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Key Matchups: NC State

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The Key Matchups take a look at four one-on-one battles that can change the entire game.

NCAA Football: Kent State at Louisville Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports


Mekhi Becton has been one of the best freshmen in the country this year and he will have his biggest test this weekend. Bradley Chubb leads the nation in tackles for loss and he is a relentless football player. Louisville handled Clemson’s four man rush pretty well but they actually dropped a defensive end into coverage a lot. That left Becton or Geron Christian blocking down instead of having to deal with an outside pass rush.

Chubb has done really well getting up field and using his speed and strength to bend around into the pocket. Becton has a very long reach and does a really good job getting depth against speed rushes. My big concern for this game is how Becton handles a guy that actually has real pass rush moves. Chubb can break out a spin move or bluff a speed rush and go with a bull rush. He can also bend so well that he can get underneath Becton’s hands on his speed rush. We will have to see if the freshman is up to the challenge.


Ervin Phillips had 17 catches for Syracuse last weekend and I could’ve sworn every one of them was with Jefod Fernandez in coverage. Phillips was the inside guy in five-wide sets and he victimized Fernadez over and over again. They ran option routes, outs, slants, and out and ups with success. 17 catches is insane, but it’s crazier to me that Dave Huxtable was so stubborn that he didn’t adjust.

Fernadnez wasn’t even bad in coverage. Phillips only averaged 11 yards per catch. Fernandez was right there with him most of the time and made the tackle. Some of those times he was maybe a step away from an interception. Fernandez read the routes well and I think he is fast enough and quick enough. But, at some point it would probably make more sense to put someone else on Phillips. Maybe once he got to double digit catches?

I can see Dez Fitzpatrick having a big game if State decides to roll out the same game plan against 5-wide formations. Dez has been lining up in the same spot as Phillips and he showed last week just how good he is at getting open. Dez isn’t as small or as quick as Phillips but he is super smooth with his routes. Dez might be the best route runner Louisville has had since Eli Rogers. State likes to rush with four, so Louisville should be able to spread the field if they choose. When they do, I think Dez can create an easy pitch and catch option for Lamar.


Louisville hasn’t done a lot deep passing down the sidelines this year but not having Jaylen Smith could change that. Louisville had been working the middle of the field a lot with Smith and Fitzpatrick but Dawkins had been playing outside for the most part early in the year. He played inside a bit over the last two weeks but they may look for him to be that outside guy again in a bigger game.

Dawkins has great size and he has used his size well on comebacks, slants, and some other routes to gain an advantage. He’s stiff-armed multiple defenders to the ground after short catches, also. Johnathan Alston might not be so easy to out-muscle. Alston is a former receiver himself and he’s 6-2 and 210 pounds. He has also shown off some really good coverage skills.

On both of Alston’s picks this year he has turned into the receiver and used his size to box out the receiver to make the play. Dawkins absolutely has to be a guy that can be relied on and this will be a lot different for him with his size not being much of an advantage. Jackson hasn’t been to accurate when he’s tried to throw the ball down the sidelines so if they choose to go that route, this matchup could be big.


Jaylen Samuels might just be the biggest threat to Lamar Jackson when it comes to the ACC offensive player of the year award. Chucky Williams is a big time playmaker in the Louisville secondary that seems to be allergic to wrapping up when he comes downhill to make a tackle. Something will have to give and there is more evidence that Samuels will run through Williams than there is that Williams will bring him down.

Samuels is used mostly on outside runs and screen plays. They will motion him and run jet sweeps, use him as the pitch man on option runs, and they will run power counter runs with him. He ends up running through that alley made by the wide receiver kicking out the corner and the tight end sealing off the outside linebacker. That’s exactly where Chucky has made me lose my mind. Williams is one of the best playmakers on the entire team. We saw that on full display last year in the Clemson game. We also saw it on his game-sealing interception against Purdue. But he’s also the guy that bounced off of Travis Ettiene on his 81-yard touchdown run. He’s also the guy that threw a shoulder at Dazz Newsome on the first snap against UNC. He missed and Newsome kept going for 74 yards.

Louisville needs Williams and the other members of the secondary to bring Samuels down when he gets outside and to the second level. He is a super dynamic player that looks too big to be running as fast as he is. You don’t even notice how fast he’s going until he stiff-arms a guy and takes off for a twenty yard touchdown. If Williams can break down and wrap up when he flows up in run support, he can take away the big play guy for NC State. If he continues to throw a shoulder into the hole with his head down, Samuels will have a huge day.