Why You Need To Care
NC State continues to coast through a soft non-conference schedule, with the true measure of this team’s potential not coming until ACC play begins. The Pack has buried Troy, Eastern Kentucky and Old Dominion by no less than 24 points each, allowing for plenty of reps for the backups. South Alabama got a big boost with last weekend’s overtime upset of San Diego State on the road.
Why NC State Will Win
The USA defense is improving, yes, but still rebuilding. In the Jags’ lone game with an FBS team, Nebraska, they allowed 561 yards. The Pack will be a tall order, especially now that RB Shadrach Thornton has rejoined QB Jacoby Brissett and RB Matthew Dayes in the backfield.
Why South Alabama Will Win
The Jaguars are coming off their best game of the season, outgaining the Aztecs, 511-305. Xavier Johnson outplayed Donnel Pumphrey in the battle of the backs, while UAB transfer Cody Clements has provided a steady hand at quarterback.
Player Who Matters
The Pack defense has taken care of business up to this point, allowing 2.2 yards a carry. South Alabama, though, could provide a stiffer challenge. Johnson has emerged out of left field as a playmaker, while athletic TE Gerald Everett is becoming a downfield weapon for Clements. Fortunately for State, it’ll enjoy an edge at the line of scrimmage.
What’s Going To Happen?
Heading on the road to face an improving South Alabama team could be a tricky spot for NC State. And the Pack will be tested early. But the ability to grind out yards between the tackles, with the fresh legs of Brissett, Dayes and Thornton, will wear down the Jaguar defense over the final two quarters.
NC State vs. South Alabama Prediction
Prediction: NC State 37, South Alabama 21, Line: NC State -16.5, o/u: 54
QUOTABLES: Dave Doeren
Felt like our players did a nice job being focused on the road. Did a nice job at Old Dominion. It was sold out. Had good energy on the sideline. I thought we handled our business. Had no penalties offensively and no turnovers, were very efficient. Had a lot of different guys make plays on the offensive side of the ball.
Were able to play a lot of guys.
Defensively shut down the nation's leading rusher. He had 15 yards in the game rushing. Continued to have success on third down. Really controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball.
We were able to get our kicker his first field goal. That will be big for him moving forward. Our punter had a nice day, A.J. Cole, four punts down inside the 20, two inside the 10.
Everything was kind of what we would hope it would be there. Got home late, 2 or 3 in the morning with our guys. Have another road trip playing South Alabama. 12 transfers and an offensive coordinator from UAB. They've benefited from another program's demise. Good players. Five of them start on offense. Their top receivers, top tight end, quarterback, one of the best O-lineman.
They've benefited as a team to the players they've gotten. Like I mentioned, their offensive coordinator.
Another challenge. We're six of eight on the road as a program, five of seven now. Still in that stretch of many road games. Guys just got to focus and continue to do what we're doing.
Going into the rushing game, five touchdowns on the ground in the first, then four, then four again. What can you say about the committee of running backs that you have and how successful you've been there this season.
Well, it's nice to have rotation. Getting Shad (Shadrach Thornton) back, with Matt (Dayes), had equal carries, different numbers. Matt's change-of-direction skills are unbelievable, how he plays in space, how quick he is.
Shad is a bulldog. He's very physical. Both of them are playing well after contact. It's nice having them both back.
Behind them, Reggie Gallaspy and Dakwa Nichols, are good players as well. Jaylen Samuels is rushing the ball well for us. A lot of that comes back to your O-line. We've been probably the most nicked up there than we have at any position.
Thankful to get Garrett Bradbury back this week. He's been out since our opener at left guard. That will help us depth-wise as we wait for Alex Barr to come back from his injury.
It's nice to have that run game. It helps your quarterbacks, it helps your receivers.
What can you say about Jacoby (Brissett) and what he's done in the passing game? What have you seen from the passing game so far?
He's taken advantage of what's there, best way to put it. A lot of underneath throws we've asked him to make. He distributes the ball well. He's accurate. He's efficient. Doesn't take sacks when he doesn't need to. He's protecting the football, which he needs to continue to do. He's had a couple nice extended plays with his feet.
We haven't thrown the ball a lot down the field. To be honest, it's been tough. The teams we've played, they've played high safeties, that's why we've been very effective running the football. This week I think we're going to get both safeties in the box. It will be a big week for him throwing.
