In-state showdown features standout defensive ends, efficient offenses
NC State won’t be going to the ACC Championship Game for the first time, but the Wolfpack have a chance to finish the season strong and hold out hope for a 10-win season. After a hard-fought 17-14 win over Boston College last week, NC State will hit the road for the final time this season on Saturday.
The No. 19 Wolfpack (7-3, 5-1 ACC) won’t have to go far as they head to Winston-Salem to take on Wake Forest. The Demon Deacons (6-4, 3-3) became bowl eligible for a second straight year with a 64-43 shootout victory over Syracuse last week. An upset of NC State on Saturday would give Wake Forest consecutive winning seasons — something it hasn’t been done since 2007 and '08.
In recent years, NC State has gotten the better of Wake Forest, winning three straight in the series. The last victory for the Demon Deacons came in 2013 by a 28-13 margin during a campaign where the Wolfpack finished winless in ACC play. NC State will look to win eight games in consecutive years for the first time since 2010 and '11.
NC State at Wake Forest
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 18 at 7:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPNU
Spread: Wake Forest -1.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Jaylen Samuels
Of all the players in college football, there may be none more versatile than Samuels (above, right). Although he’s listed as a tight end, Samuels has been a Swiss Army knife for NC State during his senior season, doing everything from lining up out wide to in the backfield to taking shotgun snaps from the Wildcat.
Samuels leads the Wolfpack in receptions while ranking second on the team in receiving yards, third in rushing yards and even second in passing yards. On 121 total touches this season, Samuels has accounted for more than 800 yards and 13 total touchdowns. Samuels accounted for 74 total yards and a touchdown last season in a 33-16 win over the Demon Deacons.
2. Passing attacks
Saturday’s contest will feature not only two of the most improved quarterbacks in the ACC in NC State’s Ryan Finley and Wake’s John Wolford, but a pair of offenses that can really throw the football. For Wake Forest, wide receiver Greg Dortch had been arguably the best freshman in the conference before suffering a season-ending injury. Despite that, Tabari Hines and Cortez Lewis are solid receivers while sophomore Scotty Washington has emerged as a big-play threat in recent weeks. Tight end Cam Serigne might not be as versatile as his counterpart Samuels, but eight of his 28 receptions this year have gone for touchdowns. As for Wolford, he’s been lights out over the last three weeks, passing for 1,155 yards and 10 touchdowns against just one interception.
NC State is a bit more on the methodical side when it comes to offense, but Finley has been nothing short of outstanding this season, passing for nearly 2,700 yards and 15 touchdowns. Samuels is Finley’s favorite target, but Kelvin Harmon, Stephen Louis and Jakobi Meyers are three big, young receivers who can make plays. Harmon leads the team with 867 receiving yards (15.5 ypr) while the trio has combined for 10 touchdowns. Running back Nyheim Hines, who is a converted wide receiver, also is a threat to make plays in the passing game.
3. Stud defensive ends
There are a number of positions where both NC State and Wake Forest have talent, but perhaps the biggest is at defensive end. NC State senior Bradley Chubb is likely on his way to a Consensus All-American selection. For the year, the 275-pound Chubb was been relentless. Chubb ranks second in the country with 22.5 tackles for a loss and fifth with 10 sacks. When Chubb isn’t able to make the play, he’s usually able to alter it so someone else for the Wolfpack can.
While Chubb may be the best defensive lineman in the country, Wake Forest senior defensive end Duke Ejiofor also is plenty good. Ejiofor ranks second only to Chubb in the ACC this season with 14.5 tackles for a loss. Ejiofor has seen a dip in his sack numbers to just 6.5, but that is because he has drawn so much attention from opposing teams. Ejoifor did leave last week’s game against Syracuse with an injury and is questionable for Saturday. If he is unable to go, that would serve as a huge blow for the Demon Deacons.
Wake Forest head coach Dave Clawson should be commended for the job he continues to do in Winston-Salem. Saturday will provide Clawson with his chance to get his first win over a ranked ACC team, but the Wolfpack are very good. It’s also possible that Wake Forest will be without standout defensive end Duke Ejiofor against a quarterback who has been hard to sack this year. The Demon Deacons also are without wide receiver Greg Dortch for the remainder of the year. While NC State’s ACC title hopes died last week with Clemson’s win over Florida State, the Wolfpack are still alive for a 10-win season and a very good bowl game. Dave Doeren's team shouldn't have to worry about being unmotivated.
Prediction: NC State 31, Wake Forest 27