On August 14th, the first AP poll of the season was released. It featured North Carolina as the number 22 team. NC State was nowhere to be found. On October 15, North Carolina had entered the top 10, while NC State was 4-3. On Saturday night, NC State completed a five-game winning streak by bludgeoning UNC and leaving absolutely no doubt as to who was the better football program. A lot changed over the course of the season, but only to tell the same story that’s been told countless times.
Saturday’s win was an indictment of both programs, but certainly not a new one. NC State has been trudging forward for four years now. Since 2020, State is 34-15. It has started six quarterbacks in those four years and changed starters mid-season eight times. Devin Leary is the only one who might play in the NFL. In 2021, it made it to the season's final game with just four remaining defensive starters available. It still beat UNC. UNC is 31-20 in the same four years with NFL starting quarterback Sam Howell and future top-5 draft pick Drake Maye.
NC State isn’t a strong brand, but it’s a strong program. UNC is a strong brand, but it’s not a strong program. That shows up in the preseason for the Tar Heels, and it shows up on the field for NC State. You can hand out as many Jordans as you want to as many five-star recruits as you want. A strong program that does not make.
That’s the statement State made on Saturday. This is a coaching staff that has a vision for what its program is going to be. It’s a coaching staff that has built successful processes to achieve that vision. It’s a coaching staff that has grown and developed in the interest of winning. Just this year, this team has transformed under the guidance of its head man into something unrecognizable from the first couple weeks. It does not need to be said that this was Doeren’s best coaching job. The groundwork for this sort of turnaround, though, has been laid over years of his tenure.
State has a football culture that is built to deal with adversity and keep moving, which is to say that, in a sport full of attrition, injuries, and shenanigans, it’s built to win. You don’t have to love everything Dave Doeren does, but if you think the culture hasn’t become an asset to the program, you live on the moon. That’s the difference between NC State and UNC that was so publicly on display the last few years. One of the programs has a culture built to win. The other has a culture built to create noise pollution that gets mistranslated into substance.
So NC State has now won 12 of the last 17 against UNC. Dave Doeren has claimed 6 of 8 dating back to 2016. The Wolfpack is now 9-3 with an outside shot at the Orange Bowl. We root for the Noles this coming weekend, but regardless of all that, this team's accomplishment is more impressive than any measurable can dictate. State basically redesigned the offense mid-season, and then more or less did it again this week. Brennan Armstrong was so hurt that he did not throw in practice the week leading up to the UNC game. His legs were the key component of the last two offensive outbursts, and there was no way they could let him carry the ball a bunch of times on designed runs. There was a lot more RPO in this game than read runs, and State had its best offensive showing of the whole year. An injury took away the basis for the whole offense and State found another way. Finding a way is this program's modus operandi, and it's a big part of how we got here. We'll have a lot more on this transformation soon, but for now, please enjoy this list of the last 12 NC State wins over UNC
2007: Tom O'Brien ends UNC's three-game winning streak with a goal-line stand to win 31-27.
2008: Freshman Russell Wilson lights up a ranked UNC team 41-10.
2009: Russell Wilson throws four touchdowns to beat another ranked UNC team 28-27.
2010: TJ Graham delivers the most memorable punt return TD in the rivalry's history as State rallies to beat UNC 29-25.
2011: UNC scores 0 points and manages 3 rushing yards after once again stating their supposed superiority, this time with a pending fifth-consecutive loss on their plate.
2014: NC State runs for 2,442,425,525 yards and obliterates UNC, which was ranked in the preseason, 35-7.
2016: NC State jumps on UNC 21-0 and wins another at Kenan over a UNC team that was ranked in the preseason.
2017: Nyheim Hines does some nasty work in a 33-21 win.
2018: State beats UNC in OT in Kenan while UNC's defense becomes intimately familiar with the back of Reggie Gallaspy's jersey.
2021: Emeka Emezie catches two touchdowns in 26 seconds to beat UNC after trailing by nine with less than two minutes to go.
2022: Scout team QB Ben Finley outplays Drake Maye in 30-27 win in Kenan.
2023: Previously-benched Brennan Armstrong leads State to dominant 39-20 win over a UNC team that was ranked in the preseason.