NC State Defense vs. South Alabama Offense
NC State's defense has been strong against the run in the first two games of the season, and they are going to have to be the same versus South Alabama.
The Jaguars are led by talented tailbacks Demetre Baker and Kendall Houston. South Alabama hasn't been super productive on the ground, but Baker and Houston could be their top two offensive playmakers and will receive plenty of work.
In the opener against UT-San Antonio, the duo combined to rush for 106 yards on 23 carries, and versus Nicholls State they totaled another 29 carries for 85 yards. Certainly not a great average, but the touches are there and South Alabama will continue to feed them the football.
The Jaguars are multiple on offense, showing different looks throughout the game, but do a lot of read-option from the shotgun. In last weekend's game, quarterback Ross Metheny, a Virginia transfer, had 10 carries. Through two games South Alabama has attempted 56 passes while rushing the ball 82 times so clearly they are a running team.
However, the Pack has been stingy with its rushing defense. Yielding just 77 yards a game to opposing tailbacks and quarterbacks, State held UConn and All-BIG East tailback Lyle McCombs to 35 yards rushing on 32 carries. That's a week after limiting Tennessee's tailbacks to 126 yards on 33 carries (3.7 yards per carry).
Defensive tackles Thomas Teal and T.Y. McGill do a good job of plugging the holes, and the defensive ends, linebackers, and safeties have been filling the gaps well while making plays at or behind the line of scrimmage.
In the first two games South Alabama rushed the ball nearly 60% of the time. Obviously the coaching staff is more comfortable with its rushing attack. If NC State can come out and eliminate the ground game, making the Jaguars one-dimensional, it should be a good night for the Wolfpack defense.
WIN ON 3RD DOWN
NC State has to be able to win on 3rd down this year to be a strong defense because it is the down where coordinator Mike Archer and assistant Jon Tenuta really look to turn up the pressure on the opposing quarterback.
So far this year they've been up-and-down on 3rd down, and as expected, the end results have also varied. Tennessee was a very good 9-of-19 against the Pack on 3rd down, as quarterback Tyler Bray converted multiple 3rd-and-medium situations throughout the game, which State lost.
However, against UConn, the Pack held the Huskies to just two conversions on 12 3rd-down chances, an outstanding performance in a game that State pulled out.
South Alabama comes in having converted 12-of-32 3rd-down opportunities in the first two games, a 37.5% conversion percentage that would rank No. 81 nationally.
State's 35.5% defensive 3rd-down rate actually ranks No. 54 nationally. That is a number that should only improve over the next couple of weeks.
NC State forced four turnovers in the win over UConn and just one in the loss to Tennessee. Obviously forcing turnovers will be a key for the Pack this season, and it is always the case given their defensive scheme.
South Alabama has also been somewhat generous with the ball this year. The Jaguars opened the year with four turnovers in the loss to UT-San Antonio and had another two in the win over Nicholls State. They've had five lost fumbles in two games, an extremely high number, with an interception.
Utilizing multiple blitzes to create a lot of pressure, if NC State can eliminate the run then they should be able to generate some turnovers against a South Alabama team that has been run-dominant in 2012. State wants to put the Jaguars in 3rd-and-medium, 3rd-and-long situations where they can pressure the quarterback and force mistakes.
With the turnovers, NC State can have potential scoring chances and also provide the Wolfpack offense with terrific field position, something a still-developing unit would love to have.
It's going to be a common key all year for NC State's defense... the Pack must be able to force turnovers versus South Alabama.