Last Time: Louisville marched out to a 17-7 halftime lead on two touchdowns from freshman Lamar Jackson, and held off NC State en route to a 20-13 win in Raleigh. Jackson had 107 yards passing on 10-of-27 passing, but added 121 more on the ground, including a 68-yard touchdown run in the first quarter. The Louisville defense held an NC State offense with Jacoby Brissett to 228 total yards.
Louisville leads the all-time series 5-1.
About the NC State Wolfpack
The Wolfpack are led by head coach Dave Doeren, who was tasked with leading them back into the ACC Title fold after former coach Tom O’Brien was fired in 2012. NC State has improved under Doeren’s tenure, but they haven’t secured a marquee win in the era (in spite of coming so close to winning at Clemson last week). The Wolfpack haven’t necessarily been a force in the ACC, but they’ve not been terrible either.
In a positive light for the ‘Pack, though, is that they’ve maintained bowl eligibility, which will always help if NC State can get enough good players to challenge for a division title down the road. Doeren has had great success with mobile quarterbacks with guys like Jordan Lynch (when he was the head coach at Northern Illinois) and Jacoby Brissett. He’s got himself another transfer quarterback in Ryan Finley, who’s been solid but not producing the eye-popping numbers some quarterbacks in the ACC have already done. Prior to the Clemson game, Finley had not committed a turnover; but against a significantly better defense that the Tigers have, the Wolfpack relied on a strong running game and forced turnovers to stay alive. It also helps that Finley’s offensive coordinator (Eli Drinkwitz) was also with him at Boise State, so the familiarity helps him throughout a tougher ACC schedule.
NC State also has a 4-2-5 nickel defense that Duke showed last week against Louisville, and there’s a lot to like with their front seven. Bradley Chubb leads a group that could see two or three guys end up as All-ACC candidates, and while they haven’t had a murderer’s row of a schedule, they played outstanding against a talented Clemson offense last week. They’ve been successful at stopping the run and forcing turnovers, so the threat of doing so against Louisville is very possible. If we are to believe that the Atlantic has three dominant teams in Florida State, Louisville and Clemson, NC State would definitely be a solid fourth option within that division in 2016.
Players to Watch
- RB Matthew Dayes: Dayes stands out as one of the better running backs in the ACC, and has been insanely productive with a strong offensive line. Dayes has rushed for 100+ yards in every game except for Old Dominion, and is flirting with the single-season school record (Ted Brown’s 1,351 in 1978). Dayes can either one cut and go the distance, and has size similar to Brandon Radcliff (5’9″, 213 lbs.). Dayes had 68 yards and a touchdown last year against Louisville.
- TE/RB Jaylen Samuels: Samuels is quarterback Ryan Finley’s biggest target. This isn’t necessarily an indictment on NC State’s receiving corps or a quarterback problem (in fact, Finley is an underrated player). But they love to use Samuels as both a runner and a receiver, and he’s a reliable target for an offense that lacks a dominant deep threat. Samuels had a productive day last year with 75 yards and a touchdown against the Cardinals, so expect him to stay a consistent threat for the offense.
- DE Bradley Chubb: The Wolfpack defense is a strong force that can stop the run, and Chubb leads the ‘Pack in that regard. With Louisville facing — and at times struggling — to stop a great defensive front, Chubb’s athleticism at the edge could pose problems for Louisville’s offensive line, but whether that is enough to contain an uber-athletic quarterback like Lamar Jackson remains to be seen.
Keys to the Game
- Establish the O-line. Louisville’s offensive line has been tested against two quality defensive lines in the last two games, and it’s hindered the Louisville passing game. The offensive line has to prove that they can handle an athletic pass rush and give Lamar Jackson time to throw the football accurately. This is a game where Jackson can really excel at throwing downfield, and in what will likely be better conditions than last year’s game, that might be the key to beating the Wolfpack.
- Contain Dayes/Samuels. On the other hand, Louisville’s awesome front seven has continued to hold most running games down for the most part (only Wayne Gallman has run for 100 yards from the position this season). For Louisville to shut down the NC State offense, they will have to find a way around NC State’s strong O-line and contain the duo of Dayes and Samuels. Expect the linebackers to play a key role in trying to stop both, whether it’s man coverage or sending some on a blitz.
- Win outside matchups at WR. As much as I can praise NC State’s front seven, their cornerbacks are prime matchups for Louisville to take advantage of. Duke’s defense managed to keep Jackson’s passing game at its worst all season, so it will be interesting to see if (A) the NC State front seven can frustrate him in the same manner, and (B) if Lamar can make accurate throws to guys like Jamari Staples and Jaylen Smith on the perimeter.
40-21. Last year, Louisville’s offense was really hindered by the rain at Carter-Finley Stadium, and Lamar Jackson had a monstrous day running the football on his own. However, the defense managed to carry them to a victory and limited a really talent quarterback throughout the game. I’d expect much of the same for the defense, but Jackson has another 200/100 yard game and the Louisville offense eventually pulls away after a competitive NC State team keeps it close for three quarters.