The Wolfpack thus far have some incredible defensive stats…..and they’ve played some pretty ghastly offensive (and I mean OFFENSIVE) offenses thus far. Troy ranks 123rd, Old Dominion 124th, South Alabama is 91st and Eastern Kentucky is an FCS program. So it isn’t surprising that NC State’s defensive stats position The Pack near one of the top units in the nation. Even though North Carolina State’s actual position in the rankings may be in question due to the schedule, it’s a good bet that NC State is still a good team defensively given what they did last year and given Dave Doeren’s defensive history.
NC State plays a 4-2-5 style for the most part and will attempt to funnel Lamar Jackson into the middle. The Wolfpack have a strong secondary and with rain in the forecast for the next few days, including on Saturday, it’s a safe bet that the Pack’s DBs will play close to the line of scrimmage and challenge Louisville to throw the ball while attempting to take away the Cardinals’ running game. UofL also has not had much success running the ball with its running backs, Brandon Radcliff has 52 carries for 200 yards and Jeremy Smith has 14 carries for 41 yards, that’s 3.65 yards per carry and that won’t cut it. North Carolina State routinely gave up long rushing plays a year ago a trend that has continued vs. subpar competition in 2015.
One other thing North Carolina State has not done well despite its lackluster competition is making tackles behind the line of scrimmage. The Pack average just 1.75 sacks per game and 6 tackles for loss each contest despite having huge leads in all 4 games. Coincidentally Louisville has done a pretty bad job in both areas as well. If Louisville can gain yardage on 1st & 2nd down instead of going backwards the Cards have an excellent chance to win on the road……..if NC State gets behind the line of scrimmage and starts making plays at a rate higher than they have all season then Louisville faces a tougher challenge on Saturday and throughout the season.
Through the air, if Lamar Jackson has time to collect himself and make the right read he’ll still have a tough secondary patrolling. If Lamar’s threat to run keeps the Wolfpack on their heels there may be more room for the WRs than NC State is accustomed to giving up. The biggest question here is whether or not Jackson’s decision-making is ready for the ACC level. Can Lamar throw the ball away when the play is dead? Can Lamar decide when to not force a throw? When to go down? And just overall ball control. Jackson was fantastic vs. Auburn and Samford, but really struggled in a tight one vs. Houston. There is no question about Lamar Jackson’s arm strength, speed, or agility. Petrino is a master at developing quarterbacks, the question is whether or not he’s had enough time to develop Lamar adequately to win this game on Saturday.
Can Louisville run the ball and avoid the negative play? Can NC State keep Lamar Jackson within the tackles? Can NC State stop long rushing plays? How much will rain affect the play calling? How much of a regression to the mean does NC State’s defense come down from its previous 4 games? How much has Lamar Jackson grown in 4 weeks as a true freshman QB? The answers to these questions determine who wins the game.