Going into the 2015 season I remember feeling like Louisville would have four games where they would struggle to win. FSU, Clemson, Pitt, and……NC State. Houston changed everything when they pulled off the upset but by the time Louisville rolled into Raleigh with no FBS wins I felt more confident that they would get a win. The only reason for that is because of the fact that Dave Doeren’s version of the Wolfpack hasn’t been able to win games against teams that are in their league. Doeren has done very well to keep State at the level where they reach a bowl game every year and every year they lose a big game that they had a chance to win. The Wolfpack missing a game winning field goal against Clemson last week is just another example of this. Doeren has a chance to change that this weekend against Louisville and he might just need this win to save his job.
NC State hired away Boise State’s offensive coordinator this offseason and with him came Ryan Finley to take over at quarterback. Finley has been a great addition for the Wolfpack because he obviously knows the offense that he ran last year in Boise. Finley has played very well for the Wolfpack but he struggled a good bit against Clemson last week. State hasn’t played a great schedule (this would be a false statement if Notre Dame wasn’t a dumpster fire) but Finley has split the difference in their two biggest games. Against a good Wake Forest defense, Finley completed 64&% of his passes for 300 yards and 3 tds. Finely can run well enough to keep the defense honest on the few option-style runs they will run, but he typically gives the ball off on those runs.
Louisville will be facing one of the best running backs in the conference on Saturday. Matt Dayes is a very dynamic playmaker at the running back spot for State. He’s hit 100 yards in every game so far this year and he looked pretty good against Clemson even though they were able to hold him under 5 yards per carry for the first time this season. Dayes is a "one cut and go" type of back, but he does have the ability to make people miss. Dayes also has good enough speed to run away from people in a short field but I don’t really see him as a home run threat from minus territory. One change this year is that Dayes is pretty much the only running back State plays. I think that after having such a solid game last week we will see Dayes a lot this weekend.
The weak point of the NC State offense has been the wide receiver position and it’s been that way for three straight years. State lacks explosion on the outside so their offense becomes somewhat predictable. Last season Jacoby Brissett was one of the most accurate quarterbacks in the country but he rarely threw the ball more than 10 yards. This year, Finley’s ability to throw the ball on a rope 15-20 yards down the field is wasted to a degree because he doesn’t have the athletes to throw the ball to. Jaylen Samuels is an outstanding player and a really unique talent for State but it really shows how few options they have when a tight end/fullback hybrid is your most dynamic threat. The Wolfpack will need Stephen Louis to continue to be the deep threat that he has been so far this year. If State can get consistent production out of him he could be an issue for Louisville.
The Wolfpack offensive line has played really well this year. They are minimizing negative plays and have only given up 9 sacks on the season. Finley is a fairly mobile guy but he’s not really a sudden player so that makes him a pretty easy target in the pocket. That shows how well the line protects him. Clemson had the most success against this line with 7 tackles for loss and 4 sacks. Though Louisville’s front seven is very talented, they’re not Clemson so I don’t know that I would expect the same numbers this week. What does concern me is that NC State could do a much better job at controlling the line of scrimmage than Duke did last week. Louisville was able to get really good penetration and make some plays in the backfield as well as force some plays back inside.
KEY PLAYERS: QB Ryan Finley, RB Matt Dayes, HB Jaylen Samuels, RG Tony Adams