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NC State Wolfpack vs. East Carolina Pirates Preview and Prediction

Matt Dayes

Matt Dayes

One of the many reasons college football is such a great game is because of the magnitude of its rivalry games. Unlike most in the NFL, a number of college football rivalries have lasted more than a century. While the NC State-East Carolina rivalry hasn’t been around that long, it is one of the most heated in the state of North Carolina.

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On Saturday, the Wolfpack and the Pirates will meet for the third time in seven years. The two teams last met in 2013 when the Pirates defeated the Wolfpack 42-28 at Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh.

Last weekend, NC State won its opener against William & Mary 48-14 behind running back Matt Dayes’ 138 yards rushing and two touchdowns. East Carolina also was victorious in its season opener, rolling over Western Carolina 52-7.

East Carolina has won two straight against NC State and seven out of the last 11 meetings.

NC State at East Carolina

Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 10 at 12 p.m. ET

TV Channel: ESPNU

Spread: NC State -4.5

Three Things to Watch

1. Ryan Finley

After completing 81 percent of his passes against William & Mary, Ryan Finley will be NC State's starting quarterback against East Carolina. He also threw for 174 yards and two touchdowns in the win. Finley's performance certainly caught the eye of East Carolina head coach Scottie Montgomery.

“At quarterback, they've done a good job bringing in a person that understands the offense,” Montgomery said at his weekly press conference. “He was on fire last week. He didn't miss but about three or four throws, so it's a challenge as well on defense and I think we will be up to it. We just have to have a great week of communication practice and work."

Finley transferred from Boise State in May as a graduate student. On of the major reasons Finley decided to come to Raleigh is that his former offensive coordinator at Boise State was Eliah Drinkwitz, who is now in the same position with the Wolfpack.

East Carolina will need to get a lot of pressure on Finley to force him to make errant throws. That’s something William & Mary was unable to do.

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2. Zay Jones

East Carolina’s Jones is probably the nation’s underrated wide receiver in college football. He is the Pirates' best weapon on offense and the Wolfpack secondary will have to keep a close eye on him.

Last season as a junior, Jones caught 98 passes for 1,099 yards and five touchdowns. Last week against Western Carolina, Jones recorded 10 catches for 180 yards and a touchdown.

Montgomery knows how much of a game-changer Jones is for East Carolina’s offense.

“He did some fantastic things with the football and without the football, Montgomery. “(It was) a very unselfish game by him.”

3. NC State Defense

In the Wolfpack’s last two games to end the 2015 season, their defense surrendered a total of 96 points to archrival North Carolina and Belk Bowl opponent Mississippi State. The NC State defense will against have its hands full slowing down East Carolina quarterback Philip Nelson and his high-powered offense.

One thing that the Wolfpack has going for them is they have a number of playmakers on that side of the ball. Defensive lineman Bradley Chubb, who finished the 2015 season with 5.5 sacks, is expected to take on a bigger role defensively following the departure of sack leader Mike Rose.

East Carolina also will have to pay close attention to junior linebackers Airius Moore and Jerod Fernandez, who have played together for the last three seasons. Moore led the Wolfpack in tackles a year ago with 77. Fernandez started eight games last season and recorded 47 tackles and two interceptions.

Final Analysis

In a weak Week 2 schedule in college football, this game in Greenville has the potential to be one of the better games of the weekend. Both NC State and East Carolina should put up a lot of points in this contest, so the game will come down to which defense can make more stops.

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NC State has the more experienced defense, but teams have been able to move the ball against the Wolfpack. If East Carolina can slow down running back Matt Dayes and NC State’s rushing attack, that will set up tougher situations for Finley and the offense.

This game could go either way, but it is hard to go against East Carolina at home, even against an ACC opponent.

Prediction: East Carolina 38, NC State 34

— 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.