NC State dominates Wake Forest on the road. Three takeaways from the Wolfpack’s ACC win

N.C. State football (7-3, 4-2 ACC) defeated Wake Forest (4-6, 1-6 ACC), 26-6, on Saturday night.

It was the first time since 2015 that the Pack won on the road in this series — the third time since 2000 — and it did so in commanding fashion.

Quarterback Brennan Armstrong led the pack just days after MJ Morris announced his decision to preserve his redshirt season and sit out the remainder of the 2023 campaign.

N.C. State’s win moves it to 69-42-6 in the series, and ties it for No. 3 in the ACC this season.

Here are three takeaways from the Week 11 ACC rivalry game:

Brennan Armstrong shows off

=Armstrong came into N.C. State facing a lot of expectations.

“He said to me the other day, ‘Coach, man, I just want to have fun. I just want to enjoy playing this game,’” head coach Dave Doeren said Thursday. “You could just see it in his eyes, he was really excited to play. That’s cool. I think he came in with some pressure on him,and there’s no pressure on him right now. Just go play football.”

That joy, lack of pressure and excitement was evident Saturday.

Armstrong recorded three explosive plays before halftime, all coming on third down. He added a 1-yard touchdown rush, rolling over a Wake Forest defender, to start the second quarter and was met with a fist bump on the chest by offensive lineman Timothy McKay.

In the second half, he found Dacari Collins for a 28-yard pass.

He looked more confident and happier than he has in awhile, and it showed up on the stat line. Armstrong finished 12-of-17 passing after a 4-of-4 start and led the team with 96 rushing yards.

He commanded the offense and capitalized on his own opportunities. Finally, the Wolfpack saw the Brennan Armstrong it had been waiting for.

N.C. State head coach Dave Doeren hugs quarterback Brennan Armstrong (5) after N.C. State’s 26-6 victory over Wake Forest at Allegacy Stadium in Winston-Salem, N.C., Saturday, Nov. 11, 2023. Ethan Hyman/ehyman@newsobserver.com
N.C. State head coach Dave Doeren hugs quarterback Brennan Armstrong (5) after N.C. State’s 26-6 victory over Wake Forest at Allegacy Stadium in Winston-Salem, N.C., Saturday, Nov. 11, 2023. Ethan Hyman/ehyman@newsobserver.com

Wolfpack defense dominates

N.C. State’s defense entered the game as one of the best in the nation, notably on third down and in the run game.

Its third down defense (29%) ranked No. 3 in the ACC and No. 9 in the country. It ranked No. 4 in the ACC and No. 20 in FBS for rushing defense, allowing 110.7 yards per game.

The Wolfpack should rise in both categories, while the opposition numbers will inevitably drop after its outing against the Demon Deacons.

N.C. State held Wake Forest to one third down conversion, as well, despite 12 attempts. The Deacs went three and out on five straight drives in the first half.

Previously, the team’s best run game performance came against Louisville, when it held the Cardinals to 20 yards. It set a new season record against the Deacs. N.C. State allowed a measly seven rushing yards on Saturday.

N.C. State quarterback Brennan Armstrong (5) dives in for a touchdown during the first half of N.C. State’s game against Wake Forest at Allegacy Stadium in Winston-Salem, N.C., Saturday, Nov. 11, 2023. Ethan Hyman/ehyman@newsobserver.com
N.C. State quarterback Brennan Armstrong (5) dives in for a touchdown during the first half of N.C. State’s game against Wake Forest at Allegacy Stadium in Winston-Salem, N.C., Saturday, Nov. 11, 2023. Ethan Hyman/ehyman@newsobserver.com

The huddle keeps working

Doeren said this week the decision to huddle before each play — something it hadn’t done earlier this year – made a difference in recent games.

“We weren’t all together in the huddle. We weren’t talking,” Doeren said. “The way we’re talking, the way that we’re connecting, now the guys are playing better around the quarterback and they have to do that in this game.”

That success kept going this weekend, leading the Pack to its excellent performance. It limited penalties, committing just two for 10 yards. It finished with more than 350 yards, including five rushing plays of at least 10 yards.

Five different players finished with multiple receiving yards and four runners finished with at least 30, as well.

Sure, N.C. State finished with more points in other games, but the team looked cohesive in one of its best performances of the year. It felt like things finally came together for an offense that’s struggled all season.

Photos: NC State football defeats Wake Forest with Armstrong back as QB