That's kind of what we're built on, take what you give us. If they're going to take people out of the box with our guys, we've got to run to win, and we've been able to do that.
What is the one thing that stands out the most when you watch South Alabama on film?
Athletic. They're a very athletic team. They got good team speed. They're undersized at some positions, but they can run and they play hard.
You mentioned that you shut down the nation's leading rusher last week. You're facing another test. (Xavier) Johnson is coming off a great running game against San Diego State. Talk about him and the problems he presents.
Averaging almost nine yards a carry. He has home run speed. That's the thing that scares you, you don't see him making a lot of people miss or really running people over.
When he hits a hole, I mean he hits it. He's got great speed. They get him on the edge of your defense with a couple different crack screens that makes it tough. You got to be able to replace your perimeter support with other players, tackle well.
So every week you have a new challenge. It's not just him. They have a receiver that caught three balls over 30 yards against Nebraska and really had four because one of them got called back. They have good team speed. They have a tight end that's averaging 18 yards a catch. Their quarterback played really well at San Diego State.
It's going to be a challenge. Offensively they've got five starters from UAB that are really good. That's really helped them on offense.
Your freshman kick returner Nyheim Hines came in very highly touted. He hasn't broken the big one yet, but he's third in the league in average. Talk about him and what he brings to the table.
He doesn't hesitate.
What I like in a kickoff return guy is a guy that will make a decision and go. Not a guy that tiptoes and dances. He hits it. You're always one block away on that stuff from popping one. He's going to get one soon. He's got home run speed. He's close.
We have played him on offense quite a bit. He hasn't been able to get open as much. For whatever reason, the plays we've given to him just didn't pop the right way, but they're going to. He's got a great skill set and we're really excited about it.
NC State Game Notes
NC STATE VS. SOUTH ALABAMA
NC State will face the Jaguars of South Alabama for the third time in history on Saturday, although it will mark the first time the teams have met on USA's home field. South Alabama visited Carter-Finley Stadium in 2011 and 2012, with the Wolfpack earning 35-13 and 31-7 wins respectively.
Joe Gottfried, the father of Wolfpack men's basketball coach Mark Gottfried, was the Director of Athletics at South Alabama for 25 years before retiring in 2009. He negotiated the series with the Wolfpack several years before his son came to Raleigh in 2011.
NC State enters the game at South Alabama having won its last six games, dating back to last season. That streak ties with Clemson for the longest current streak in the ACC.
It marks the most consecutive wins for the Wolfpack since the 2002 campaign, when the Wolfpack opened the season 9-0 en route to an 11-3 campaign.
HIT THE ROAD, PACK
After opening the season with two resounding home victories, the Wolfpack is on the road for six of its next eight contests. The extended road trip started with the win at Old Dominion last week, will continue in Mobile and then after a quick trip back to Carter-Finley to take on Louisville, the Wolfpack will travel to Virginia Tech and Wake Forest.
The Wolfpack has won its last four games away from Carter-Finley Stadium, winning last week at ODU (38-14), defeating Central Florida (34-27) in the Bitcoin Bowl, stomping UNC (35-7) in Chapel Hill and winning at Syracuse (24-17). The last time NC State won four in a row away from home was in 2002.
A victory at South Alabama would mark the first time since a stretch from 1973 to 1974 that an NC State squad has posted five victories in a row away from home and only the third time in school history that has been accomplished (also won 5 in stretch from 1962-1963).
THE TOTAL PACKAGE
NC State ranks second nationally in total defense this week, with just 188.3 yards allowed per game. The Wolfpack held Old Dominion to just 148 total yards and -3 rushing yards (lowest rushing total for a Pack opponent since 2009).
Almost half of ODU's total yards came on one play - a 70-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter.
The Wolfpack ranks second nationally in first downs allowed (28).
Senior quarterback Jacoby Brissett has been exceptional in the first three games of 2015. He currently ranks third in the FBS in completion percentage with a blazing .778 mark despite playing while ill at Old Dominion.
In his 16 career games, Brissett has posted a 62.7 completion mark, second only in school history to Philip Rivers. His 2015 passing efficiency mark of 165.1 ranks 19th in the FBS and his career mark of 141.72 is also the second only to Rivers as the best mark ever for a Wolfpack QB.
