At Saturday at noon eastern, the NC State Wolfpack travel to Louisville to take on the No. 7 Cardinals. The two teams enter on different wavelengths and with much different goals in mind. Here are five storylines and matchups to follow in this ACC Atlantic division battle.
If not for a complete collapse by the field-goal unit and kicker Kyle Bambard, NC State would have defeated Clemson. The Wolfpack should have won the game. They essentially did win the game, or at least were set up for victory if not for the position of kicker. Bambard missed three total kicks in that game, including the pending game-winner. He also missed a kick the week before against Notre Dame. There is no situation in which State will feel confident going to him in this Louisville game, if he is even given the chance to play.
Home versus Road
NC State is a prohibitive underdog in this game because it isn’t as talented as Louisville, but also because the Cardinals will be at home. Thus far this season, Louisville is a perfect 3-0 at home, including a thrashing of Florida State. Meanwhile, NC State is 0-2 on the road, which includes a loss to a mediocre East Carolina squad. If the Wolfpack don’t overcome their environment, they won’t compete in this one regardless of gameplan.
NC State and Louisville have both played the Clemson Tigers. Both games took place on the road. Both games were one-score finals. Each team seemed capable of exerting its own pace onto Clemson despite playing in Death Valley. This is a good sign. In the NC State game, it took overtime for either team to top 20 points. Clemson turned the ball over four times and couldn’t reach the endzone. In the match with Louisville, it turned into a shootout because that is what the Cardinals wanted. Though both teams eventually lost to the Tigers, neither seemed outplayed or outclassed. As they now face each other, it will be interesting to see which pace of play dominates.
Matthew Dayes versus the Louisville rush defense
Through six games, senior running back Matthew Dayes is on his way to having a career season. He has collected nearly 800 total yards while averaging 5.6 yards per carry on the ground. Dayes has 120 carries on the season; no other Wolfpack running back has more than 18. He has broken off runs of at least 25 yards in four different games already.
Louisville is known for its offense, but it also has a pretty good defensive unit. On the year, the Cardinals are 11th in the country in total defense and 32nd in rushing defense. They are also 11th nationally in third-down defense and a top-30 unit on first downs. This may make for tough sledding for Dayes, though he has performed just as well against the better opponents NC State has played as compared with the weaker ones.
Lamar Jackson versus the NC State defense
No one stops Lamar Jackson. No defense has even contained the Heisman hopeful yet this season. The numbers are insane. Jackson is so good that his rushing numbers are superior to those of Matthew Dayes, and Jackson throws the ball about 33 times per game on top of that! Jackson’s “worst” game of the season was probably last week against Duke. He was admittedly bad through the air but buoyed that with 144 yards and a touchdown on the ground.
NC State has a chance to shut down Jackson in similar fashion. The Wolfpack have the 16th-best defense statistically and are downright stingy against opposing running games. Clemson managed just 3.0 yards per carry on 39 attempts last game. Only four teams in the country allow fewer rushing yards per game than NC State. Since Jackson is probably a better runner than he is a passer, this bodes well for State. It may give Jackson his toughest test yet this year.