Saturday is a true HOMECOMING for the University of Louisville Football team. The Cards have played 4 of the last 5 games on the road and welcome a return to Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium where UofL will play 2 games at home during a 3 week period, including the first BYE of the season.

The big question for Louisville this week is how will the Cards respond after a hard fought loss to Clemson last week.  The loss to the Tigers was the 2nd loss of the season within grasp for the Cardinals whose mistakes on special teams and sputtering offense cost them a win behind a sparkling defensive performance.

North Carolina State has really left people questioning its identity during 2014 as the Wolfpack have had an almost chameleon like season, matching the level of play of its opponent for much of the season.  The Pack struggled in its first two games against Georgia Southern and Old Dominion, dismantled South Florida & Presbyterian before taking defending national champion into the 4th quarter in the Seminoles most stern test since it won the National Championship over Auburn last January.  Then the wheels fell off, a 41-0 waxing from Clemson and then a 30-14 spanking at home vs. Boston College.  Figuring out the level of this Wolfpack team is like trying to solve a Rubix Cube.

Louisville Offense vs. NC State Defense

Louisville had better be ready.  The Cards have gone back and forth between Quarterbacks and will be returning with season opening starter Will Gardner who hasn’t started since September 20th vs. Florida International.  Gardner injured his knee vs. the Panthers and was held out of action until last week vs. Clemson in relief of an ineffective Reggie Bonnafon who struggled against the stout Clemson defense.  With Gardner in the game, the Louisville offense seemed to be able to collect itself and execute more effectively.  The loud environment and different cadence led to some costly penalties, so the Cards really need some consistency at the Quarterback position.

NC State runs a 4-2-5 defense and statistically will be the worst defense that Louisville will face in 2014.  The Wolfpack allow 398.3 yards per game (72nd), Syracuse at 388.7 yards per game (63rd) is the most comparable defensive team and the Cards dispatched the Orange 28-6 two weeks ago, while the Cards were able to gain 352 yards.  The Wolfpack do a nice job defending the pass but are very susceptible on the ground.  Louisville should be able to establish a running game against North Carolina State aided by the fact that the Pack really don’t do a very good job of getting into opponent’s backfields.  Louisville has hurt itself offensively by allowing negative plays, but NC State really hasn’t created many.

I expect that the Cards will provide a heavy dose of Brandon Radcliff & Dominique Brown, but I also think that getting Will Gardner work prior to the BYE week will be imperative to finding a maintaining a rhythm moving forward.  I expect Will to be asked to try and work against a very capable secondary especially when DeVante Parker takes his surgically repaired fifth metatarsal for a test drive against NC State.  Rhythm is everything for this offense and NC State is a good opponent to find some good vibes.  NC State provides some issues: they force fumbles, they don’t create penalties for themselves, and they do an OK job in pass defense.  But NC State is one of the worst 3rd Down defenses in the country.

If there was ever a week for the Cards to look offensively, this is it.

Special Teams

In terms of special teams, NC State has an OUTSTANDING punter but there could be some room to run for James Quick (if he is at PR) as Wil Baumann’s big leg can sometimes out kick his coverage.  This could be a big deal if Quick can catch the ball and maintain possession prior to taking off.  The Cards gave up an punt return for a TD and if Clemson’s Adam Humphries can return a punt for a touchdown, well, almost anything can happen.  As it happens, NC State’s punt return game is almost non-existent and if a big return happens on Saturday for the Wolfpack, Louisville might want to take a serious look at its punt return coverage.  But I think Humphries return is the exception.

The Cards have a distinct advantage in field goal kicking. John Wallace is making a run at Art Carmody’s all-time record and NC State is just 50% on the season.  Neither team should get much on kickoff return.

Louisville Defense vs. NC State Offense

I saved the Cardinal defense for last because it’s like dessert, you save the best for last.  This defense is outstanding, it has swag, and it loves the sound of a punter’s foot hitting leather.  These guys get off the field and lead the nation in 6 defensive categories that I track:  Total Defense, Opponent First Downs Per Game, Interceptions, Opponent 3rd Down Conversion %, and Opponent Red Zone TD Conversion %.  The Cards are also in the Top 5 of several others.

NC State likes to run a hurry-up style of offense with Florida Transfer QB Jacoby Brissett. Brissett has had success this season and has completed 133 of his 215 attempts with 14 Touchdowns and just 2 Interceptions for 1573 yards.  Jacoby is also a threat to run and is a much better passer than Hunt from Syracuse a few weeks ago.  Louisville will have to account for both.

