LOUISVILLE CARDINALS (4-1, 1-1) At NC STATE WOLFPACK (4-1, 2-0)
Game Time: 8 p.m.
Location: Carter-Finley Stadium: Raleigh, N.C.
Announcers: Dave Flemming (play-by-play), Matt Hassslbeck (color), Tim Hasselbeck (color), and Jennifer Rutledge (sideline)
Favorite: Louisville by 3.5
All-Time Series: Louisville leads 6-1
Last Meeting: Louisville won 54-13 last season at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium
Louisville Depth Chart:
Schedule of Events in Raleigh:
About NC State:
NC State has not been able to do much of anything on offense in their meeting with Louisville over the last few years. UofL has dominated those meetings for the most part and they’ve looked like they were much more talented and athletic in those games. This year looks different for the Wolfpack. They have weapons at wide receiver for the first time in years and they’re offensive coordinator knows how to use them.
The offense is led by Ryan Finley at quarterback. He is leading the ACC in completion percentage and he hasn’t thrown an interception since late last season. He’s a “game manager” who can complete way more passes than most with that title. Finley can run a little bit which Offensive Coordinator Eli Drinkwitz takes advantage of a couple of times a game. But, where Finley wins is between 7-12 yards down the field. He has really done well with just taking what is given to him and delivering the ball on time. He doesn’t have a huge arm but he can put the ball down the sideline well to his big receivers.
Louisville has been picked apart all year in the passing game and State is the game that worried me most after the Purdue game. Finley is very good when he has time and he’s very good on third and long. Louisville hasn’t done well defending third and long plays of ten or more yards while Finley kills on them. The Cards blitzed more over the last two weeks but they still mostly relied on their front four to get a pass rush. That is exactly why this game worried me.
Matt Dayes was the focal point of State’s offense for the last couple of years and his departure left some real concern for the Wolfpack running game. However, Drinkwitz has used a committee approach and it has worked out pretty well for them. They haven’t run the ball as well in their games against power five teams but they have done well on first downs and in short yardage. Their run success on first downs helps their passing game as well as their overall offensive plan because they can stay on schedule.
Nyheim Hines has become the feature back for the offense with Reggie Gallaspy as the backup and short yardage guy. Hines is a track star who also runs like he’s much bigger than he is. I’d compare his style to Brandon Radcliff with the violence in which he runs. But Hines never seems to run as fast as you’d expect from a track guy. Last week, Syracuse’s middle linebacker chased him down in the open field. But, Hines has been a strong runner for this team that doesn’t need a great running game. He runs tough and if he gets a seam, he will get a big game before you get him down.
I’ve written three breakdowns of NC State’s offense now and I’ve pointed out how good their offense could be if they had any good receivers each time. Now they have those guys outside that can make big plays for them. They can also just make the plays you need to move the football and that’s where they’ve really excelled this year. State flat out hasn’t had guys that can even get open with any consistency. Now they have four guys that can get them 4-5 catches a game and that includes a guy that can get them 15.
Jaylen Samuels is listed as a “H-Back” but he’s quite literally an “Offensive Weapon”. Samuelsleads the team in touchdown runs as well as touchdown catches. You could make the argument that he’s the best offensive player UofL will face this year. What he allows this offense to do is also important. Samuels lines up all over the place and he motions into different alignments. It makes it nearly impossible to scheme to take any one player away. You can’t shade a safety to his side. You can’t really bring extra pressure because they can use motion to run jet sweeps and gimmick plays that will catch you off guard. They can even use Samuel and others to pass the ball. Samuel’s versatility creates a huge advantage for this offense because they use him so well.
