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NC State vs. UNC: Key matchups to watch

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NC State needs a win to get bowl eligible, and also a win would mean UNC loses, which is good too.

NCAA Football: North Carolina State at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

NC State travels to Chapel Hill this Friday in their annual rivalry game against North Carolina. Kickoff is scheduled for 12 pm ET at Kenan Stadium in Chapel Hill and it will be broadcast nationally on ESPN. The Pack’s game against their in-state rival always looms large on the schedule, but this year’s matchup is even bigger for the Wolfpack. If NC State wins, they become bowl eligible and keep their season alive. If they lose, they have a long offseason to wonder how a season that seemed so promising back in September managed to go so wrong.

Five games into the year, NC State looked like one of the best teams in the ACC with a 4-1 record. That seems like a long time ago after the Wolfpack have managed to lose five of their last six games. They desperately need to win this game to right the ship and keep this season from seeming like a total disaster.

NC State head coach Dave Doeren could well be coaching for his job. If they lose to the Tar Heels, that would mean that NC State finishes with a losing record for the second time in his four seasons coaching the team. If they win, it would mark three straight years in a bowl game. This is undoubtedly the biggest game of Doeren’s coaching career. These will be the matchups to look out for:

Elijah Hood vs. NC State Rushing Defense

Hood is likely licking his chops to face the Wolfpack D again. He ran for a career-high 220 yards against NC State last season in Raleigh. He should find it much tougher this time around against a Wolfpack rushing defense that is ranked sixth in the nation, giving up an average of just 102.1 yards rushing per game.

Ryan Finley vs. UNC Passing Defense

Finley has done a fine job this season leading the NC State offense. The sophomore quarterback has thrown for 2,669 yards and 15 touchdowns with just 8 interceptions. He will face one of his stiffest tests of the season against a UNC passing defense that is ranked 12th in the country, giving up an average of 178.5 yards per contest. Finely will have to avoid turning the ball over and stay cool under pressure. It will be difficult when he is faced with the rabid Tar Heels fans screaming their lungs out whenever NC State has the ball.

Matthew Dayes vs. UNC Rushing Defense

While the UNC passing defense is very good, they are very bad against the run. They are ranked 115th in the nation, allowing opponents an average of 233.4 yards per game on the ground. If the Tar Heels play true to form, Dayes should find plenty of running room. The senior tailback is already over 1,000 yards rushing on the year, and he will need to add significantly to that total if the Wolfpack are going to come out on top.

You cannot underestimate the importance of this game. NC State must find a way to win this game to save their season and possibly their coach’s job. It should be a hard-fought contest that may well come down to the final possession.