How to Watch: Kickoff at 8:00, ESPN
Spread: Louisville -4.5 (O/U 66), per Bovada
Last Time: Lamar Jackson threw for 355 yards and three touchdowns, while #7 Louisville rolled to a 54-13 win over the Wolfpack. Cole Hikutini led all Louisville receivers with six catches for 118 yards and a touchdown. Louisville’s defense forced three interceptions, while the Cardinals rolled to a 44-0 halftime lead.
Louisville leads the all-time series 6-1, winning all three games since joining the ACC.
Meet the NC State Wolfpack:
After a disastrous loss against South Carolina to open the season, the Wolfpack have since rebounded to win four straight. This includes a road win at Florida State, their first win over a ranked opponent since 2012.
Many pegged them as a dark horse for the ACC this season. After taking down Florida State in Tallahassee, head coach Dave Doeren sees an opportunity to put themselves in the mix. The fifth-year coach has taken the Wolfpack to three straight bowl games, winning two of them. Doeren also led Northern Illinois to an Orange Bowl appearance in 2012, as well as back-to-back MAC championships.
Players to Watch:
- DE Bradley Chubb
Plain and simple, Bradley Chubb is one of the best defensive linemen in the country, and especially the ACC. And that might be saying a lot considering the impressive roster of defensive linemen the conference has, but it’s true. Chubb is a big guy (6’4″, 275) for an edge rusher, and plays the part. He’s incredibly strong with his bull rush, and can shed blocks to make plays. Chubb already has 7.5 tackles for loss and five sacks, making him an early all-conference — possibly All-American — candidate.
It should be of note that it will be a three-week stretch for Louisville against top-flight edge rushers. Louisville will face Chubb, along with Boston College’s Harold Landry and FSU’s Josh Sweat through mid-October.
- QB Ryan Finley
Last year, in victories, Finley threw for a 12/0 TD-INT ratio. In losses? 3/4 ratio, including two close losses against Clemson and Florida State. Finley also threw three picks in the blowout loss at Louisville.
Since then, the redshirt junior has been nothing short of spectacular. The Boise State transfer has been extremely efficient since their bowl game against Vanderbilt, last year; Finley has completed 70% of his passes for 12 touchdowns and zero interceptions, in his last six games. This also includes throwing for a career-high 415 yards in the loss against South Carolina. He’s a game-manager that will rarely kill NC State with turnovers, and is also completing 71% of his passes on 3rd downs of 7+ yards.
For a Louisville defense that has been struggling in pass coverage, a quarterback as efficient as Finley will be a tough test for them.
- H-Back Jaylen Samuels
It’s hard to list where Jaylen Samuels fits, in terms of his NFL prospects. Some see him as a fullback, while others believe he can be a viable third-down back.
Regardless, his role as NC State’s H-back presents a lot of mismatches that the Wolfpack can exploit. Samuels has the versatility (and size, listed at 5’11” and 228 lbs.) to line-up at running back or as a tight end. It’s a role sort of similar to what Braxton Miller was in his senior year at Ohio State, except Miller typically lined up as a wide receiver more.
No matter where he is lined up, offensive coordinator Eli Drinkwitz finds a way to incorporate him into the offense. Samuels has already had two games of 12+ receptions, and eight total touchdowns after five games.
- Turnover Battle
With an extremely efficient quarterback, NC State currently has a +6 turnover margin, tied for 12th in the FBS. Louisville, however, has a -2 margin and has struggled with protecting the football at times. It’s cliche, but protecting the football is often times the easiest way to help you win.
For Louisville, that means forcing a mostly efficient NC State offense to turn it over. They had success last year with a lot of pressure, but Finley is better than he was a year ago. Can guys like Jonathan Greenard and James Hearns create the pressure needed to force Finley off his rhythm? It’ll play a bigger role, if cornerback Jaire Alexander cannot play tomorrow.
- Lamar Jackson v. NC State Secondary
NC State’s front seven is undoubtedly talented, and Bradley Chubb should get his share of big plays tomorrow. One weakness, however, is their secondary. The Wolfpack are currently 117th in pass defense, averaging about 285 yards per game.
For a Louisville offense that is currently sixth in the country in passing, this is a huge opportunity for them. Jackson had a lot of success last year stretching the field vertically, and it’s possible Jackson could do it again with time in the pocket.
One area that should concern people is Jaylen Smith’s availability. In the event he can’t go, it’ll be on guys like Seth Dawkins and Dez Fitzpatrick to step up. Louisville also had Cole Hikutini last year, who created a lot of mismatches against the Wolfpack. How can the Cardinals replace their production, this time around?
- Who Will Run the Ball?
It’s no secret that both teams are very good at run defense. Both teams rank in the top 20 in yards per game (NC State eighth, Louisville 20th). Despite the possibility that neither team could run the ball effectively, whoever can get the big plays out of it could help set-up their passing game better.
For Louisville, that could mean using Lamar Jackson more in the running game. Giving him the ball 20 times will open the door for a big gain, or give Malik Williams some touches. That would set-up a play-action deep downfield and attack an NC State secondary susceptible to big plays.
For NC State, it means getting Nyheim Hines in space. Run the ball well with him, and it sets up two types of play-action passes; one to hit an underneath Jaylen Samuels, or stretch the field with a speedster like Jakobi Meyers.