Everything You Need To Know: Louisville Vs. NC State

Spread: Louisville -4, O/U 45 (Bovada)

Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. ET

TV / Radio: RSN / 93.9 The Ville (Channel 929 for Spectrum, Channel 646 for DirecTV, Channels 724 / 1724 for AT&T/UVerse)

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Louisville and NC State were tied at 7-7 after the first quarter, and the Cardinals led the Wolfpack 10-7 entering the fourth quarter. However, three touchdowns from NC State quarterback Devin Leary in the final quarter — four in the game — powered the Wolfpack to a 28-13 win over the Cardinals. Leary finished with a stellar outing, completing 25-of-36 passes for 317 yards and four passing touchdowns. Louisville had a balanced effort with 219 passing yards and 215 rushing yards, with quarterback Malik Cunningham leading the team in both categories.

Louisville leads the all-time series 7-4. Louisville and NC State have split their last eight meetings, dating back to the 2011 Belk Bowl.

Entering the Game: NC State

NC State ended up with a stellar season in 2021, finishing 9-3 and second in the ACC Atlantic Division behind Wake Forest (its two conference losses coming by a combined four points to Miami and Wake Forest).

2022 was shaping up to be a year for the Wolfpack to potentially win its first ACC title since 1979, but losses to Clemson, Syracuse, and Boston College derailed those chances. Nevertheless, NC State has had a solid season so far. The Wolfpack enter Saturday afternoon with a 7-3 record, and ranked 24th in the CFP poll.

NC State Offense: What to Watch

A lot of NC State’s hopes at winning the ACC were riding on the shoulders of returning quarterback Devin Leary, who quietly put together one of the best seasons in the conference last year. Leary completed 65% of his passes for 3,433 yards and threw 35 touchdowns to just five interceptions. There was optimism for him to not only be the best quarterback in a loaded ACC pool this season, but a potential Heisman candidate.

While NC State kept on winning games, Leary never had the gaudy stat totals from 2021. He completed 61% of his passes for 11 touchdowns and four interceptions, and averaged just over 200 passing yards per game. Then his season ended with a torn pectoral muscle against Florida State, leaving NC State in a lot of trouble on offense.

They started Jack Chambers at quarterback against Syracuse, and couldn’t get in the end zone once. Then freshman MJ Morris comes in against Virginia Tech, and the Wolfpack offense was reinvigorated. Morris strung together back-to-back games with three touchdown passes against the Hokies and Wake Forest, completing 67% of his passes in those games. However, he is coming off a pedestrian performance against Boston College, one which saw him complete half of his passes and average 5.6 YPA. Nevertheless, Morris has shown flashes to be a quality Power Five starter with his ability to hit deep throws and good pocket presence shown in the first two games.

Unsurprisingly, Thayer Thomas has been the focal point of the passing game since the Wolfpack no longer have Emeka Emezie. Thomas has twice as many receptions and yards as the next leading receiver (Keyon Lesane; 24 rec., 266 yards), and he’s a dangerous threat from the slot. He’ll likely get his on Saturday, but Louisville will need to watch out for Devin Carter (19 rec., 276 yards, TD) as an outside threat. He hasn’t had a chance to be as productive as Thomas, but Carter has been able to reel in big plays in a pinch.

NC State’s offense generally has been at their best under head coach Dave Doeren with a stout running back (Nyheim Hines, Zonovan Knight to name a couple). Jordan Houston (111 rushes, 459 yards) and Demie Sumo-Karngbaye (55 rushes, 305 yards, three TDs) are a solid duo at the position that can be used as receivers, but the latter was forced to leave last week with an ankle injury. Part of the issue is an offensive line that hasn’t been at its best in run blocking; NC State’s OL ranks 115th in stuff rate (from Football Outsiders), which measures how many carries are stopped at or behind the line of scrimmage. They’re also ranked 87th in line yards, and the lack of an explosive run game has resulted in a somewhat stagnant offense at times.

