WIN ON FIRST DOWN
Strong defense obviously starts on first down and this will be the most crucial play of each series of downs for NC State on Saturday.
East Carolina is outstanding at producing big plays, but the Pirates are also strong on third down, where they rank No. 9 nationally, converting 52% of the time. Why are they so good? Because of just how good they are on the previous two downs. They are able to churn out yards early to work into third-and-short situations, where they are nearly impossible to defend with their spread attack that highlights the talents of quarterback Shane Carden.
What the Wolfpack must do is limit the Pirates on first down to put them in obvious passing situations on third down. It all starts with slowing down the running game, which includes Carden and Vintavious Cooper. Cooper is coming off a three-touchdown performance, and Carden is capable of making plays with his legs, especially near the goalline.
The Wolfpack's defensive front has to stuff the run early on... it's huge.
First down is a huge down for the Wolfpack defense. If they can win on that down, they will have a chance at slowing down East Carolina's high-powered offense.
EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED
Head coach Ruffin McNeil gives offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley a lot of freedom and because of this the Pirates are as unpredictable offensively as any team in the country.
QB draws, wide receiver sweeps, tight end screens, tailback wheel-routes, wideout passes, etc... it doesn't matter. The Pirates will do whatever they can offensively to put points on the board and get the ball into the hands of their playmakers.
The Pirates possess one of the top offenses in the country, with Carden leading the way. They rank No. 8 nationally in passing offense and No. 10 in scoring offense... they churn up yards and light up the scoreboard. A big reason is because of how diversified they are offensively and how Riley utilizes all the weapons at his disposal.
NC State's defense will have to be ready at all times for virtually anything. Carden could run a quarterback draw on third-and-nine. Cooper could line up in the backfield and run ECU's version of the "Wildcat." Wideout Justin Hardy could stretch the field vertically with a 50-yard bomb on 3rd and 1. You get the idea.
The best strategy NC State's defense can take is to be disciplined with their assignments, find the football, and tackle because there is no telling who will have the ball... and be the playmaker, on a given play for the Pirates.
If NC State is going to have any chance of upsetting the Pirates, they must start fast and keep the crowd in the football game. Carter-Finley should be electric at kickoff and State has to keep the fans involved.
NC State needs to come out and limit ECU's offense from the opening series, either by getting stops or forcing turnovers. The Pack has struggled early at times in games this year. They can't do that against East Carolina because the Pirates have the firepower to put the game out of reach very, very early.
For the Wolfpack to snap their current losing streak they must start fast. If they let ECU jump out front big early it could be a long day.