NO. 7 LOUISVILLE CARDINALS (5-1, 3-1) vs. NC STATE WOLFPACK (4-2, 1-1)
Game Time: Noon
Location: Papa John's Cardinal Stadium: Louisville, Ky.
Announcers: Bob Wischusen (play-by-play), Brock Huard (analyst) and Allison Williams (reporter)
Favorite: Louisville by 19.5
All-Time Series: Louisville leads, 5-1
Last Meeting: Louisville won 20-13 on Oct. 3, 2015 in Raleigh
Schedule of Events:
Louisville Depth Chart:
About NC State:
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
NC State has never been known as a defensive powerhouse school but the 2016 defense has shown to be much improved. The Wolfpack has a front seven that has really gotten after the quarterback and they have a back end that has been serviceable at stopping the pass. The Wolfpack has a good amount of speed but they will be tested with trying to contain Lamar Jackson in the run game.
The best group on this Wolfpack team is the defensive line and it's not really close. Bradley Chubb, Darian Roseboro, and Kentavius Street have been great off the edge and they've also been big factors in State's ability to stop the run. All three are averaging at least one tackle for loss per game and all are in the top 15 in the ACC in sacks per game and TFLs per game. Louisville's tackles have played pretty well against larger defensive ends like these three but speed has been an issue at times and all of these guys can bend around the edge well. Louisville has to slow these guys down or they will keep the offense out of rhythm.
B.J. Hill is probably the most well-known defender on the Wolfpack defense but he hasn't made the impact plays that he did last year so far this year. Hill has no sacks and no tackles for loss after finishing last year with 6.5 and 11, respectively. Hill and Justin Jones have definitely get full credit for leading a defense that is only allowing 2.9 yards per carry even though they're presence doesn't show much in the box score. Hill can cause havoc with his ability to beat blocks and we've all witnessed what happens when things suddenly change in the backfield for Louisville's offense.
The Wolfpack runs a true 4-2-5 nickel like Duke and the two linebackers are very good players. Arrius Moore has been very good at creating negative plays for two years now and he's manning the weakside linebacker spot that's been giving Louisville fits for years (Ben Boulware had 18 tackles from that spot). Moore is a speedy player that could possibly be used as a spy this week. Duke had some success spying Lamar Jackson because they're defensive line stayed disciplined and kept to their rush lanes. Spying Lamar doesn't work at all if Lamar has open field to either outrun the spy or make a move on him. Moore lines up next to Jerod Fernandez who left their game on Saturday with what looked like a bad arm or wrist injury. Fernandez would be a huge loss for the Wolfpack defense as he is not only the team's third leading tackler but he's also the guy responsible for making all of the calls for the defense. If Fernandez can go, I feel comfortable saying that UofL will be facing the best run defense they've seen so far this year other than maybe Clemson.
The secondary for NC State is very similar to the wide receiver group. They don't have a lot of athletes in the back end but they do have some experience. Jack Tocho has been at State for roughly 17 years and Mike Stevens started every game last year. Just like last year, the cornerback position is solid for State. Tocho has great size but he is a definite liability if you're asking him to turn and run with someone. Stevens is a good all-around player but he doesn't make a ton of plays like some of the better corners Louisville has faced this year.
The safety spot is where Louisville killed the Wolfpack last year. Even though the game was in the rain and UofL didn't pass the ball all that well, Lamar Jackson got to the second level and State's safeties had zero chance of keeping up with him. Josh Jones returns at safety but Shawn Boone has taken over at strong safety. Jones leads the teams in tackles and he's made more plays than he had in the past. But, he's still way too big and slow to match up well with receivers and teams are attacking him because of it. Boone isn't much better in coverage but I think he might be an upgrade from last season. I don't think that the Wolfpack will be in man coverage with no deep help like they were last year but they still have the same system they had last year. Lamar Jackson ran wild last year and the same will happen if they chose to leave their safeties to clean up everything that gets past the line of scrimmage.
KEY PLAYERS: DE Bradley Chubb, DE Kentavius Street, DE Darian Roseboro, WLB Arrius Moore, FS Josh Jones
Excitement Level: 9.1
Some distractions this week, but now it's time to watch our top 10 football team and Heisman favorite quarterback play the toughest team remaining on their home schedule. That will be fun.
