Preview: Duke (2-3) v. NC State (3-2)

The story line is clear. NC State has defeated Duke 11 straight times. That's not a number that Blue Devil coach David Cutcliffe is focusing on; instead he's looking towards starting a new streak in the series. TDD previews the match-up.

Duke (2-3) vs N.C. State (3-2)
Raleigh, N.C. - Carter-Finley Stadium
TV: ESPNU / Kick-off: 4:00 PM EST

Program Vitals
Conference:  ACC
Nickname:  Wolfpack
Colors: Red & White 
Head Coach:  Tom O'Brien (3rd season)
Career Record at NC State: 14-16

The Blue Devils lead the all-time series between the two schools 39-36-5. N.C. State has won the last 11 games in the series. Duke had a 26-1-2 record against the Wolfpack from 1933 to 1962.

Last Time:
N.C. State's Russell Wilson threw two touchdown passes in the first half and J.C. Neal had a 94-yard kickoff return for a touchdown as the Wolfpack defeat- ed Duke, 27-17, in Durham. The Blue Devils recorded 411 yards of total offense but only scored twice in five trips to the red zone. Lewis led Duke, completing 37- of-52 pass attempts for 317 yards.

What To Watch For On Offense:
State is led by third year sophomore Russell Wilson (5'11, 201) who has averaged just under 250 yards per game through the air in the first five games while completing 59.5 percent of his passes and throwing for 14 touchdowns. Despite his relative youth, Wilson is extremely disciplined under center. He's able to buy time with his legs and can take off with the ball when necessary (averaging 31.2 yards per game on scrambles), and while he doesn't throw the most accurate ball of the conference quarterbacks, he combats this with a maturity that allows him not to force throws. Before Wake Forest was able to pick off two passes a week ago, Wilson had set an NCAA record for passes attempted without an interception at 379. In short, Wilson is the kind of playmaker that NC State has lacked under center since Phillip Rivers was in Raleigh and he'll present a very tough test for a Duke secondary that was blitzed by Virginia Teach a week ago.

State's top running back is fifth year senior Toney Baker (5'10, 225) who has accounted for 292 yards on 58 attempts this season. While the offensive line has struggled to open holes for State runningbacks in the past it would appear as though they have the hang of it so far in 2009. O'Brien likes to be able to run between the tackles and then change things up with play-action. In the games in which Baker has been given 10 or more carries he's averaged 67.0 yards per game while also adding eight catches for 151 yards. In those games he's also scored eight total touchdowns. Backing up Baker will be redshirt sophomore Jamelle Eugene (5'10, 200) whose ability to cut back and allude has provided a nice change of pace in relief of Baker who prefers to bulldoze over opponents. After missing games against Murray State and Gardner-Webb, Eugene has rushed 25 times for 80 yards over the last two contests. Against Wake Forest last week, the Wolfpack struggled on the ground - accumulating just 104 yards total. That will certainly be an emphasis against Duke.

While Russell has been as good as could be expected, the NC State receivers have caused some problems during his career with inconsistent play. Against the Deacons the wideouts dropped a number of passes which killed drives that could have propelled State to a conference opening victory. On the season State has been led by the trio of TE George Bryan (6'5, 265) and receivers Jarvis Williams (6'4, 215) and Darrell Davis (6'4, 205) who have combined to haul in 48 catches for 611 yards and seven touchdowns between them.

The offensive line has a ton of experience and size to protect Wilson. Of the five starting positions along the trenches for the Wolfpack, the average player goes 6-foot-5 and 310 pounds. It's by far the biggest offensive line the Blue Devils will have seen this season. Not to mention that State starts three seniors, one junior, and one highly recruited redshirt freshman. On the year Wilson has been sacked 13 times (2.6/game) and hurried just 11 times (2.2/game).

What To Watch For On Defense:
The defensive line is led by all-conference defensive end Willie Young who will probably make a name for himself on Sundays come April. Heading into the year he had averaged 14 tackles for loss, 25 hurries, and just over six sacks per season in his two years of playing time. With the speed of an outside linebacker, Young will often fire off the line and get by opposing tackles too quickly for them to recover. This season he's already accumulated 7.0 sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss. On the interior the Wolfpack have fifth year senior Alan-Michael Cash (6'1, 295) and senior NG Leroy Burgess. The other end is Shea McKeen (6'5, 265).

The linebacking group took a hit when fourth year junior Nate Irving was lost for the season in a car accident in early August. His spot has been filled by the trio of Audie Cole (6'5, 240) and Terrell Manning (6'3, 220) on the outside and Ray Michel (6'1, 229) in the middle. Cole has been the most effective of the three in the pass rush while Michel has been the anchor against the run, recording a team best 26 total tackles through five contests.

Perhaps the biggest question surrounding the NC State defense is the play of the secondary. Last season opponents picked apart the Wolfpack defensive backfield, and the inability to make stops is what cost the team last week against Wake Forest as Riley Skinner completed 31-of-45 passes for 361 yards and three touchdowns. In the first four weeks the Wolfpack started four different starting lineups in the secondary. Against Wake, State started the same lineup as the previous game for the first time all season: Brandan Bishop and Earl Wolff at safety and Morgan and Koyal George at corner. After giving up 361 passing yards in Winston-Salem, however, that backfield looks like it could change again for the Duke game. This week's depth chart lists Johnson and Bobby Floyd at safety and Justin Byers and either Morgan or C.J. Wilson at corner. Byers has played safety and corner in the past.

Against Duke the Wolfpack will be able to get pressure thanks to their front seven, which will force Thaddeus Lewis (and possibly Sean Renfree to get the ball out fast). If the Duke is able to scheme and produce time for their signal callers, it could give the fans in Carter-Finley heartburn to say the least.

Fearless Prediction(s):
The Blue Devils took an important step towards respectability last week by forcing the ACC's top team, Virginia Tech, to sweat well into the third quarter. Now, despite not being favored (and actually being a two touchdown underdog), it's time for Duke to take a step forward from being competitive with their ACC brethren to being able to defeat them. So far that hasn't happened. There's no debate that NC State's roster has more natural ability top to bottom, but the last handful of games between the two programs have been close and have turned on big plays. Last season it was a 94 yard kick off return that was the difference. This year Duke appears more disciplined and there is reason to believe the coaching staff has them ready. However, until it happens, it's hard to favor the Blue Devils on the road in Raleigh against a team that simply has to win in order to have a chance to make a bowl game.

Predicted Final Score:

Duke - 24
NC State - 27

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