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Syracuse vs. NC State: Five headlines to watch for

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What to watch out for in this weekend’s matchup for the Wolfpack

NCAA Football: North Carolina State at East Carolina James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

The Syracuse Orange and the North Carolina State Wolfpack meet this Saturday, and both come into the contest with a 4-5 record. Each school is in hot pursuit of becoming bowl eligible, which can occur if they win two of their next three games.

It will be interesting to see which school best recovers from last week’s losses. NC State sustained another heartbreaking defeat, while it seemed like the Clemson Tigers scored on the Orange the minute they got off the team bus. The team that can put their struggles behind them will have a distinct advantage heading into this week’s contest.

Here are five storylines to watch for in the NC State/Syracuse game:

Who’s The Syracuse Starting Quarterback?

Syracuse starting quarterback Eric Dungey suffered an apparent concussion near the end of the first quarter in a loss to the Tigers last weekend. Heading into the NC State game, head coach Dino Babers has been non-committal on who will start this week because Dungey is still under concussion protocol, so it will be a wait-and-see approach until the doctors have made their evaluation. As of right now it’s not looking good for the Oregon native.

The logical choice is Austin Wilson, who replaced Dungey last Saturday and threw for 116 yards. He is a pro-style quarterback who posses a strong arm and should excel in Babers’ pass-happy offense. Syracuse will have no shot of winning this game if Wilson becomes a turnover-prone nightmare.

Syracuse Defense Can Disrupt NC State Rushing Game

Coming into this week’s contest, the Orange defense is considered to be playing their best football despite being handed a devastating defeat by the Tigers last weekend. The consensus is that Syracuse lost to probably the best college football team not named the Alabama Crimson Tide.

The key to defeating the Wolfpack is not letting their offense find any rhythm on the football field. Syracuse’s entire linebacker unit has been exceptional at shedding blocks and getting involved on tackles. It’s imperative for linebackers Zaire Franklin and Parris Bennett to become more active and slowdown NC State running game. Each has done a terrific job of recognizing which hole the lead back is trying to run through and immediately filling that gap.

The Wolfpack Offense Needs to Regain its Confidence

The Wolfpack offense has been teetering on great success all year, and now they have a great opportunity to make their case for being bowl-worthy this Saturday. The team has been in a tailspin of late by losing their last four games in a row after starting the year 4-1.

NC State can win this game if they can score touchdowns on their first couple of possessions. It’s very possible, as the offense has averaged close to 27 points-per-game with a balanced attack this season. If there’s any sense of urgency, the coaches can turn to the offense’s security blanket, running back Matthew Dayes, who is third in the ACC in rushing with 841 yards.

NC State Defense Must Create Havoc

NC State has lost four in a row despite holding their opponents under 25 points in three of those four losses, and they will be tested this week by Babers’ offense. The Wolfpack front seven is better than advertised because they can pressure the quarterback and create turnovers. They have allowed just 91 rushing yards-per-game, and Syracuse running attack shouldn’t provide much of a challenge this week.

Defensive end Bradley Chubb relishes the pressure of being the unit’s top defender. He has recorded 13 tackles for losses and six sacks this year. Blocking Chubb will be a challenge, as Syracuse best course to attack the Wolfpack defense is through the air.

The Wolfpack’s Passing Game Needs More Production

NC State quarterback Ryan Finley has done a terrific job of managing the game by completing 61 percent of his passes. Finley has excellent pocket presence, and has the knack to get rid of the ball before a pass rusher penetrates into the backfield. He has been sacked only 12 times this season.

The key to winning this week is the Wolfpack must play four quarters of clean football and successfully execute certain pass plays that keeps the Orange defense from loading the box with nine defenders. No one has made more of an impact in the passing game than FB/TE Jaylen Samuels, who is the team’s leading receiver this season.