RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) North Carolina State coach Dave Doeren knew his young players had to play significant roles for his Wolfpack to make a postseason push in his second year.
Heading into Saturday's game against Georgia Tech, that group has helped N.C. State climb within a win of bowl eligibility.
''We've gotten better and I think that's all you can ask for when you're playing with a ton of freshmen and sophomores - that you see the team improving as the course of the season goes,'' Doeren said. ''I feel like we've done that.''
N.C. State (5-4, 1-4 Atlantic Coast Conference) has started seven true freshmen, tied for fifth among bowl subdivision programs, according to the school. It has played 23 true or redshirt freshmen this season, a year after going 3-9 and having the program's first winless league record since 1959.
January enrollee Bo Hines is the team's leading receiver with 34 catches for 443 yards, including a 54-yard touchdown catch just 18 seconds into a September game against top-ranked Florida State. Offensive guard Tony Adams has started five games, while redshirt freshman defensive end Pharoah McKever - a converted receiver - had the game-turning 82-yard interception return for a touchdown in last week's 24-17 win at Syracuse.
That win snapped a four-game midseason skid as well as a 12-game league losing streak.
''Most people that are in this program that are young are used to winning at a high school level,'' Hines said. ''So they're not really used to taking losses like that. And we're not going to be.''
The Yellow Jackets (7-2, 4-2) have won two straight games since losing two in a row in October. Georgia Tech has the league's top offense (473.8 yards) and is scoring 36.9 points with its run-heavy attack, though its defense is tied for a league-worst 6.4 yards allowed per play.
''We're just trying to keep the thing going and see if we can stay in the race for the Coastal Division,'' Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson said.
Here are things to watch with Saturday's Georgia Tech-N.C. State game:
DEFENSIVE TURNAROUND?: Georgia Tech's struggling defense looked better in holding Virginia to 22 yards rushing in last week's 35-10 win. Was it a radar blip or the start of consistent play? ''I think the last game against Virginia was the best game we've played this year,'' coach Paul Johnson said, ''so hopefully we can take that momentum and build on it.''
INJURIES: Georgia Tech will be without B-back Zach Laskey for the third straight game with a shoulder injury, while fellow runner Charles Perkins is out with a knee injury, according to the team's injury report. Synjyn Days has two straight 100-yard games in Laskey's absence and could have a shot at another big day.
QB PLAY: N.C. State and Georgia Tech rely heavily on their quarterbacks. Wolfpack quarterback Jacoby Brissett ranks third in the league in total offense and has thrown 17 touchdown passes with three interceptions. Georgia Tech redshirt sophomore Justin Thomas ranks fifth nationally among quarterbacks with a team-best 80.1 yards rushing per game to go with 14 TD passes.
SPEED OF THE SCHEME: N.C. State coach Dave Doeren said his players worked hard to prepare for Georgia Tech's triple-option attack but the scout team can't run it nearly as quickly as the Yellow Jackets do. That means his team will have to adjust quickly Saturday. ''As the game goes, you get better and better at playing it,'' Doeren said. ''So you've got to survive early in the game and have some good things happen and make some plays.''
ROAD SUCCESS: The Yellow Jackets have won six of their last seven trips to Raleigh to face North Carolina State dating to 1996. The Wolfpack's last home win against Georgia Tech came in 2000. Georgia Tech is 15-12 in ACC road games under Paul Johnson.
AP Sports Writer Charles Odum in Atlanta contributed to this report.
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