At 3-0 in the ACC, with wins over Florida State and most recently Louisville, NC State has solidified itself as an Atlantic Division contender. The Wolfpack play the ultimate league heavyweight on Nov. 4, but that is still a ways away and there are a couple of other tests before Clemson comes marching into town.
Next up is a trip to Pittsburgh to face the 2-4 Panthers. Pitt is coming off a loss at the Carrier Dome to Syracuse and needs a win over the Wolfpack to harbor any hopes of bowl eligibility. Interestingly, despite sharing the same conference for the past five years, NC State and Pittsburgh have not played since 2009.
NC State at Pittsburgh
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 14 at 12 p.m. ET
TV Channel: Raycom Sports Network
Spread: NC State -12
Three Things to Watch
1. Containing Jaylen Samuels
Generally, the Wolfpack's do-everything offensive weapon is not going to beat you with big plays. But with Samuels, it’s death by a thousand paper cuts. The senior from Charlotte is only averaging 8.5 yards a reception, but he has 50 catches and most of those always seem to be just enough to move the chains. NC State will get Samuels the ball in different ways as well. He has carried the ball 25 times and has five rushing touchdowns, making him a weapon in every situation.
2. Pittsburgh pass defense
The Panthers have had difficulties against the pass for a couple of years and they are facing a passing offense that is more than just Samuels. Quarterback Ryan Finley has completed 71 percent of his passes with 10 touchdowns and no interceptions. Kelvin Harmon and Stephen Louis have combined for 58 receptions and 786 yards over the first half of the season. Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi likes his corners to play man coverage, something that could be difficult considering the amount of options Finley has at his disposal.
3. Pittsburgh quarterback situation
The Panthers have gone back and forth between Max Browne and Ben DiNucci all season, with Browne getting the majority of the snaps. But it will now be DiNucci’s team as Browne is sidelined with an arm injury. DiNucci would love to get Quadree Henderson more involved in the offense this week. The electric athlete has underperformed this season and touched the ball just three times for zero yards against Syracuse.
The Wolfpack are coming off a big emotional win and going against a team that has scuffled all year, making a letdown a real possibility. But if NC State plays a fairly clean game, it is going to win. The Wolfpack had some problems in the red zone against Louisville and they rank 99th in red zone efficiency on the year. But Pittsburgh is just not very good right now and the Panthers' weaknesses should be exploited by NC State. Along with Pitt's problematic pass defense going against the combination of Ryan Finley and Jaylen Samuels, the Panthers have allowed 18 sacks on the year and the Wolfpack's defensive line, led by Bradley Chubb, is very disruptive. Pitt defensive back Jordan Whitehead was effective as a running back last week, something head coach Pat Narduzzi may go to again this Saturday in an attempt to keep the NC State offense on the sideline. But it really won’t matter as the Pack will go to 4-0 in the ACC.
Prediction: NC State 34, Pittsburgh 14
— Written by Jon Kinne, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a college football fanatic. Kinne has been writing about recruiting for the Irish Sports Daily for 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.