In heartbreaking fashion, the Wolfpack lost at Clemson last week 24-17 in overtime. NC State missed a 33-yard field goal at the end of regulation that would have won the game. In overtime, the Tigers scored on their first possession before Marcus Edmond intercepted Wolfpack quarterback Ryan Finley in the end zone as Clemson stayed undefeated and kept its College Football Playoff hopes alive.
Last week Louisville also got a tougher than expected game at home, as the Cardinals outlasted Duke 24-14. Sophomore quarterback Lamar Jackson accounted for 325 yards of total offense against the Blue Devils and two touchdowns to break this total to 30 (15 passing, 15 rushing) on the season. Although the final margin was just 10 points, Louisville dominated Duke in total yards, outgaining the Blue Devils 469 to 239.
In last year’s matchup, Louisville edged out NC State 20-13 behind Jackson’s 224 total yards and two touchdowns. The Cardinals lead the all-time series against the Wolfpack 5-1.
NC State at Louisville
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 22 at 12 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ABC
Spread: Louisville -19.5
1. Louisville running game
The biggest matchup to watch on Saturday could be Louisville’s ground game vs. NC State’s rushing defense. The Cardinals rank third in the country in rushing, averaging a whopping 305.7 yards per game. Lamar Jackson leads Louisville and is fifth in the FBS with 832 yards in six games. He’s averaging a gaudy 7.4 yards per carry.
The Wolfpack have been one of the stingiest teams to run on thus far, currently ranking fifth in the nation at just 95.3 rushing yards per game. Last week, NC State limited Clemson to just 117 yards on the ground, well below the 178.2 the Tigers were averaging prior to that game.
2. Matt Dayes
After having his 2015 season cut short because of a foot injury, Matt Dayes is showing once again why he’s one of the ACC’s most productive running backs. In six games, Dayes has rushed for 669 yards and four touchdowns. He is third in the conference in rushing behind Florida State’s Dalvin Cook and the aforementioned Jackson.
Dayes has posted three straight 100-yard games and has gone over that mark in 10 of his last 14 contests. Louisville is 32nd in the nation in rushing defense at 133.2 yards per game. So it isn’t a given that Dayes will continue his hot streak, but one way or the other, the Wolfpack will need to find a way to move the ball on the ground.
3. Drew Bailey
Because of his great performance against Duke last week, Louisville’s Bailey was named ACC Defensive Lineman of the Week. The senior end recorded 11 tackles versus the Blue Devils, the most by a Cardinal at that position since Elvis Dumervil back in 2005. Bailey also had three tackles for a loss and helped Louisville’s defense limit Duke to just 110 rushing yards.
On the season, Bailey has 26 total tackles, 4.5 tackles for a loss and 1.5 sacks.
For the first time in school history, NC State will be playing in consecutive road games against top-10 opponents. Much like last week, the Wolfpack will have their hands full.
NC State held its own (and nearly pulled off a huge upset) at Clemson, but Louisville will be ready to attack the Wolfpack’s running game. The Cardinals’ defense should be able to contain Matt Dayes just enough to force Ryan Finley to try and beat them through the air.
In six games, NC State has committed just seven turnovers, so the Wolfpack’s discipline and efficiency will keep them in the game on Saturday. The problem is, they have yet to face an offense as explosive as Louisville’s.
Jackson and running back Brandon Radcliff will be tough enough for NC State to try and slow down, but the Wolfpack also have to limit big plays in the passing game by wide receiver James Quick and tight end Cole Hikutini. Together, the duo is averaging 15.4 yards per reception and has seven touchdown catches.
NC State should keep it close for a half, but expect Louisville to pull away over the final two quarters.
Prediction: Louisville 41, NC State 27
— 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.