What matchup will you be keeping an eye on, for NC State’s advantage?
Essad: Running game. Wake is #121 out of 130 in rushing defense. They are allowing 216 yds/game, and have allowed 17 rush TD’s. State needs Bam and Ricky to go off. I think it plays to their favor the run game has struggled a bit recently, and a lot of attention will be paid to Devin Leary. The run game might cook.
JEOHankins2: Our WRs or really I should say “pass-catchers” to include TEs/RBs. I think last week was a bit of a revelation for this team as to how it can use (and trust) guys like Pennix and Toudle to make plays. I have to imagine the WF staff watching tape from last week and trying to figure out how their already struggling defense must now account for guys not heard from outside of Raleigh (this is especially true if they are down a few DBs). Couple that with already recognizing what Emezie, Carter & Thayer can do...whew.
AlecLower: NC State’s rushing attack vs. Wake’s defense. Wake is near the bottom of the conference in rush defense, both in yards per game and yards per carry. The one really big element missing from NC State this year is the run game. If the Pack can figure this out, it could prove pretty hard for Wake Forest to stop.
no23sports: I’ll be keeping an eye on the same thing as Essad. I want to see the offensive line open up some running lanes for Bam and Ricky. I feel like the Pack’s running game has got to be effective against Wake to keep the offense rolling enough to keep up in what is expected to be a high scoring affair. However, we’ve seen enough opponent previews this season where the opponents run defense is not good but the Pack still struggles to get Bam and Ricky going.
PirateWolf: The ability of State’s defensive line to get pressure on Sam Hartman. Wake likes to sling the ball around, yet they rank 33rd nationally allowing just 1.56 sacks per game on over 35 pass attempts per game. State is not an exceptional team at getting to the QB (64th in sacks) and surely will rush three on the majority of passing down plays in this game, while leaving a linebacker to spy Hartman. Can State’s D-line get enough pressure to make Hartman uncomfortable - and hopefully make some mistakes - without the help of the blitz?
Steven: I, too, would like to see some life out of the ground game, which has accounted for like 130 yards over the last two games. If NC State is actually able to cause problems for Wake by running the ball, I feel like that gives the Pack the potential to get 40+ points in this game, but without the help there, the ceiling is in the 30s, which may not be good enough.
What matchup has you worried?
Essad: Sam Hartman is too obvious of an answer. He’s 8th in the country in passing yards, and T-6th in passing TD’s. He’s going to throw, early and often. But I’m going with his stud duo of receivers. Jaquarii Roberson and A.T. Perry are 17th and 18th, respectively, in receiving yards/game, each around 94 yards. Take away these two as options and you have a chance to get big stops. I’d rather not see this become a shootout.
JEOHankins2: I am not worried about our LBs as much as I am concerned with how much experience they have for what they have to account for. Doeren himself has stated that we really only have 4 guys we want to use, so staying healthy is a given. Still, that WF mesh-point offense requires a lot of thinking and quick reaction from the entire defense but especially at LB. Our DL & DBs have played a lot of minutes against this Wake offense with valuable experience, at LB that isn't so much the case...and Hartman is just the kind of QB who can exploit that.
AlecLower: NC State pass defense vs. Sam Hartman and the Wake WRs. State’s defense has been awesome this year, but it’s at its most vulnerable against Teams that can move the ball through the air. That is definitely Wake Forest. State hasn’t faced a ton of highly effective passers this year, the two best being Will Rogers of Mississippi State and Tyler Van Dyke of Miami, which are of course the two games they lost. This is the biggest challenge the defense, particularly the back end, will have faced this year.
no23sports: NC State’s defense has been so good this year, but that slow developing mesh offense is so frustrating to watch and so effective. Can the defense slow that Wake offense down enough? I think it is going to require Tony Gibson finding a way to get some pressure back there quickly and force Hartman to commit to a read faster than he wants.
