NC State is a team that has been up and down all year offensively. They looked lethargic against Connecticut but moved the ball fairly well against Miami. In their huge win over Florida State, the Wolfpack showed a little bit of both depending on which half you watched. One thing is for sure, if State takes the Maryland defense lightly, they could certainly be setting themselves up for trouble on Saturday.
While it's true they've only beaten one team with a winning record, the Terp defense has been solid all year. They hold West Virginia's high-octane offense to 14 points under their season average. In the ACC, Maryland ranks in the top two in nearly every defensive category. Nationally, the Terrapins are ninth in run defense, ninth in total defense and 18th in pass defense. Maryland is 14th in sacks with three per game and 11th in tackles for loss.
For NC State, success may very well boil down to focus and state of mind. The Wolfpack has the weapons to move the football and put up points against Maryland. However, State has shown a tendency to let small mistakes snowball into drive killers and they have to avoid this. The Pack has not had very much success at Maryland in recent years and if they hope to change that, the entire offense needs to be dialed in for 60 minutes on Saturday.
Accounting For Maryland's Three-Headed Monster
The Maryland defensive engine is powered by three primary players. It all starts with all-conference DL Joe Vellano up front. He has the ability to blow up the interior of the offensive line and single-handedly change an offense's game plan. Vellano is fourth in the conference in tackles for loss and sixth in sacks. NC State's offensive line has to account for Vellano and keep him in check. This means (at the very least) creating a stalemate at the point of attack and keep him out of the Wolfpack backfield.
If you're able to slow Vellano down, then you have to account for LB Darin Drakeford who is second in the conference in sacks and eighth in tackles for loss. If Maryland blitzes Drakeford, State has to pick him up and that's something the Pack has struggled to do at times.
Finally, former Southeast Raleigh standout Demetrius Hartsfield is the Terrapins play-maker on defense. He leads Maryland with 51 tackles and is the player that makes the defense go. Hartsfield has just three sacks on the year but possesses a good nose for the ball and has the talent to make plays all over the field. However, he may be a guy State can target with crossing routes and perhaps try to get him matched up against speed wideouts like Tobais Palmer and Bryan Underwood.
Be Ready To Adjust
NC State did a masterful job of making adjustments and creating matchup problems against Florida State. The Pack could very well find themselves in a similar position on Saturday. Maryland yielded better than 168 yards rushing to Virginia last weekend. Against Wake Forest they gave up just 71. After holding Connecticut to 70 yards passing, the Terps (predictably) gave up 338 yards through the air to West Virginia.
State is at their best when they can run the football and stay out of predictable passing situations. However, it's a pretty safe bet that Maryland is going to focus on stopping the run first and foremost. They very well may put eight in the box and try to force State to beat them deep. The Pack has done this at times but not consistently. If State can hit them early, it very well could loosen up the line of scrimmage which may allow the Wolfpack to run more of a ball-control offense.