Everything you need to know: Louisville at NC State

Kickoff: 7:00 p.m. ET (Friday)

TV / Radio: ESPN / 93.9 The Ville

Spread: Louisville -3, O/U 55.5 (FanDuel Sportsbook)

Last Time:

On a frigid November afternoon at Cardinal Stadium, Louisville was able to grind out a 25-10 win over NC State on Senior Day. The Cardinals were led by a strong performance from Jawhar Jordan, who had 105 rushing yards and two total touchdowns, including a 98-yard kickoff return touchdown in the second quarter. Louisville’s defense also did its part in the game, logging five sacks and holding the Wolfpack to 291 total yards.

Louisville leads the all-time series 8-4. Louisville has won five of eight meetings against NC State since joining the ACC in 2014.

Heading in: NC State

NC State would go on to finish 8-5 last season, eventually winning their rivalry game against North Carolina in the regular season finale.

The Wolfpack enter Friday night’s game with a 3-1 record, holding wins over UConn, VMI, and Virginia with their lone loss coming to #10 Notre Dame at home. Dave Doeren is in his 11th season as head coach, the second longest tenure of any current ACC head coach in football (Clemson’s Dabo Swinney holds the longest tenure at 15 seasons with the Tigers).

NC State Offensive Outlook

When Louisville and NC State face off on Friday night, it will mark the third time this season that the Cardinals will be facing a team with a quarterback that their opponent acquired from the transfer portal. NC State picked up former Virginia starter Brennan Armstrong to lead the team after losing longtime starter Devin Leary to Kentucky in the portal, and also reunited him with his former offensive coordinator, Robert Anae.

So far, Armstrong’s numbers haven’t been terrible, but it hasn’t been close to his production from 2021. He’s completing 60% of his passes for five touchdowns and four interceptions, but he is coming off a 15-for-31 outing against Virginia last Friday. He’s a tough runner and will give it his all in the run game, but improvements in the passing game need to be made.

That is especially evident because Jordan Houston, their starter at running back last year, opted to redshirt and sit out the remainder of the 2023 season. Their running game hasn’t been very strong against Power Five competition, averaging just 3.34 yards per carry and 110.5 yards per game against both Notre Dame and Virginia. With Houston out, expect a rotation of Michael Allen (21 carries, 117 yards), Kendrick Raphael (22 carries, 111 yards), and Delbert Mimms III (22 carries, 84 yards), the latter whom has scored four touchdowns through the season. Allen got the most touches in last year’s game against Louisville and scored on a 34-yard receiving touchdown, I’d expect him to be the back to watch against U of L.

NC State has usually had one reliable receiver throughout the Dave Doeren era, and they’ve had one break through this season with freshman Kevin Concepcion. “KC” has more than doubled the next leading receiver in receptions and yards, he’s a quick receiver that can get open and get yards at any level of the field. Expect him to be a frequent target on Friday like Lewis Bond and Ryan O’Keefe were for Boston College.

Players to Watch: QB Brennan Armstrong (60% completion, eight total TDs, four INTs); WR Kevin “KC” Concepcion (22 rec., 238 yards, two TDs)

NC State Defensive Outlook

The Wolfpack once again returned Tony Gibson as defensive coordinator and so far, they’ve been a solid unit in 2023. They head into Friday’s game ranked sixth in the ACC in rushing defense, seventh in passing defense, and sixth total.

One big difference for them from last year’s game to this one, is the fact they will have linebacker Payton Wilson in the game. Louisville was able to rush for 192 yards in last year’s game against NC State without Wilson, the second-highest allowed by the Wolfpack all season.

And that’s not to say Louisville won’t have any success against NC State on Friday, far from it given their success all season with the offense. But Wilson is a well-rounded, big linebacker that will have a huge impact on the game. He can play in run support and pass coverage equally well, it wouldn’t surprise me to see him as a first round player next spring in the NFL Draft.

NC State has other playmakers on defense that will give Louisville a run for its money. Red Hibbler has been a game changer on the defensive line with 3.5 sacks through four games, which leads the team. Davin Vann has been very good on the interior with two sacks to his credit as well, with NC State having 11 on the season as a whole. This could be one of the better front sevens that Louisville faces all season.

Their secondary is led by Aydan White, who was a First-Team All-ACC corner last season. White is a tremendous player in coverage and he can play very well in run support, he’ll likely draw the assignment of defending Jamari Thrash outside. Sean Brown has been solid at safety with three PBUs, 22 tackles, and an interception through the first four games.

Players to Watch: LB Payton Wilson (46 tackles, 2.5 TFLs, INT), CB Aydan White (eight tackles, sack, PBU, INT)

Keys to the Game

Louisville will need to keep the NC State front seven on its heels

NC State’s front seven will be among the best that Louisville faces all season, and the fact that this is going to be Louisville’s first true road game all season could pose some challenges as far as getting the snap count and cadence right.

But Louisville will need to do its best at mixing up the playbook and keeping the NC State front seven from teeing off in the backfield to force long yardage situations. Notre Dame was able to have success against NC State utilizing their running game and parlaying it into successful play action passes in the short and intermediate game, which happens to be one of Louisville’s strongest attributes on offense so far.

Louisville has to keep the Armstrong to Concepcion connection contained

Concepcion is hands down the biggest threat for NC State’s receiver group, but the Wolfpack haven’t shown any other playmakers at that position. Nor did they last season against Louisville, as the Cardinals had five sacks and held both Ben Finley and Ryan Chambers to 17-of-42 passing.

For NC State to pull off a win on Friday, they’ll need to get Concepcion going early and often. If they can get him involved as Boston College did with Lewis Bond and Ryan O’Keefe, that will give NC State a chance to upset Louisville.

Louisville has to limit the damage that Armstrong can bring with his legs

Those that played for Louisville in 2021 remember that Armstrong threw for 487 yards against them (and 313 against them in 2022), but he did have two interceptions in each of those contests. He was also sacked a total of 12 times in those two games combined, including seven last year.

NC State does have a better line though than Virginia did in those two games, which has allowed Armstrong to show more of his ability as a runner. Louisville will have to keep Armstrong from extending plays with his feet and getting easy yards on scrambles to force short yardage situations.

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