Here's The Deal … Separated by only 80 miles, NC State and East Carolina lock horns for the 27th time in an intriguing non-conference rivalry with a rich history. The Wolfpack got back on track in a big way following the Virginia Tech loss, hammering Boston College for Tom O'Brien's first win over his former employer. It was the exact response the program needed if it plans on keeping pace with the likes of Florida State in the Atlantic Division. The Pirates continue to surprise in Ruffin McNeill's first year. The same thrill-a-minute school that brought you a Hail Mary to win the opener and 100 points in the first two games, just got done shocking Southern Miss, 44-43, in Hattiesburg. In this supposed rebuilding year, the two-time defending Conference USA champs are 3-0 in league play and poised to defend that crown.
Why NC State Might Win: In a league not known for its defensive prowess, East Carolina is pulling up the rear at 42 points and 457 yards allowed per game. Uh-oh. The Pack will feast on the rebuilt Pirate D behind QB Russell Wilson, who's thrown three touchdown passes in each of the last four games and has a deep and dangerous corps of receivers at his disposal. When Wilson isn't distributing through the air, he can hand the ball to Mustafa Greene, the program's talented rookie back. East Carolina has allowed at least 42 points in each of the last three games, a trend that's likely to continue.
Why East Carolina Might Win: The Pack is going to score. The Pirates are capable of going stride-for-stride. Yeah, the picks have to be eliminated, but Dominique Davis has gotten a grasp of Lincoln Riley's pass-first system, throwing four touchdown passes in last week's upset. In Dwayne Harris and Lance Lewis, East Carolina harbors a pair of dangerous receivers, with the ability to win the battles with a beatable NC State defensive backfield. RB Jon Williams has hardly had a starring role, but he's a seasoned veteran who'll get the tough yards when they're needed.
What To Watch Out For: While not air-tight, the NC State defense has the speed and tenacity to make big plays, especially against a mistake-prone quarterback, like Davis. Eighth in the nation in sacks and second in the ACC in takeaways, the Wolfpack will attack from all angles, especially with linebackers Nate Irving, Audie Cole, and Terrell Manning. FS Brandan Bishop has three picks in the last two games and CB C.J. Wilson has two touchdowns off interceptions, so Davis better be extra careful on Saturday.
What Will Happen: Both teams can score, but the difference here is that NC State can make occasional stops and the momentum-shifting plays on defense to hold off East Carolina. Plus, Davis' penchant for forcing passes is the antithesis of Wilson's cerebral, conservative approach to the game. The Pack will get better play from behind center and enough takeaways to pull away in the final 30 minutes.
CFN Prediction: NC State 41 … East Carolina 24 … Line: NC State -7
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