I-40 rivals and Top 25 teams will meet in Raleigh as Wake Forest and NC State jockey for position in the ACC Atlantic.
The 21st-ranked Demon Deacons (6-2, 2-2 ACC) are coming off their worst loss of the season, a 48-21 debacle at Louisville. Wake Forest committed eight turnovers, six of them coming in the third quarter.
The No. 22 Wolfpack (6-2, 2-2) won their last time out, edging Virginia Tech 22-21. NC State was down by 11 in the third quarter before scoring the final 12 points in the game.
Wake Forest and NC State is the second-longest continuous rivalry in the FBS ranks, trailing only Wisconsin vs. Minnesota. The Wolfpack lead the series 67-42-6, as the two schools have met yearly since 1910.
No. 21 Wake Forest at No. 22 NC State
When Wake Forest Has the Ball
Quarterback Sam Hartman is coming off one of his worst games as a Demon Deacon. He threw three interceptions and lost three fumbles in the loss at Louisville. To add insult to injury, two of his three picks were returned for touchdowns.
This was a rare dud for Hartman, who had thrown three interceptions in his previous six games combined. He's still among the nation's most productive quarterbacks with 2,026 passing yards and 22 touchdowns in seven games.
"I think he's the best quarterback in our league," NC State defensive coordinator Tony Gibson said earlier this week. "He's poised, throws the deep ball really well. That offense is lethal, Sam is a competitor. He'll bounce back."
As eager as Hartman is to erase last week from his memory, it won't be easy against a Wolfpack defense that is No. 1 in ACC in points (17.4) and second in yards (308.6) allowed per game. This unit has recorded more interceptions (11) than touchdown passes allowed (eight) and is one of the toughest in the country on third down (29.4 percent success rate).
When NC State Has the Ball
After starter Devin Leary went down with a season-ending injury (torn pectoral muscle) on Oct. 8 against Florida State, the Wolfpack have been searching for answers at quarterback. Last time out against Virginia Tech, two different signal-callers saw action.
Jack Chambers got the start but struggled, posting just 31 passing yards. MJ Morris took his place and he sparked the comeback, completing 20 of 29 passes for 265 yards and three touchdowns while adding 35 on the ground. Morris took home ACC Rookie of the Week honors for his effort and, not surprisingly, has replaced Chambers atop the depth chart entering this game.
Morris can't be expected to do it all by himself, however, so it will be important to get the running game going. NC State is 12th in the conference with 125.1 rushing yards per game and has scored just six times on the ground all season. Jordan Houston is the team's leading rusher, but he's averaging just 3.9 yards per carry.
Thayer Thomas (37 rec., 437 yds., 4 TDs) and Devin Carter (18, 256, 1) are the top targets in the passing game and should be able to make some plays against a Wake Forest defense that has given up 16 touchdowns through the air. Overall, the Demon Deacons are surrendering 5.4 yards per play and 27 points per game.
This game is going to come down to a couple of areas. Can NC State run the ball to take pressure off its young quarterback and can Wake Forest solve the Wolfpack's stingy defense? Wolfpack run the ball and can they slow down the Wake Forest offense?
Hartman had arguably his worst game as a Demon Deacon last week and it's difficult seeing him put up back-to-back poor performances given his track record.
Don't be surprised if this one develops into a back-and-forth affair, but Wake's massive advantage at the quarterback position allows the visitors to pull away late.
Prediction: Wake Forest 41, NC State 30
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— 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, Pro Player Insiders, and is a reporter for Sports Talk Florida. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.
*Price as of publication.