Three things to know about NC State, Kentucky football's TaxSlayer Gator Bowl opponent

Jon Hale
Louisville Courier Journal
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LEXINGTON - Here are three things to know about Kentucky football's TaxSlayer Gator Bowl opponent, NC State.

1. A major turnaround

The 2020 season has not been kind to many teams, but NC State heads into bowl season thanks to one of the biggest improvements from 2019.

The Wolfpack were 4-8 in 2019, 1-7 in ACC play. This year, NC State won 8 of 11 regular season games. Two of the three losses came to ranked foes, North Carolina and Miami. The other came in Week 2 at Virginia Tech.

Dave Doeren's team handed No. 23 Liberty its only loss of the season in a 15-14 victory on Nov. 21 and finished fifth in the ACC. The Wolfpack were ranked No. 22 in Sunday's Amway Coaches Poll.

Background:Kentucky football to face NC State in the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl

The 8-3 regular season represents a return to form for Doeren's program, which has won at least seven games in five consecutive seasons before 2019. Doeren is 55-45 in eight seasons at NC State.

2. A Youngstown tie

Kentucky coach Mark Stoops will see a familiar face on the opposite sideline when the Wildcat defense takes the field.

NC State offensive coordinator Tim Beck is a former high school teammate of Stoops' at Cardinal Mooney in Youngstown, Ohio. Beck is a year older than Stoops. UK recruiting coordinator Vince Marrow and safeties coach Frank Buffano also attended Cardinal Mooney.

Because of the Youngstown connection, Beck was a popular target of speculation early in Stoops' recent offensive coordinator search. Stoops eventually hired Los Angeles Rams assistant quarterbacks coach Liam Coen for that job, but Coen will not coach in the Gator Bowl.

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Beck's NC State offense ranks 36th nationally in passing yards per game (262.4) and 45th in points per game (31.1) in his first year as coordinator. The Wolfpack are averaging 391.5 yards per game.

"Tim and I are really good friends," Stoops said. "I haven't talked to him in a while to be honest with you, but Tim and I go back to our high school days. ... Tim is a competitor and he's a very good coach. ... He's been around and he's very experienced. He’s been a very good coach there, very good this year. They are a tempo team. They're playing very fast."

NC State running backs coach Kurt Roper coached at Kentucky in 2005.

3. A rare matchup

Kentucky and NC State have met just twice before in program history and not since 1970.

Kentucky won the last meeting 27-2 in Lexington. It was one of only two Wildcat victories in the 1970 season. The only other meeting came in 1909, when NC State was still known as North Carolina A&M. The Wolfpack won that game 15-6 in 1909. It was Kentucky's only loss that season.

Considering how rarely the two teams have faced off, there are few ties between the two programs.

Corey Edmond, UK's director of performance, did play at NC State from 1987 to 1990.

Email Jon Hale at; Follow him on Twitter at @JonHale_CJ

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