Game Attire: Jeans, black pullover (different from last week), grey Louisville hat
Similar to last week, but have to mix it up a little after a lackluster performance.
Pregame Meal: Beer, breakfast food
Not nearly as organized as we were for the noon game against Florida State, but so it goes.
Bold Prediction: Brandon Radcliff finishes with more rushing touchdowns than Lamar Jackson
We're overdue for a B-Rad game.
Cole Hikutini Touchdown Alert Level: Middle Blue (ok)
Alert level is really simplifying things in recent weeks.
Predicted Star of the Game: Lamar Jackson
Once again: I will be selecting Lamar Jackson in this place every week going forward until he gives me a reason not to. He wasn't at his best last week, but no one else was better.
Motivational Opposition Tweets:
Outside of a handful of fans predicting an upset, there's not really anything out there this week.
--Saturday is Homecoming for Louisville.
--Louisville football is a perfect 6-0 in Homecoming games under Bobby Petrino, and the Cards have won 12 of their last 13 Homecoming games overall. All-time, U of L is 55-34 in Homecoming games.
--Under Bobby Petrino, Louisville is 11-0 all-time against teams from the state of North Carolina.
--A win Saturday would make Louisville bowl eligible for a seventh straight season.
--This will mark the first time in program history that NC State has played back-to-back road games against top 10 opponents, The Wolfpack lost 24-17 in overtime at No. 3 Clemson last week.
--Louisville is 34-3 over the last four seasons when attempting at least 35 rushes in a game. The only three losses came this season at Clemson, in 2014 at Clemson, and in the 2015 season-opener against Auburn.
--NC State RB Matt Dayes enters Saturday ranked 18th in the FBS in rushing with 111.5 yards per game - the third-best mark in the ACC. An impressive 51 percent (342 of 669) of his rushing yards have come from yards after contact.
--Louisville is 33-4 under Bobby Petrino when winning the turnover battle. The Cardinals have lost the turnover battle in four of their six games this season, but have gone 4-0 in those games.
--The Wolfpack lead the ACC in rushing defense with 95.3 yards allowed per game, which also ranks fifth nationally.
--Louisville counters with the conference's top rushing attack (305.7 yards per game) led by Lamar Jackson — who has run for 832 yards and 15 TDs — and followed by Brandon Radcliff (534 yards, 3 TDs).
--Louisville has won 14 consecutive games when kicking off to begin the game, but has received to start all six games this season.
--Louisville has won seven consecutive home games.
--NC State has turned the ball over just seven times all season.
--Lamar Jackson needs 168 yards to become the school's first 1,000-yard rusher since 2010, and the first QB to do so.
--Louisville leads the nation in scoring at 52.3 points per game.
--Louisville leads all FBS teams with 41 offensive touchdowns.
--NC State has allowed just six rushing touchdowns this season, and only two over the past four games.
--Louisville is currently riding a consecutive game scoring streak that spans 205 games dating back to the 2000 season. The streak ranks as the third longest in the ACC behind only Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech.
--Louisville is 173-10 all-time when scoring 35 or more points in a game. The Cards are also 5-102 all-time when allowing opponents to score 40 or more points.
--"We know them well because the majority of the players are the same guys we've been playing against for the last two years. They're very well coached. They're a physical team. We've always had really good battles with them and found a way to win in the fourth quarter, so I imagine this is going be a very good football game." --Bobby Petrino
--"(Lamar Jackson)'s definitely putting up some good numbers, and everybody is talking about him - that's all you hear about. But we're prepared for who we have to play this week. It's up to us to limit his production and do whatever it takes to win." --NC State DE Bradlee Chubb
--"Those guys understand what they have to do to do it again, and we don't have any time to lick our wounds. We're playing, in my opinion, as good or better (a) team this week." --NC State head coach Dave Doeren
--"I think NC State has done a good job over the last couple of years at getting better. When you really look at the guys they have this year, it's pretty much the same guys we've played against the last two years, so I think it's just that they've come together, and have a really good team." --James Hearns
--"I definitely feel like the team realizes that we can compete with just about anybody in the country and we have just got to believe that. We are a great offense and defense. We have just got to finish. We probably surprised (Clemson), but we weren't surprised ourselves." --NC State RB Matt Dayes
--"I came here to play the top teams everybody is talking about. These are the games you live for and that you grow up dreaming about playing in. We're ready." --NC State DE Bradlee Chubb