Here's The Deal: It's been a rough start to the season for head coach Tom O'Brien and NC State. It started out with Wisconsin and former Pack QB Russell Wilson looking fantastic on a Thursday night primetime game on ESPN in Week 1 and ended with a disappointing loss to Wake Forest. Frustration is mounting in Raleigh after the loss in Winston-Salem.
The box score of the Wake Forest game should be terrifying to NC State; there is nothing in there that explains why the Wolfpack lost. Both teams were even in turnovers and similar in total yards. The reason those stats are so scary is because it shows that NC State just got beat. Looking for some relief, FCS's South Alabama Jaguars travel to Carter-Finley Stadium to take on the Pack in a game NC State must win.
Why South Alabama Might Win: The South Alabama defense has looked stout in victories over West Alabama and Lamar. Giving up just nine points and 253 yards per game in a league known for good offense is worth noting. NC State looked very uneven in a lopsided victory over Liberty, gaining only 318 total yards.
USA has good linebackers led by Enrique Williams, who is leading the team in tackles and tackles for loss. Williams needs to find space to get to the ball carrier against a much bigger and talented offensive line than he has faced thus far. On offense, South Alabama has to figure out how to throw the football and get chunks of yards in the passing game.
QB C.J. Bennett is completing 60% of his passes, but in two games he has only thrown the ball 35 times. State has given up 316 passing yards a game to Liberty and Wake Forest, not teams that traditionally like to air it out. The Jaguars have to throw the ball more often because the Wolfpack defense is very strong in the front seven. USA WR Bryant Lavendar has been the most effective pass-catcher with six receptions for 96 yards, but it needs to find a go-to receiver quickly to take advantage of a poor NC State secondary.
Why NC State Might Win: South Alabama's strength rushing the football is going up against a NC State defense that excels at stopping the run. State had problems stopping the pass, but run defense has been its bread and butter, giving up only 106 yards a game. Even more impressive is how it was able to bottle up a Wake Forest rushing attack that consistently frustrates some of the best teams in the ACC.
South Alabama rushes nearly 70% of the time, and is not comfortable throwing the football. Stopping the run will be the main focus for the State defense and if it forces USA into obvious passing downs they will force the Jaguars to turn the ball over. The Wolfpack has forced eight turnovers in two games, and should have no problem adding to that total with a team that is too one-dimensional to put pressure on the State secondary.
What To Watch Out For: New NC State QB Mike Glennon took some heat after a sub-par performance against Liberty. His completion percentage was fine, but he only threw for 156 yards and a score. Glennon woke up against Wake Forest with a 314-yard day and three touchdowns, two that went for over 60 yards. If Glennon can get on track early with receivers T.J. Graham and Tobias Palmer, there's a great chance he'll be spending the second half on the bench. If Glennon struggles once again to push the ball down the field and settles for the underneath throws, this game could be viewed as step backwards instead of moving ahead.
What Will Happen: The Wolfpack is going to take a lot of frustration out on South Alabama this weekend as Tom O'Brien tries to get this team back on track. This is a terrible match up for the Jaguars as their strengths will not cause NC State any trouble. The Jaguars will try to run early and will go three and out most of the first half until they abandon the run in favor of the pass.
NC State forced seven turnovers against Liberty and will get close to that number against South Alabama. Mike Glennon continues to improve the NC State passing game, and Graham and Palmer will each get over 100 yards receiving.
CFN Prediction: NC State 56 … South Alabama 7