Louisville will travel to Raleigh, North Carolina this weekend to face off against the undefeated Wolfpack. Dave Doeren hasn't had a true test this year, but I'm sue he's fine with that with his offense firing on all cylinders a quarter of the way through the season. With a defense that returned pretty much everyone on defense, the Pack has to feel good about their chances against a Louisville team that is still trying to find some consistency on both sides of the ball.
Doeren's team took some lumps last year even though they had a pretty successful season. Those lumps helped them set themselves up for a very good offensive year so far this year. Jacoby Brissett spent last year struggling with with his accuracy at times as well as making a few mistakes when trying to make a big play. This season is a completely different story as Brissett has completed 78% of his passes while also not throwing any interceptions. The offense is completely content with keeping the vast majority of it's passing under 10 yards. The Wolfpack doesn't have a great deal of talent at receiver, but as Clemson and some other spread-type offenses like to do, State utilizes quick passes as an extension of their run game. Brissett reads things very well and very quickly and he does a good job of delivering the pass in a spot that allows his receivers to make an uncontested catch. I don't anticipate Brissett being asked to push the ball down the field this weekend, but he does have the arm strength to do so if asked.
Matt Dayes, Shadrach Thornton, and Jaylen Samuels make up what might be the best overall group of running backs in the ACC. However, Thornton was dismissed from the team yesterday. Dayes has been the starter this year after Thornton was suspended for the first two games. He's done nothing but put up over 100 yards rushing a game as well as 34 receiving yards per contest. Dayes is a super quick, speed back but he has the size needed to push the pile between the tackles. FB/TE/RB Samuels gives NCSU two guys that can all do exactly what Louisville has struggle to stop this year. I would be very surprised if Doeren doesn't draw up a gameplan that focuses on pounding the defense with inside runs as well as utilizing play action to get Dayes and Samuels into the flat for easy catch and runs.
Last year my section on State's wide receiver only mentioned one player: Bo Hines. Well, Hines now plays receiver for the Yale Bulldogs. Hines led the team last year as a freshman in catches and yards. With his departure the team has relied on Jumichael Ramos to be the key receiver for the team. Ramos, like Hines, won't wow you with anything he does, but he has been the one receiver that has had an "explosive play" (35+ yard play). Jonathan Alston and Bra'Lon Cherry line up opposite Ramos and both have impressive speed when they get the opportunity to showcase it. That just hasn't happened much this year. Expectations were high for true freshman Nyheim Hines but he hasn't done much of note as a receiver so far this year. With some of the issues Louisville has had covering inside receivers I would say that Hines is a guy to keep an eye on.
The NCSU offensive line looks a little rough on paper with the amount of penetration plays that State has allowed. Those numbers are a little misleading as Brissett has still had instances where he holds the ball too long and I think that some of the coverage sacks have been because of the lack of talent at wide receiver. The line has also dealt with a couple of injuries that have forced more new players to play. If there's an area on this team where the argument of "they haven't played anyone" might be fair, it's on the offensive line. They haven't faced a lot of talented fronts but they have had plenty of issues with being pushed around more than they should. Louisville's front seven was supposed to be the strength of the entire team so this could be the week we finally see that.
KEY PLAYERS: QB Jacoby Brissett, RB Matt Dayes, WR Jumichael Ramos, RB Jaylen Samuels
NC State has done a good job this year with causing some havoc in the opposing backfield. Mike Rose, B.J. Hill, and Bradley Chubb have all done a great job of not just eating up blockers, but shedding blocks to make plays in the backfield. The 4-2-5 nickel defense that State runs doesn't work very well if your linemen can't make plays and the success that the defense has seen this year can be attributed to the front four. Rose is a really good player at left defensive end as he finished last year fifth in the conference in tackles for loss. He's backed up by big time freshmen Darian Roseboro who has played very well in his limited time on the field. On the opposite side, Nick Chubb's cousin Bradley is second on the team in tackles and leads the team with 4 quarterback pressures. Hill teams up with Kentavius Street in the middle to make plenty of plays in the backfield. Louisville's offensive line changes will get a big test this week.
Louisville got to see a depleted State defense when Doeren suspended multiple starters the week before the game last year. One of those starters, Arius Moore, went on to make 8 tackles, 3 tfls, 1 sack, and a QB hurry. Moore entered that game having only played 67 snaps and he couldn't have had a better game. Moore has taken over at outside linebacker this year with middle linebacker Jerod Fernandez back in action. The play of the line has really impacted the numbers of the linebackers so far this year. Also, a few blowout wins haven't helped. With that being said, last year shows that both players can play well when they get a full game. Fernandez led the team in tackles before the bowl game last year and also picked off Jameis Winston twice last year.
The most seasoned group on the defense is the defensive backfield. Josh and Hakeem Jones man the two safety spots and both are extremely good tacklers that can interchange in the box or back deep. Neither safety is particularly good in coverage as both have been beaten multiple times this year. Micky Crum and James Quick could both be focal points for Louisville's offensive gameplan. Jack Tocho and Justin Burris line up outside at corner and State has no problem asking those guys to play on an island. I haven't seen much zone blitzing from this defense, but they have blitzed plenty and they don't mind that you see it coming. Burris and Tocho have played very well in man coverage and I can't help but wonder if they decide to challenge Louisville's young receivers. They've passed the test so far for the most part so it will be something to keep an eye on this weekend.
KEY PLAYERS: DE Mike Rose, DT B.J. Hill, MLB Jerod Fernandez, FS Hakeem Jones