Players to Watch: QB MJ Morris (60.5% completion, 7.5 YPA, seven TDs, INT); WR Thayer Thomas (49 rec., 569 yards, four TDs)

NC State Defense: What to Watch

Anybody that watched NC State’s defense last year would tell you they had the best linebacker group in the ACC. All of those guys returned in 2022, and they’ve performed up to the lofty standards set for them.

Normally I cover defenses from the line to the secondary, but it really does start with NC State’s linebacker group. Isaiah Moore, Drake Thomas, and Peyton Wilson are all outstanding players that can single-handedly take over games. All three guys are top three on the team in TFLs (Moore and Thomas with 10+ TFLs apiece), and they are outstanding blitzers and run stoppers. It makes trying to contain blitz packages in their 3-3-5 scheme all the more challenging, because you don’t know who is coming from where. It’ll be a fascinating chess match on Saturday between Louisville’s zone run scheme and NC State’s 3-3-5.

Their defensive line has guys that can plug holes and let the linebackers roam free, which is the best thing you can say about a 3-3-5 base defense. Cory Durden (16 tackles, 1.5 TFLs) and Davin Vann (six TFLs and QB hurries) have been fantastic against the run, a huge part in NC State leading the ACC in rushing defense (92.3 YPG).

Cornerback Aydan White is a playmaker in the secondary that can take advantage of rushed / errant throws from opposing QBs. He had two interceptions in NC State’s win over Texas Tech back in mid-September, including an 84-yard pick six. Tanner Ingle (56 tackles, five TFLs, INT) is a well-rounded safety that can play in single-high looks or in the box. The secondary is a nasty group that has been able to force turnovers, leading the ACC in interceptions (16)

Players to Watch: LB Isaiah Moore (12.5 TFLs, three PBUs, 56 tackles); LB Drake Thomas (73 tackles, 11 TFLs, five sacks, 19 QB hurries); CB Aydan White (four INTs)

Keys to the Game

  • Which offense will make the least amount of mistakes?

NC State and Louisville’s defense are both neck-and-neck as far as being able to create havoc on quarterbacks. The Wolfpack and Cardinals are the two best teams in the ACC in interceptions (NC State’s 16 to Louisville’s 14). Both teams are also top four in the conference in takeaways.

Both teams are also dealing with banged up quarterback situations, and I have precisely zero idea on who is starting for either side. Regardless of who does start, I think it’s going to come down to who can play more efficient football; avoid turnovers, keep the chains moving, don’t force anything that isn’t there. I forecast this game being similar to the Louisville-Pitt one last month, where the defense ultimately makes a play that decides it.

While Louisville has a decisive advantage in sacks over NC State (36-21), NC State is definitely good enough to force errant throws and rush opposing QBs into making bad decisions.

  • Can NC State’s running game find life against Louisville?

A common trend in each of Louisville’s four losses this season has been an inability to contain the running game, especially from ripping off big plays through the ground. Three of Louisville’s four losses have seen the Cardinals allow at least five yards per carry, including 5.5 last week at Clemson.

NC State’s running game hasn’t averaged over five yards per carry since the UConn game in September, but they’re going to need to get it going against a Louisville defense that thrives in forcing turnovers. If NC State is forced into too many long yardage situations, it could be a struggle for the Wolfpack offense once again.

  • Louisville will need to find a way to make big plays happen, especially passing

In a game like this against NC State, Louisville will need to find that one play that can turn the tide and flip field position. Louisville should be confident that it can get a big run from Tiyon Evans, but will they be able to via passing?

Tyler Hudson, to nobody’s surprise, is going to be the key guy for Louisville’s passing game. He’s entering Saturday off back-to-back 100+ yard games, and he’s had five straight games with 5+ catches. Louisville has been thin at receiver, but he’s come through for the Cardinals when they need him. Getting a few more big plays from him would help Louisville’s offense out tremendously.

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