RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina State coach Dave Doeren spent the weeks leading up to the season repeatedly saying his Wolfpack team was ready for a big step forward after years of building depth and experience.
Halfway through the schedule, his team is proving him right.
Nyheim Hines ran for two touchdowns while the defense slowed reigning Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson to help No. 24 North Carolina State beat No. 17 Louisville 39-25 on Thursday night.
“Told our team it was coming, told y’all it was coming, some of you believed me, some of you didn’t,” Doeren said. “But I’m really excited and you can just feel it right now in our locker room. They believe they’re the best team. And they’re playing hard and they’re playing together and they’re tough — and it’s fun, a lot of fun.”
The Wolfpack (5-1, 3-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) got contributions throughout the lineup. Hines ran for 102 yards and had a 48-yard kickoff return in the fourth quarter to set up a touchdown drive. Ryan Finley directed a passing attack that posted two 100-yard receivers and a third player who finished with 99 yards.
Then there was the defensive front — led by preseason Associated Press All-American Bradley Chubb — that kept the pressure on Jackson. Jackson ran for two scores and threw a touchdown pass, but the Wolfpack sacked him four times and got a clinching interception return for a touchdown late to close out the Cardinals (4-2, 1-2).
“We come into every game knowing nobody can beat us if we go out there and play Wolfpack football,” said Jaylen Samuels, who had 104 yards receiving. “The confidence is very high. We know what we’ve got and what we can accomplish.”
Finley threw for 367 yards and a 48-yard score to Kelvin Harmon, part of N.C. State’s 520 total yards on a night it never trailed.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” Cardinals coach Bobby Petrino said. “I’m not getting it done. I’ve got to do a better job with our coaches, do a better job with our players and get back on the right track.”
Louisville: The Cardinals didn’t do much to slow the Wolfpack to offset some of Jackson’s usual brilliance, and that might have all but ended Louisville’s title hopes in the league’s Atlantic Division. They had already lost at home to reigning national champion Clemson and now find themselves two games back in the loss column of the standings.
“I didn’t think we played well at all defensively,” Petrino said.
N.C. State: That’s the first 3-0 start in the ACC play for the Wolfpack since 2002. And with wins over Florida State and Louisville, the preseason dark horse in the Atlantic Division has beaten two of the teams picked to finish higher in the standings to position itself as the division’s likely top challenger to Clemson.
“They don’t want to be denied what they feel is theirs right now,” Doeren said, adding: “There’s no flinch in these guys, I can tell you that.”
Jackson’s second rushing score pulled the Cardinals to 32-25 with 4:10 left, then the Cardinals got the ball back with a chance to tie it. But linebacker Germaine Pratt picked up a deflected pass and returned it 25 yards, ending when he blasted through Jackson’s attempted tackle near the goal line with 2:52 left.
“That’s a quarterback,” Pratt said. “He’s not going to tackle me.”
Both Jackson and Petrino said the throw was a bad decision.
“I made the wrong read,” Jackson said. “I went to the field, and I was supposed to go to the boundary. That was my fault. I put that on me.”
Hines, a 5-foot-9, 197-pound Wolfpack track star, is thriving after converting from receiver to running back. He has now run for at least 92 yards in four straight games.
“He just plays angry,” Doeren said. “He’s competitive. He’s spirited. … And he plays football like he runs track — he’s trying to get a personal best all the time.”
Louisville: The Cardinals host Boston College on Oct. 14.
N.C. State: N.C. State visits Pittsburgh on Oct. 14 in cross-division league matchup.
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