NC State's defense had problems, for the first time really all season, on third down, and it really hurt the Wolfpack.
State was one of the best in the country in that category, but Louisville converted on 8-of-18 3rd-down opportunities, and it was a big reason why the Wolfpack lost the time of possession battle for the first time in 2015.
Because of the offensive philosophy,State's defense has to get off the field, either with turnovers or on third down. They struggled doing that on Saturday, whether it was by allowing Lamar Jackson to scamper for a first down or by leaving wideouts open on shourt routes.
"They got us on a couple of underneath throws," NC State head coach Dave Doeren said. "I think what happens a lot of times when you're playing a quarterback that's a runner is your eyes get off of the routes and you stare at the guy because you think he's taking off and you want to go get him.
"We had to get our eyes back into route progressions and matching routes the right way."
Sophomore defensive tackle B.J. Hill continues to be NC State's best player on defense, and he was dominant, in stretches, against Louisville.
The burly, pass-rushing tackle finished with seven tackles, 1.5 tackles for a loss, and a sack. A lot like Sheldon Rankins for Louisville, Hill had his way with the Cardinals' interior defensive linemen, consistently finding his way into the backfield.
Joining him was sophomore defensive tackle Justin Jones, who seemed to be all over the field. He totaled three tackles, all solo hits, two tackles for a loss, and a quarterback pressure.
Jones, who teams up with sophomore Kentavius Street to really impact at that rush tackle position, showed great burst and athleticism on one play where he caught Louisville's Jackson in the backfield for a loss.
Finally, sophomore cornerback Mike Stevens deserves come credit for his play. The lanky corner ended the night with four tackles, three solo hits, 0.5 tackles for a loss, and two pass beakups.
He now ranks fifth in the ACC in passes defended.
Look for Stevens to continue to be tested as he has worked his way into the lineup playing alongside senior cornerback Juston Burris. So far, he has been up to the challenge.
C+That grade is probably too low, but the Wolfpack didn't force any turnovers, had issues on third down, and gave up critical big plays.
The biggest play of the game was a 68-yard touchdown run by Louisville's Jackson, and it was a killer. In a game this tight, one play can prove to be the difference, and that was it. Jackson rushed for 121 yards on 19 carries, but 92 of those yards came on two runs. For the most part State bottled him up, but it wasn't enough.
To the Wolfpack's credit they did manage to record 10 tackles for a loss and four sacks, but moving forward they must start to record more takeaways, while limiting the big plays, moving forward.
"I thought defensively we had 14 tackles in their backfield, 10 TFLs and four sacks," said Doeren. "I thought we were disruptive. We had five three-and-outs."
"The biggest thing that I'm disappointed in, there were some self-inflicted things... a couple of penalties that extends drives, which we haven't done. We lost contain on a pressure on the first drive of the game."
"To win one possession games you have to find a way to make one or two of those plays," he added. "We have to make one more than they do."