Brissett, a preseason candidate for the Manning, O'Brien and Unitas Awards, opened his senior campaign against Troy by completing 12 straight passes before an incompletion and posted a .913 completion mark. The last time a Wolfpack player posted a percentage as high was Terry Jordan vs. UNC in 1992 (23-25, .920).
TIME IS ON OUR SIDE
The Wolfpack offense continues to be the most greedy in the FBS, with a division best 40:36 minute time of possession average per game. That mark is SEVEN minutes higher than the ACC's second-ranked team in that category.
NC State held the ball for 41:34 in the season opener - the highest time of possession in 93 games (since a 43:07 ToP in an OT win at Miami in 2007). That game marked the second in Dave Doeren's Wolfpack tenure that the Pack posted a 40+-minute time of possession. In his first game as head coach for the Pack, his offense held the ball 40:45 vs. La Tech (2013).
The Pack repeated the feat against Eastern Kentucky, as the offense was on the field 40:04, and then against vs. ODU with 40:12.
Before Doeren's arrival in Raleigh, the Pack had only held the ball more than 40 minutes twice in 235 games (2007 vs. Miami and 40:26 vs. FSU in 2002) dating back to the 2007 season. Since Doeren's arrival, it's happened four times in 28 games.
Since time of possessions began being kept for every game in 1981, no Wolfpack squad had ever posted back-to-back 40+ minute games - the 2015 squad has done it in three straight contests.
Fullback/tight end/touchdown scorer extraordinaire Jaylen Samuels seems to have the magic touch when it comes to finding the endzone. The sophomore is currently tied with teammate Matthew Dayes for third in the ACC in scoring with six touchdowns in 2015.
But his touchdown-to-touch ratio might be leading the nation. "JaySam" has six touchdowns in just 25 touches (10 rushes, 15 receptions) in 2015. In the season opener, he scored three touchdowns in just four carries.
For his career, Samuels averages 9.89 every time he touches the ball. He currently leads the Wolfpack in receptions with 15, a mark which ties for fifth in the ACC.
A big point of emphasis for the Wolfpack defense is performance on third down - or what the Pack calls the "money down." The squad has been successful in that category, which is evidenced by the fact that State's defensive unit is only averaging 55 snaps per game.
The Wolfpack ranks second nationally in first downs allowed (28) and in defensive three & outs, having forced them on 22 of 35 opponent drives.
With just one turnover - a fumble - in three games this season, the Wolfpack is among the best teams in the FBS and tied for the ACC lead with Florida State in that category.
On the flip side, NC State has forced just two turnovers in 2015 (a Mike Stevens interception and a fumble caused and recovered by Dravious Wright in the season opener).
Running back Matt Dayes has had a stellar start to his junior campaign, posting three consecutive 100+ yard rushing games and scoring six touchdowns. He is currently is tied for third in the ACC (with teammate Jaylen Samuels) and 13th in the FBS in scoring.
In the opener, Dayes rushed for a career best 126 yards and led the Wolfpack in rushing and receiving (5-65). He ranks second in the ACC in rushing with 116.7 yards per game (21st nationally) and third in the league (30th nationally) with 146.7 all-purpose yards per game.
Dayes is the first player since Joe McIntosh in 1981 to open the season with three straight 100-yard rushing games and the first since 2002 (T.A. McLendon) to do so in three-straight games.
Last season, Dayes was one of just three players nationally with more than 300 yards rushing, receiving and in returns (Jamal Morrow of Washington St. & Temple's Jahad Thomas were the others).
He was the ONLY player nationally to reach those marks and also boast five or more touchdowns rushing and receiving in 2014.
Dayes led the Wolfpack with both 1,278 all-purpose yards and 13 touchdowns and won team Offensive MVP honors in 2014.
BRISSETT STREAKING (AGAIN!)
Jacoby Brissett threw 187 passes without being picked off in 2014 - the seventh-longest streak in ACC history. He currently has another streak going, as he has not thrown an interception in his last 156 attempts, over 26 quarters, dating back to the Georgia Tech game on Nov. 8, 2014 (the Wolfpack's last loss). In the five games games since, he's thrown for nine touchdowns.
His streak is currently the third-longest in the FBS.
NC State Depth Chart
NOTE: *- Indicates a player has redshirted a season.
|2015 NC State Depth Chart|
Thanks to NC State Athletics for much of the information in this preview.