The other receivers on this offense is where they’ve seen the improvement in my opinion. Kelvin Harmon has the potential to be a star for State. This is his second year and it seems like he’s finally getting the looks he deserves. Stephen Louis led the team in receiving yards last year as more of a deep threat, but this year he has rounded out his game into a guy that can do just about everything. Jakobi Meyers is a converted quarterback that made All-American Derwin James look silly on a long catch and run two weeks ago and then did a full front flip into the end zone. These guys are all big and they can all run pretty well. What really stands out to me is their catch rate. Outside of Harmon, each of these guys are catching 70-85% of the passes headed their way. That means they’re getting open or the offense is doing a good job scheming to get them open.
State doesn’t do a lot of things that take too long and that really helps them protect their quarterback. The offensive line has only allowed 8 sacks so far and that’s with a pretty statuesque quarterback. The sacks I saw were mostly coverage sacks and half of the sacks they’ve given up came in their first game when they didn’t have Will Richardson at right tackle. The line is a strength in my opinion and it really shows in short yardage run situations. They do a great job getting push and they love to run behind Richardson and Tony Adams on the right side.
This offense does a lot of stuff before the snap to keep you on your heels and sometimes it’s like Drinkwitz is a mad scientist of sorts with the things he comes up with. They put their running backs outside as receivers and have them run slants. They motion their wide receivers into the backfield and use them as the option man on run plays. They run double reverses and double passes. I compared it to the “global” playbook from the old college football video games. They do it all and that makes it very hard to prepare for them.
Honestly, UofL might have some success because they don’t do a lot of exotic things on defense. You don’t have to change what you do. But, Todd Grantham completely dominated this offense last year in Drinkwitz’s first year. The pressure worked and led to a lot of plays being made behind the line. The gimmicky stuff hasn’t always worked and that’s why they’ve given up 37 tackles for loss so far this year. That’s nearly 30 run plays or screen-type plays that they’ve run that have been blown up. Add in reverses and similar plays and there’s potential to make some big plays on defense. Unfortunately, that also leads to third and ten or more and that’s not advantageous for Louisville.
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.
Excitement Level: 8.4
We all need an important football game right now. I just hate how much it’s been overshadowed all week. This really feels like a night that could swing Louisville’s entire season in one of two extreme directions.
Game Attire: Red U of L pullover, grey Cardinal bird hat
It is cold as hell in our new studio so I’ve gotta go pullover. I have about 15 black U of L pullovers and only one red. With NC State busting out the black tonight, this feels like the obvious play. I plan on watching the game from the comforts of CC Headquarters, so a wardrobe change is possible.
Pregame Meal: No idea
I’m on 790 pregame duty until 7 so I’ll probably just snag something quick on the way home. Will be a gametime decision.
Bold Prediction: Blanton Creque hits at least three field goals
The man has been perfect all season. I predict he gets a workout this evening.
Zykiesis Cannon Interception Alert Level: Lemon Yellow (low)
Ryan Finley threw three picks in last year’s game, but he’s been one of the most accurate quarterbacks in the country so far this season.
Predicted Star of the Game: Dez Fitzpatrick
Jaylen Smith is still (from what I hear) out, and NC State’s weakest unit is its secondary. That means the door is open for a Cardinal wide receiver to step up and show out on Thursday night. Fitzpatrick’s U of L career is already off to a fast start, but I’ll say he posts his gaudiest numbers yet against the Wolfpack.
Motivational Opposition Tweets:
Getting an early start this week. pic.twitter.com/tFeir79t9Y— Old Row Sports (@OldRowSports) October 3, 2017
BREAKING: Lamar Jackson's father will be in attendance Thursday night. pic.twitter.com/Vtsk5u4M5D— WolfpackNation (@NCSUFans) October 4, 2017
—Since joining the ACC, Louisville is 12-0 against Atlantic Division opponents not named Clemson or Florida State.
—Louisville is 11-11 all-time in Thursday night games.
—Louisville is just 1-3 in Thursday night road games under Bobby Petrino. The one victory was a 56-49 thriller at Memphis in 2004. The Cards lost to Houston 36-10 in a Thursday night road game last season.
—Bobby Petrino is 14-0 all-time against schools from the state of North Carolina.
