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Reading the Cards: NC State at Louisville Game Preview

Reeling after three straight losses, the Wolfpack are looking to pick up a pivotal win before heading into a much-needed bye week despite being rather large underdogs.

Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

Is it bye week yet?  After a rough stretch of ACC games that was full of emotional high points and low points that has seemingly lasted an eternity, NC State will have one more game to go before reaching that elusive bye week.  However, that's not to say that the competition will be any weaker than they have seen throughout the course of this season.   The Wolpack are travelling to Papa John's Cardinal Stadium, attempting to pick up the pieces after their disconcerting loss to Boston College.

This is the first meeting between the two teams since the 2011 Belk Bowl, in which Mike Glennon scored three touchdowns to win, but I digress.  In the all-time series, Louisville leads the Wolfpack 3-1, including a win for Louisville in the Kragthorpe era, one that was not exactly teeming with wins.  Since that time, Louisville has come a long way, winning another BCS bowl game and emerging from multiple small-scale conferences to take their spot in the national spotlight, as they earned a spot in one of the nation's premier conferences:  The ACC.

So far, Louisville has been somewhat successful, but they've had two key slip-ups, losing a defensive battle with conference foe Virginia, as well as dropping a close one to Clemson after playing poorly offensively.  There's no doubt that Louisville's practices leading up to this game have been relentless, as will the play of the Cardinals, a team that will be out for vengeance.

NC State has been busy this past week as well, but not for the right reasons.  A few days ago, seven NC State players were suspended from the team due to their frustrating decision to play a game with BB guns.  One of the key suspensions was that of Jerod Rodriguez, the current team leader in total tackles.  State's defense is already hemorrhaging yardage, so losing key tacklers is quite the detriment--one that the Wolfpack cannot afford.

How NC State Wins:

  1. Having a competent defense:  It goes without saying that State's defense has left much to be desired in their last  few outings.  They have allowed roughly 480 yards in their last three games, the last two of which have been embarrassing.  UofL's offense, however, has looked discombobulated against any major opponents this season.  They are in the lower half of the league in terms of total yardage per game, something that Louisville isn't accustomed to given the offense of past seasons that was led by Teddy Bridgewater.  Their offense has been inefficient, as they haven't been able to find some semblance of a system that works to their benefit.  In the case of their loss to Clemson, Louisville had great trouble getting the standard ten yards, as they only had 10 first downs on the day and were 1/17 on third down.  NC State's defense hasn't been great--or good for that matter--but if Louisville can't get their gears working on offense, the burden will be taken off of the State defense.
  2. Capitalizing on UofL's poor special teams play:  Clemson didn't score an offensive touchdown all day against the Cardinals, but they still managed to notch a victory.  How exactly was something so absurd allowed to happen?  Much of the blame can fall on the play by the Louisville special teams unit.  After Louisville had a three-and-out on the opening possession, they punted the ball to Adam Humphries, who was allowed to run it all the way back with a 72-yard touchdown reception.  After that, Louisville did a good job of containing him, but their special teams unit committed a few key penalties that only further advanced the ball for Clemson after they were getting the ball back--help that Clemson desperately needed.  Louisville gave this game to Clemson, and if we're so lucky, they might just do the same for State.
  3. Pouncing on the UofL QB situation:  The quarterback battle at Louisville is mighty interesting as of late.  At the beginning of the season, Will Gardner was logging minutes as the key starter, but after suffering an injury in the FIU game, true freshman quarterback and Louisville native Reggie Bonnafon was placed in Gardner's spot.  While Bonnafon is the more athletic of the two, there is no doubting that Gardner is a better passer, which makes sense given his experience advantage.  There are still questions regarding which quarterback will be Petrino's go-to guy, but he certainly isn't putting all of his eggs in one basket, as the rushing tandem of Dominique Brown and Brandon Radcliff has been a force for Louisville.  This quarterback situation, however, contributes to offensive inefficiency, as there's not a great deal of consistency.  If State can get Gardner or Bonnafon flustered, they could have a great time defending Louisville.

As it stands, Louisville is a 17.5 point favorite over NC State, which is quite understandable.  The biggest obstacle that isn't self-inflicted that is standing in the way of NC State pulling off a large upset is Louisville's defense.  It is currently the best in the country and it will no doubt give Brissett and company headaches.  NC State has shown difficulty scoring quite often this year (i.e. that 41-0 blunder against Clemson), so this game already has many fans begrudgingly penciling in a loss for the Wolfpack and having them limp into a bye week.  Despite the pessimism, the fact still remains that this season still has many chapters left unwritten, waiting for State to make its mark.