Every week we talk about NC State's need to be successful defensively on third down, and rightfully so, but this week they must win first downs against Virginia if they are going to rebound from last week's loss at Carolina.
The Cavaliers are a team that loves to run the football, despite averaging just 128 yards per game. They have two solid backs in Perry Jones and Kevin Parks, and they are the focal point of the offense. Because they haven't been as successful as in recent years on the ground, UVA continues to struggle in obvious passing situations with quarterbacks Phillip Sims and Michael Rocco.
Because of this, NC State has to win on first down and get the Cavs off-schedule. It will limit their offensive play-calling and make them one-dimensional, which should help the Wolfpack develop an effective pass rush.
If State can put Virginia in third-and-long situations early and often, expect the Cavs to have issues offensively and potentially be very giving to the Wolfpack defense.
FIELD GOALS, NOT TOUCHDOWNS
Virginia ranks No. 43 nationally in redzone offense, converting 20-of-24 chances with 15 being touchdowns. Their approach has been fairly balanced, as 9 of their 15 touchdowns were via the air. On the other hand, NC State's offense has scored 8 of 17 redzone touchdowns through the air.
When the Pack defense finds itself in the redzone, they must step up and force Virginia to settle for field goals. The way to do that is put them in passing situations, as we've mentioned before. UVA likes to pound away at your defensive front, but it's hard to do that on third-and-long or third-and-goal.
NC State's defense has been strong in the redzone this year, allowing just 13 touchdowns in 25 opportunities. Teams have scored eight redzone touchdowns versus NC State this year on the ground with another five coming through the air.
If NC State is going to knock off the Cavs, the Wolfpack must be efficient in the redzone and force them to settle for field goals, if anything, once they enter the scoring zone.
Often times the game is that simple... you've got to make plays. State made some last week against North Carolina, but they also left several out there on the field, and that proved to be the difference in the game.
Virginia isn't going to be flashy. The Cavaliers are going to come right at you with the ground game, but also look to try and establish Sims and the passing attack. NC State's defensive front has been relatively solid against the run, but they can be susceptible to the big play... they can't give UVA any cheap touchdowns. Period.
At the end of the day, NC State has to make plays. When it's third-and-long, make a play and get off the field. When a defender beats his man off the line of scrimmage, make a tackle or sack. When the ball is in the air, break up the pass or grab the interception.
As with most teams, State has struggled defensively when they've been unable to do those things. Virginia's going to keep it simple on offense and State should do the same defensively.
Line up and make plays.