other game”, etc. etc. Doeren says out loud what we’re all thinking. Now, he doesn’t go so far as to criticize the fans for being wishy-washy entitled w(h)ine and cheese frontrunners, because of course that’s an exaggeration that would probably be crossing a line and he has more class than that.
Speaking of which, here’s a video of Dave after his team won 35-7 for his first win over unc in 2014:
5 days till State/UNC!— Two Man Wolfpack Podcast (@TwoManPackPod) November 21, 2023
We’ve reached the Doeren era and 6 wins ago, Dave got his first win over the Heels. It was a 35-7 beat down led by Jacoby Brissett.
Dave’s postgame interview of the win has always stuck with me, so I’m just going to leave it here. Salty Dave at his best! https://t.co/Kt5NKVRzK9 pic.twitter.com/JUnZf1uJPz
A lot of times, Twitter is basically a hellspace of the worst the internet’s denizens have to offer. But the week leading up to State-Carolina is always fun because people post all sorts of clips and highlights of big wins from goneby days when you remember when you had hair. I’d nearly forgotten Dave’s hair wasn’t gray when he first got here. Doeren was thrown headfirst into this rivalry and had to swim quickly. Many times, these games make or break a coach’s tenure at NC State, for better or worse.
Fast forward to 2023, Dave Doreen doesn’t necessarily NEED to beat unc this year. After delivering one of his best coaching performances to get the current squad to 8-3 with 10 wins still on the table, he’s about as far away from the hot seat as you can get. His record against the heels is 6-4. It could use some padding but quite positive. He’s delivered in successive years two of the most memorable wins this back and forth series has seen. But still, he knows what this game means to the team, to the fans, and now, to himself.
He also knows that both teams are coming in with tied records, though both have taken circuitous routes to get there:
(I just realized that kinda sorta looks like the state of North Carolina reversed)
After starting 6-0, the tarheels hit their annual November swoon a few weeks early. Mack’s teams have had a habit of saying, “nah I’m good” to finishing seasons strong. That being said, they still have immensely talented dudes on the roster. Dave knows that leaving it up to chance like they have the last two years is not a recipe for success. He said prior to the Wake Forest game that in order to win a tough road game where they’ve historically struggled it can’t be a 50/50 game, it can’t be left to the officials, and it has to be definitive.
There seems to be a newfound sense of urgency in his voice these last few weeks. He challenged his team after the bye week to go on a five game win streak to end the season, and they’re one win away from that goal. After 11 years, he’s become an extension of the fan base. He knows that the crowd is going to be coming in ready to rock. Considering the nosebleed seats were really expensive on aftermarket ticket sites, it’s clear people have been ready and waiting for this game. This week, he was asked about the timing of the game again being the final one of the season and on this holiday weekend. He rightfully advocated for keeping it right where it is. He knows how much this game means and the league should put some respect on it by keeping it in this weekend and in prime time.
Part of me worries whether everyone wants it too badly. Senior days have a weird way of causing the home team to come out without the necessary focus, see 2022 vs BC, a game that still stings the heart. I know Dave relishes every victory over them, though I’d venture he enjoys beating Clemson a touch more, but who can blame him. Here’s hoping he can get them locked in right from the opening kick to the final whistle. He may not necessarily need the win to help his job status, but he definitely wants it. Yeah it’ll help the Pack get a better bowl, but for Dave one more win over carolina it’s one more proof of concept that substance over style wins out.