The Miami Hurricanes’ 2016 season has been a tale of streaks. First, the team got off to a 4-0 start under new head coach Mark Richt. But that was followed by a four-game losing streak at which point many questioned whether Miami would even play in a bowl game.
Since losing a close one at Notre Dame on Oct. 29, the Hurricanes have won their past two games to make them bowl eligible. Now Miami (6-4, 3-3 ACC) has a chance to impress bowl committees with a strong showing on the road in Raleigh against NC State this Saturday.
The Wolfpack (5-5, 2-4) still need one more victory to become bowl eligible and are coming off of a 35-20 win against Syracuse. Matt Dayes powered the NC State offense against the Orange, rushing for 108 yards and three touchdowns on 27 carries.
Saturday will be the 14th time Miami and NC State have played each other. The Hurricanes hold an 8-5-1 edge. The last time Miami visited Carter-Finley Stadium was in 2008 when NC State quarterback Russell Wilson threw for two touchdowns and rushed for another one as the Wolfpack defeated the Hurricanes 38-28.
Miami at NC State
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 19 at 12:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ACC Network/ESPN3
Spread: Miami -3
Three Things to Watch
1. Matt Dayes
On Saturday, Dayes will play his final home game for the Wolfpack. One of the best running backs to play for NC State, Dayes has a chance to break some records if he can find running room against Miami’s defense.
Dayes needs 61 yards to become the first NC State running back with 1,000 in a season since 2002 when T.A. McClendon accomplished the feat. Dayes is currently third in the ACC in rushing (behind Louisville’s Lamar Jackson and Florida State’s Dalvin Cook) with 939 yards.
More than half of Dayes’ yards have come after contact, so the Hurricanes will have their hands full trying to bring down the Wolfpack’s best player.
2. Miami’s pass rush
In last week’s 34-14 win over Virginia, the Hurricanes sacked quarterback Kurt Benkert five times, including a strip sack by defensive back Corn Elder, which was recovered by Joe Jackson. If Miami is going to come away with the victory on the road, the Canes must put a lot of pressure on NC State quarterback Ryan Finley.
Last week against Syracuse, Finley finished 20-of-29 for 340 yards and a touchdown. During NC State’s recent four-game losing streak, Finley was sacked an average of three times per game, so pass protection will be one of the keys for the Wolfpack in this one. On the other side, look for Miami to do whatever is necessary to get after Finley and disrupt NC State’s passing game.
3. NC State’s rushing defense
Miami has three running backs in Mark Walton, Joseph Yearby and Gus Edwards that break off a big gain at any point. This week, that three-headed rushing attack will be tested going up against a stout NC State defense.
Coming into Saturday’s game, the Wolfpack are an impressive fourth in the nation in rushing defense, giving up just 99.4 rushing yards per game. And this is after facing the likes of Louisville, Clemson and Florida State. Miami ran all over Virginia last week, to the tune of 222 yards and two touchdowns while averaging 5.3 yards per carry.
If NC State continues its good work against the run, then the Hurricanes will have to turn to quarterback Brad Kaaya and the passing game to move the ball and produce some points.
While the Miami-NC State game isn’t generating a lot of buzz because both teams are unranked, it should be one of the most exciting matchups on Saturday. Both teams can put up a lot of points and each one has playmakers on the defensive side of the ball.
Miami’s offensive line has performed much better in the last two games. Brad Kaaya has been sacked just twice in the wins over Pittsburgh and Virginia, compared to when he was taken down 18 times during the Hurricanes’ four-game losing streak.
If Kaaya has time to throw, he should be able to exploit the NC State secondary, which is part of the 84th-ranked passing defense in the FBS. The Wolfpack will be able to keep it close because of their defense and running back Matt Dayes, but Miami should have enough to pull off the close win on the road.
Prediction: Miami 31, NC State 28
— 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, the Miami Herald and the Palm Beach Post and is a reporter for Pro Player Insiders. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.