PirateWolf: One-on-one situations between Wake’s wide receivers and State’s safeties. With Wake’s leading rusher, Christian Beal-Smith, likely out for this one, I envision the Deacs going five wide more often. If that ends up pulling State’s safeties down to cover one-on-one against the wide receivers, that causes me a bit of concern - not just for the safeties covering speedy receivers, but also eliminating another layer of help for the corners. Dave Clawson is great at maximizing opportunities on offense, and I’m imagining he’s scheming up a few plays to try and take advantage of these situations.
Steven: I’m deeply concerned about the unicorn horseshoe Wake has up its rear end when it comes to turnovers. I may have mixed some metaphors there. The annoying thing about the Deacs is it seems like they always do this, while we’re over here living in turnover poverty. It’s rude, frankly.
Wake is +8 this season and its defense has recovered 10 of 15 opponent fumbles. (NC State’s defense has gone 1-for-8.) The Deacs have had an even or positive turnover margin in every game this season but one. Guess which one that was!
Impact player/unit NC State needs a big game from?
Essad: It will be crucial for the offensive line to open those gaps and get the run game going. This gets Devin Leary and the pass game more opportunities. Dave Doeren preaches complementary football, each phase helps the other. Both passing and run games have a chance for big games, but it comes down to Ickey and Crew holding their ground.
JEOHankins2: Essad is right about our offensive line giving our RBs opportunities to get to the second level, so I’ll say our DBs. I think Wake will have some success in the air with their star receivers so it’ll be up to the buys in the backend to make sure tackles in space. Our defensive has been good with forcing teams to make long drives to score, that has to continue this week or trying to play catchup will spell disaster.
AlecLower: Offensive line. Wake can be run on, and NC State has the backs to do it. As a whole, the run game has blown ass over the last couple of games. State will need to put up points in this thing. 28 isn’t going to win. Some effective run-blocking creating a two-dimensional offense would be a huge boost.
no23sports: Great answers from Essad and JEOHankins2. Let me add the LBs to the mix. I think the DB play is going to be crucial and the LBs being able to shut down the run game and get pressure on the QB will help make the DBs’ job a little easier.
PirateWolf: I mentioned the defensive line and safeties already, but I believe it’s the linebackers - specifically Drake Thomas. Sam Hartman isn’t the runner that Malik Cunningham is, but he’s still incredibly effective (4.8 yards per carry, 8 rushing TDs), and he adds the element of still being a threat to unleash a pass at any point before he crosses the line of scrimmage. Thomas is going to have to contain Hartman, pressure him when he does break the pocket, and bring him down in the open field.
Steven: You could make an argument for any part of the defense, since pretty much everybody on that side of the ball has to play really well in order to cause Wake’s offense real problems. State’s pass-rushers have got to get consistent pressure and finish plays when they get to Sam Hartman.
How nervous are you for this game, on a scale of one to the rickety rides at the state fair?
Essad: You know when you get on the ride, and you see a dude on the side literally tightening some bolts just as you start moving? How would you rate that level of nervousness, because that’s where I am. I want this win so badly. At the same time, I’ve spent more than half my life watching NC State lose specifically these types of must-win games. My heart and my brain are at such odds that I think my hair might fall out this week.
JEOHankins2: Call me what you want but I don't ride any rides. I’m more afraid of them than a long tail cat in a room full of rocking chairs. That said I am oddly not nervous...partially because I'm writing this on Tuesday, the other part is because I’ve scenarioed myself to death and could still see a path to winning the ACC after losing this game. But mostly, as I’m sure is true for a lot of us, I’ll believe NC State will win the ACC or the Atlantic when I see it... it's not about the team (who has been wonderful) or Dave (who I am firmly in the fan club) it just hasn’t happened in my lifetime or my fandom. The one year we have the shot to do it, WF is both really good and really lucky and we lose 1⁄3 of our defensive starters for the season...so truth is if we win, I’ll be more nervous after that b/c THEN it’ll feel real.
