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Louisville Cardinals vs. NC State Wolfpack Preview and Prediction

Jacoby Brissett

Jacoby Brissett

The NC State Wolfpackand the Louisville Cardinals have started their seasons on two entirely different paths. For NC State head coach Dave Doeren and his team, it will be their first conference test after starting the season 4-0.

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In their last game against South Alabama, the Wolfpack scored a school-record seven touchdowns as they defeated the Jaguars 63-13.

Louisville begins its second year in the ACC with a losing record to begin the young season. Bobby Petrino's Cardinals are 1-3 as they have lost to Auburn, Houston and Clemson. Louisville’s lone win of the season came last week as they defeated Samford 45-3.

Last season, NC State lost at Louisville, 30-18 behind 173 rushing yards and a touchdown by Michael Dyer.

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Louisville at NC State

Kickoff: 12:30 p.m. EST (Saturday)

Network: ACC Network/ESPN3

Spread: NC State -4.5

Three Things to Watch For

1. Louisville rushing defense

The Cardinals rushing defense has been one of the worst in the country during its first four games of the season. Louisville has given up an average of 172.3 rushing yards per game, which ranks 75th in FBS. This week, they will be lining up against one of the nation’s best running attacks in NC State.

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The Wolfpack have averaged 259 rushing yards per game through their first four games, which ranks 16th in the country. Running back Matthew Dayes has rushed for 454 yards this season and he also leads the nation in rushing touchdowns with nine.

Louisville will have to win the matchups at the line of the scrimmage if they are expected to slow down the Wolfpack rushing attack. The Cardinals only have 4.5 tackles for a loss through the first four weeks, so that will certainly have to improve.

2. Jacoby Brissett

NC State quarterback Jacoby Brissett has been one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the country. The senior has thrown for 809 yards, six touchdowns against zero interceptions and has a 77.9 completion percentage, which is the best in college football.

While Louisville has lost against Auburn, Houston and Clemson, their passing defense has been solid. The Cardinals are allowing an average 175.5 yards per game, which is the 32nd-best in college football.

The Louisville defense leads the FBS with nine interceptions. They were able to intercept two passes from preseason ACC Player of the Year Deshaun Watson in their close 20-17 loss against Clemson. This will be the biggest test of the season for Brissett.

3. Lamar Jackson

It isn’t often a freshman quarterback can come in right away and produce at the FBS level, but that was certainly the case for Louisville’s Lamar Jackson.

In his first four games of the 2015 season, Jackson has thrown for 495 yards, two touchdowns against four interceptions, while completing 60 percent of his passes. This week, the Boynton Beach, Fla., native will have a tough task of gaining yards against the NC State.

NC State ranks third in the nation in total defense as they have given up an average 205.8 yards per game. If Louisville is going to pull off the upset on the road, Jackson will have to limit the mistakes and play his best game of the season.

Final Analysis

The Wolfpack are on a seven-game winning streak, which is the longest active streak among ACC teams. NC State hasn’t had any problems going through their first four opponents so far this season, but Louisville should provide them with more of a challenge.

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This game is as close of a must-win for Louisville as it can get. If the team falls to 1-4 on the season, a bowl invitation in December could be in doubt. The team still has to play Florida State, Pittsburgh and Kentucky all on the road.

If the Cardinals can stop the run and put pressure on Brissett, they have a chance to keep the game close. Even then, it will be tough for Louisville to keep up with the ninth scoring offense in the country (46.3 points per game).

Final Score: NC State 38, Louisville 24

— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, Pro Player Insiders and is a reporter for Sports Talk Florida. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.