That’s a good thing because the Wolfpack open a very difficult three-game stretch by hosting Notre Dame this Saturday. Road trips to Clemson and Louisville will follow in the succeeding weeks, so having some confidence heading into this part of the schedule is a good thing.
First things first: Notre Dame enters after winning a 50-33 shootout with Syracuse. The Irish did seem to play with more passion, though it’s always easier to have fun when you control the action.
These two teams have met up once before, with the Philip Rivers-led Wolfpack coming away with a 28-6 win in the 2003 Gator Bowl.
Notre Dame at NC State
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 8 at 12 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ABC
Spread: NC State -1
Three Things to Watch
Thankfully, it appears that Raleigh will not be affected by Hurricane Matthew. However, rain is in the forecast for Friday into Saturday, making wet conditions a real possibility. Ball security is always important, and on a soggy field game-changing turnovers often occur. NC State has given the ball away just three times this season — two fumbles and one interception — and is plus-one in turnover margin. On the other hand, Notre Dame is 109th in turnover margin at minus-four and is one of just two teams that have not forced a fumble this season. Going in, the Wolfpack is the team that is better at limiting mistakes.
2. Ryan Finley
NC State lost one of the best quarterbacks in program history when Jacoby Brissett finished his career last fall. Sophomore Jalan McClendon was expected to be the starter, but Boise State graduate transfer Ryan Finley has taken hold of the position. On the season, Finley has completed better than 72 percent of his passes and has improved each week. Against a very good Wake Forest defense, he had his first 300-yard passing game for the Pack to go along with three touchdowns and no picks. If running back Matt Dayes, who is averaging more than 100 rushing yards per game, is able to soften Notre Dame on the ground, more success could be waiting for Finley this week as he faces the country’s 106th-ranked pass defense.
3. Notre Dame Passing Game
Similarly, Notre Dame quarterback DeShone Kizer also has put up big numbers this year. Receiver Equanimeous St. Brown has developed into a true big-play threat, averaging 21.6 yards per catch and hauling in six touchdown passes in five games. NC State has a middle-of-the-road pass defense, but last week the Wolfpack gave up 283 yards to a Wake Forest team that was averaging fewer than 150 passing yards per game. With a running game that has been sluggish so far this season, look for the Irish to put the ball up early and often.
The weather could be a major factor in the game and the team that wins may be the one whose quarterback can handle the elements better. DeShone Kizer experienced extremely wet conditions last year in the game at Clemson. In that game, Irish turnovers led to a loss. That has been an issue for Notre Dame so far this season too, even in good weather. Though they had two sacks against Syracuse, the Irish have struggled putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks, haven’t stopped the pass, and are 89th against the run even after holding the Orange to just 126 on the ground. The tough Wolfpack rushing defense will make Notre Dame one-dimensional, their offense will find an acceptable balance with QB Ryan Finley and RB Matt Dayes, and they will win the turnover battle to come away with a big victory.
Prediction: NC State 38, Notre Dame 31
— 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.