AlecLower: Not nervous at all. Wake is a good team, and I’ve found over the years that the big games against good teams are far less nerve-wracking than the games that fall in the “should win” category. If you’ve been an NC State for more than 25 minutes, you understand why. Mostly I’m just really excited to see State play in a huge game.
no23sports: Heck yes, I’m nervous. I want so badly to see this Wolfpack team finally make it to the ACC Championship game and Wake Forest is a big obstacle standing in the way of that.
PirateWolf: I am “eating State Fair food and then immediately going on the Ferris Wheel with no emergency bathroom option” level scared. Yeah, things could go well, and a victory would be completely delicious and worth it... but oh, man, the bubbleguts are real and could have dire consequences.
Steven: I am terrified. Crank the terror to 11.
Where would you rank this upcoming game with Wake Forest in magnitude of games during the Dave Doeren era?
Essad: It’s #1, and I think it’s not close. Doeren has never been THIS close to winning the division. Heck, NC State hasn’t been this close to winning the division since 2010, the height of the TOB era. Doeren’s other big wins were meaningful, but didn’t carry the weight this one does. These games make legacies. I try not to put too much stock in the “House of Horrors” thing, but Doeren is 3-1 vs Wake at home, but only 1-3 on the road, with the one win coming in 2015 (35-17 score). It has been a season of firsts this year. Doeren has never beaten Clemson, Louisville and FSU in the same season. This game makes those others worth more, with a trip to Charlotte on the line.
JEOHankins2: As I mentioned before there's still a reasonable path to win the Atlantic if we lose this game. So I can't rank it #1 to me it's Clemson at home in 2017. A win there would’ve nearly guaranteed us the division. Clemson had 1 ACC loss already we had none with @BC, @WF, and Chapel Hill. Had we beat Clemson we would’ve had to drop all 3 games to cede the Atlantic. Hurts just reimagining it and what it would’ve meant for not just State but the landscape of the entire sport during that era.
AlecLower: It’s third by a small margin. Clemson in 2017 is #1, then there’s a decent gap and Clemson in 2018 is #2, followed closely by this coming Saturday. I don’t think enough people knew that, had State beaten Clemson in 2017, all it needed to clinch the Atlantic was one of its last three, which it got the very next week. Doeren really was that close to winning the division over an otherwise playoff-bound Clemson team. That’s #1. This is a monster game for sure, but a Pack win still leaves very little margin for error. Not to be the debbie downer here, but I can’t stress enough that this is not an ACC Atlantic championship game. It’s more of an elimination game for NC State.
no23sports: It’s up there for sure. I’m going to say the top 3 (in chronological order) are 2017 Clemson, 2021 Clemson, and this game. Clemson has owned the Atlantic Division for almost as long as Doeren has been in Raleigh and during that stretch they’ve been a top 5 team in the nation. The Tigers are finally “down” so it feels like the Pack HAS to capitalize this season. The Pack overcame the first major hurdle with defeating Clemson (ranked #9 at the time) for the first time during the Doeren era. Despite the Tigers “struggles” this year, that game still feels like arguably Doeren’s most important win so far with NC State - but will only maintain that importance if the Pack can use that as a stringboard to becoming Atlantic Division champions. Next up is the #13 ranked Demon Deacon team. They’ve been anointed the team to beat in the Atlantic this season after opening up the season 8-0. Wake is a good team for sure but this game feels a lot more winnable than any Clemson matchup in previous years. The Pack controls their own destiny to becoming Atlantic Division champs and Wake Forest is the biggest obstacle left. Do your thing, Pack.
PirateWolf: In terms of ACC title implications, I’d say it’s up there at the top with the 2017 game vs Clemson (where a win would have put us two games up on Clemson in the Atlantic Division in early November). For Doeren personally, I’d put it up there with the 2016 game against North Carolina. He’s obviously not coaching for his job in this game, but it’s one of those scenarios that is a must win for the program to take that next step under him. If he doesn’t win that 2016 game against UNC, there is no next step for him in this program. There will likely be other opportunities like this, but you have to take advantage of them when they’re presented.
Steven: PirateWolf stole my answer. But yeah, that Clemson game in 2017 is still at the top.