Louisville led 44-0 at halftime in the game last year at home. Lamar Jackson scored the first touchdown on a long run. Jaylen Smith scored on a long touchdown pass. Jackson threw the best pass he made all season for a touchdown. Ryan Finley threw 3 interceptions. Jaylen Samuels didn’t touch the ball until halfway through the second quarter. All of those things contributed to a blowout win for Louisville but he last two were the biggest reason in my opinion. The offense turned the ball over too much and they couldn’t move the ball at all. That left the defense on the field a lot early on and they couldn’t slow down Lamar Jackson or his receivers.
The defensive line for NC State is regarded as one of the best in the country. They haven’t totally played like it yet outside of Bradley Chubb. Chubb leads the nation in tackles for loss and is fourth in sacks (He’s played in 5 games while some behind him have played 4 to be fair). There isn’t a linemen that Louisville will face that can create the havoc that Chubb does. He’s huge at 275 pounds but he still runs like the linebacker he was when he arrived on campus. He plays the run just as well as he plays the pass and no one has been able to block him for two years. Louisville has done well running on the edges and protecting against edge rushers but Chubb is on a different level than the guys they've seen this year.
The rest of the line for State has been fairly underwhelming this year. Darian Roseboro and Kentavius Street have both made a few plays but overall it’s been Chubb making the impact plays. State needs Roseboro to play like he did last year when he ended up with 7 sacks. They also need Street, Justin Jones, and B.J. Hill to make more big plays for them. They’re not necessarily playing poorly, but they aren’t playing at the level that was expected. The run defense is improved and that’s a big positive as it was already pretty great. If they can combine that stingy run defense with a strong pass rush across the board, they can really cause some issues for opposing offenses.
The second level for NC State has been pretty good this year. Jerod Fernandez returns for his fifteenth year at middle linebacker along with Arrius Moore in his thirteenth year. These two linebackers know the defense backwards and forwards and I think that helps a lot when it comes to getting guys in the right spots. Fernandez is among the top tacklers in the ACC while Moore has been splitting time with Germaine Pratt this year. Pratt has played well, but I’m surprised Moore isn’t getting as many snaps as possible since he is such a good blitzer and makes a lot of plays behind the line.
These guys have played against Lamar Jackson twice and neither game has gone all that well when it comes to containing him. They were also exposed in coverage last year with Cole Hikutini having a monster game. You expect these guys to have a lot of tackles because their defensive line is so big and they do a good job of occupying blockers. What’s surprising is how much they have struggled this year with plays behind the line. No linebacker for State has a sack this year. They don’t have a lot of tackles for loss either. That will have to change if they want to contain Jackson. When Louisville stays on schedule, they can use the entire playbook. If you get them in long situations Jackson has to win with his arm and that’s typically better than him running in the open field.
The Wolfpack were a popular pick to make some noise in the ACC this year because they brought back almost everyone on offense and in their front seven. The big question mark was how they would replace the starters in the back end. State lost three experienced guys that were pretty good playmakers. I think that State has come into the year deeper, though. Jonathan Alston has been a revelation at cornerback after sitting out last season to move from wide receiver. Jarius Morehead is second on the team in tackles. Nick McCloud has been strong in his second season, while Mike Stevens is coming back from an injury and might not have a spot anymore. I think that sums up how well they’re playing with their new guys.
State did a pretty good job of getting backups into the game last year and it’s showing. Their second string guys that have moved into starting roles are playing well. Pair that with a guy like Alston turning into a strong cover corner and you have a group that absorbed some big losses very well. State also has great size on their defense. Nearly everyone is 210 pounds plus. They showed off some really nice blitzes last week against Syracuse and I could see them going for a pressure plan against Lamar Jackson in hopes to get Louisville off schedule. Lamar hit on a lot of big plays last year and the game was over halfway through the second quarter. Dave Huxtable has to find a way to keep Jackson under control with the help of an offense that can actually move the ball and keep his defense fresh.