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What To Watch For: NC State

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This week, #W2W4 keeps it well rounded with some things to look for on both sides of the ball.

NCAA Football: Syracuse at North Carolina State Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

HAS LOUISVILLE BECOME MORE COMFORTABLE WITH PRESSURE ON DEFENSE?

One of the things I was hoping to see over the last two weeks was more aggression on defense. I think we got that a lot against Kent State as they had no interest in throwing the football after the first quarter. Last weekend we saw the same with guys playing downhill off the snap and gang tackling much better. The issue, obviously, is that they were playing cupcake teams.

NC State does a lot of things that are quick and short. Louisville has struggled to stop quick and short plays this year. Something has to give, right? Ryan Finley is about as accurate as it gets and he knows his offense extremely well after playing in it last year and as Boise State before he followed Eli Drinkwitz to Raleigh. Louisville needs to change things up and it’s starts with their corners.

Let’s say Peter Sirmon sticks to not blitzing much on Thursday. That’s actually fine. They’re probably not going to get home in time anyway. But Putting his corners in press coverage would be a smart move. Finley and his receivers have great timing and getting them off of that timing should help a four man rush get home or it could throw Finley off enough that a linebacker or safety could jump a slant or crossing route for an interception. Louisville has to be opportunistic but they’ll need to do some different things to even get the opportunity to be so.

LOUISVILLE STARTING FAST

Last year’s game was over in the second quarter. It might’ve been over before that. State was coming off of an overtime loss that they had won in regulation. Guys were likely a bit deflated. Louisville was coming off of a frustrating win over Duke and maybe wanted to take two games worth of frustration out on someone.

Louisville was as efficient on offense as any game I can remember and they made big play after big play on defense. They smothered everything State tried to do and kept the Wolfpack on their heels with their game plan. Lamar was able to break a big run early in the game and then he hit Jaylen Smith on a deep crossing route before State could even get it’s footing.

UofL has to find a way to start fast again. NC State doesn’t hit a lot of big plays and they don’t really have the offense you need to get back into a game quickly. Louisville needs to get up by a couple of scores and get their confidence going. That’s when they’re at their best. State won’t likely fall apart as they have a ton of seniors and this is “their year” but there’s not much you can do when Lamar Jackson is on top of his game and this offense is humming.

LOUISVILLE HITTING BIG PLAYS

Louisville averaged more yards per catch against State last year than they did in any game outside of Syracuse. While they didn’t have as many big runs, the big pass plays were there and they hit them each time. The Wolfpack gives up more big plays than almost anyone in the country and that has led to them allowing over 13 yards per catch on the season. That’s the same that UofL allowed against UNC and Clemson so far this year, for context.

Lamar Jackson hasn’t hit a lot of long pass plays this year but he has hit on some big plays and chunk plays. They’ve really done a good job of getting those 15-25 yard pass plays. I think they need to hit at least a couple of long plays in this game. They aren’t as likely to come in the run game with State being so good up front, but this is a game where the receivers can show out and make some highlight plays. I think this game could be a game where both offenses have success moving the ball. I just trust State to do that without making mistakes more than I do Louisville. Those big plays erase that fear.

NC STATE NEEDS TO WIN THE TURNOVER BATTLE

Louisville turned the ball over about two and a half times per game last year and that number has actually creeped up a bit this season. Last season’s game was one of only three games where Louisville finished with a positive turnover margin. They picked off three passes and one of those was on State’s first play of the game. By the time they ran their second play they were down two scores. That can’t happen if the Wolfpack wants to win this game.

Louisville forced four turnovers in the first game of the season and didn’t get any against UNC or Clemson. I can’t totally discount the four turnovers they forced over the last two weeks because they turned the ball over six times in those games themselves. State has only turned the ball over twice so far this year. Both came on fumbles in their first game against South Carolina.

This game can easily turn into last year’s game but the opposite for each team. I don’t think anyone (outside of Clemson) can truly run away from Louisville when Lamar Jackson can score at any moment, but I could see State moving the ball with ease and protecting the ball. I could also see Louisville turning it over at least once, like they have in 39 of their 44 games since 2014.

LOUISVILLE HAS TO ESTABLISH SOME SORT OF RUNNING GAME

NC State has one of the best run defenses in the country but Louisville has to find a way to get their running game going so that they don’t end up being one-dimensional. The Wolfpack has given up at least one chunk run in every game this year and they haven’t played a team that can run the ball like the Cards.

I think getting Lamar Jackson a handful of carries early would be huge for the offense. Jackson could get a big run and that would help stretch the defense a bit. Guys play on their heels a bit and the start guessing. That opens up everything else they want to do. State can stop the run with just their front four, so getting some outside runs going goes a long way. That forces safeties to come up in run support, which opens up play action. This all ties back to those big plays Louisville needs to make.