—Louisville’s lone loss to NC State came in the 2011 Belk Bowl.
—NC State enters Thursday night’s game nationally ranked for the first time in seven years.
—Carter-Finley Stadium has not hosted a matchup of two ranked teams since 2000. In that game, No. 21 NC State was routed by No. 6 Florida State.
—NC State is 2-0 in the ACC for the first time in 11 years.
—NC State owns the 8th-best rushing defense in the country., allowing just 85.6 yards per game on the ground.
—Louisville’s 54-13 win over NC State last season matched the largest Wolfpack defeat in Dave Doeren’s five seasons.
—NC State quarterback Ryan Finley is one of the nation’s most accurate passers, completing 71.9 percent of his throws, which is the best mark in the ACC. Finley threw three interceptions against Louisville last season, but hasn’t tossed a pick in his last 257 throws dating back to last year.
—Louisville ranks fourth in the nation in margin of total offense, gaining an average of 257.6 yards per game more than it allows (575.4-317.6)
—NC State’s Bradley Chubb ranks second nationally and leads the ACC with 12.0 tackles for loss. His 5.5 sacks are ninth-best in the country.
—NC State H-Back Jaylen Samuels is one of the most versatile players in the country. He ranks fourth nationally in receptions with 43, and has also rushed for a team-best five touchdowns.
—Louisville is 19-7 under Bobby Petrino in the month of October, but just 7-6 in road games.
—NC State has turned the ball over just twice this season, ranking them third in the country in that category.
—NC State hasn’t won a game as a ranked team since 2003, when they opened the season with a win over Western Carolina.
—NC State will be wearing all-black “Black Howl” uniforms for this game.
—Louisville is 2-0 all-time against NC State in Raleigh.
—Louisville has won 31 consecutive games when scoring 40 points or more.
—Louisville has won 17 consecutive games when not committing a turnover.
—Louisville leads the nation with 116 scrimmage plays gaining at least 10 yards and in the top 10 in plays of gaining 20 and 30 yards.
—Louisville is 3-30-1 all-time in road games against ranked opponents. The Cardinals are 16-49-1 all-time against ranked foes overall.
—Louisville is 79-25 all-time when playing as a team ranked in the AP top 25.
—U of L is one of just six programs to appear in the AP poll in each of the last 22 weeks. Alabama, Clemson, Washington, Michigan and Ohio State are the others.
—Louisville is currently riding a consecutive game scoring streak that spans 217 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 180-11 all-time when scoring 35 or more points in a game. The Cards are also 5-104 all-time when allowing opponents to score 40 or more points.
—”We’re expecting a loud atmosphere but we think we’ve played in crazier environments.” —Stacy Thomas
—“It will be an electric crowd here.” —NC State head coach Dave Doeren
—“It was a tough one last year. I feel we’re a better team this year.” —NC State defensive tackle B.J. Hill
—“It was really embarrassing for us.” —NC State RB Nyheim Hines on last year’s game
—“Yeah, we definitely remember it. We don’t want to have that feeling again.” —NC State DE Bradley Chubb on last year’s game
—“They are a well-coached unit. They have four seniors up front and three senior linebackers. They play hard. They are big, long, and athletic. They do a lot of things that are troublesome.” —Lonnie Galloway
—"They all run to the ball. They're all-out competing and they've been good so far this year." —Lamar Jackson
—”(Lamar Jackson)’s playing smart. He has got lucky, too. He has had a couple (potential interceptions) dropped.” —NC State head coach Dave Doeren
—“I feel like (NC State QB Ryan Finley) hasn’t been under pressure that much. So I feel like if we can get him into passing downs and get pressure on him, hopefully we can cause a couple turnovers.” —Stacy Thomas
—“We’ve had some great battles with them. Last year we got ahead of them early and that helped us.” —Bobby Petrino
—“We really didn’t show the world what N.C. State is capable of. We’re really looking to prove that now.” —NC State RB Nyheim Hines