The Wolfpack are a balanced offensive set, but we wouldn’t really consider NC State a potent offensive group.  They do a nice job of avoiding negative plays, but they do allow a decent amount of sacks. Because of NC State’s hurry-up, if the Cards can get off the field it’ll happen quick and Louisville should be able to control Time of Possession.  To compare, NC State’s offense is in the middle of Miami & Syracuse and the Cards handled both of those teams just fine.  I expect more of the same on Saturday.

My Prediction 

I think Louisville gets it’s first game since Miami where the Cards pass the “look” test.  Despite the loss, Louisville played much better football against Clemson and while the turnovers and mistakes were still present UofL showed a lot of improvement.  The Louisville defense should really like this match-up against NC State and the offense will have its most favorable match-up of the year.  This is a ‘get right’ game for the Cards, NC State could give UofL some trouble but Louisville should win this game by two scores or more.

Louisville should really do everything it can to limit mistakes, especially penalties & turnovers.  It is just a matter of time before Louisville has a game where everything comes together and I do expect that the Cardinal running attack will establish what Petrino wants to do on offense.

Louisville 38, NC State 9

Series History 

Louisville leads the series against the North Carolina State Wolfpack 4-1, including winning the most recent match-up in the 2011 Belk Bowl 31-24 at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, NC.

Stat Comparison

Louisville NC State
Scoring Offense (ppg) 31.0 (61st) 30.9 (62nd)
Total Offense (ypg) 370.6 (100th) 414.1 (66th)
Passing Offense (ypg) 229.0 (74th) 225.9 (77th)
Rushing Offense (ypg) 156.5 (77th) 141.57 (93rd)
Scoring Defense (ppg) 14.1 (3rd) 28.7 (84th)
Total Defense (ypg) 230.7 (1st) 398.3 (71st)
Passing Defense (ypg) 170.4 (11th) 207.4 (31st)
Rushing Defense (ypg) 60.29 (1st) 190.86 (95th)
Punt Returns (ypr) 6.15 (95th) 4.42 (114th)
Kickoff Returns (ypr) 24.59 (20th) 19.59 (88th)
Opponent Punt Returns (ypr) 9.74 (85th) 8.69 (75th)
Opponent Kickoff Returns (ypr) 22.73 (96th) 17.71 (21st)
Punting (ypp) 41.69 (63rd) 47.40 (3rd)
Field Goal % 80% (30th) 50% (113th)
Opponent Field Goal % 92.30% (113th) 63.6% (42nd)
First Downs (per game) 19.1 (101st) 22.7 (52nd)
Opponent First Downs (per game) 12.0 (1st) 21.0 (68th)
Penalties (ypg) 55.9 (66th) 38.0 (13th)
Turnover Margin (season) +2 (44th) +1 (53rd)
Time of Possession 33:40.57 (10th) 28:08.29 (99th)
Sacks (per game) 3.43 (14th) 1.71 (86th)
Sacks Allowed (per game) 3.29 (117th) 2.14 (74th)
Tackles for Loss (per game) 7.86 (10th) 5.71 (76th)
Tackles for Loss Allowed (per game) 7.71 (119th) 3.57 (7th)
Interceptions (season) 14 (1st) 5 (69th)
Passes Defended (per game) 6.71 (4th) 3.71 (91st)
Fumbles Recovered (season) 3 (81st) 6 (29th)
Fumbles Forced (season) 4 (79th) 7 (17th)
Fumbles Lost (season) 12 (127th) 7 (104th)
Kicks/Punts Blocked (season)
3rd Down Conversions (%) 37.07% (94th) 46.74% (25th)
Opponent 3rd Down Conversions (%) 21.50% (1st) 51.46% (124th)
4th Down Conversions (%) 66.67% (27th) 42.86% (87th)
Opponent 4th Down Conversions (%) 14.29% (3rd) 50.0% (47th)
Red Zone Conversions (%) 89.66% (28th) 82.76% (65th)
Opponent Red Zone Conversions (%) 66.67% (8th) 76.92% (37th)
RedZone TD Conversions (%) 72.41% (21st) 72.41% (21st)
Opponent Red Zone TD Conversions (%) 27.78% (1st) 53.85% (41st)
Kickoffs (ypk) 63.29 (24th) 63.93 (10th)
Plays 519 (12th) – 7 games 484 (24th) – 7 games
Yards Per Play 5.00 (109th) 5.99 (50th)

 PRE-GAME VIDEOS

Click This Link to Watch Grantham With your Mobile Device

Click This Link to Watch Gaines With your Mobile Device

Click This Link to Watch Mauldin With your Mobile Device

Click This Link to Watch Reve With your Mobile Device

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@UofLSheriff50. Louisville native, University of Louisville Business School Grad c/o 2004. Co-Founder of TheCrunchZone.com

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