Carter-Finley Stadium will be rocking at 3:30 on Saturday. It's vital that NC State keeps it that way.
The Wolfpack must start fast against the Tar Heels. UNC is coming in with a lot of momentum, riding a 10-game winning streak as Coastal Division champs. However, this might be the toughest test North Carolina's defense has faced this year, as the Wolfpack is one of the most balanced teams in the country.
Look for the NC State offense to try and jump all over the Tar Heels early on. The Wolfpack has been outstanding in the first quarter this season, and if they can manage to build an early lead it could put immense pressure on North Carolina, which would certainly benefit the Wolfpack.
NC State has had to grind out drives at times this year, and it has caused the offense to sputter. Look for the Pack to come out hunting big plays offensively against the Tar Heels.
North Carolina has struggled defending the ground game (rank No. 101 nationally in rush defense), but that doesn't mean NC State should just settle for a ground attack. NC State has to generate chunk plays because the expectation is UNC will be able to do so. The Wolfpack must remain aggressive but also pound away at the Tar Heels on the ground.
Jacoby Brissett has emerged as an accurate deep-ball thrower down the stretch, and UNC will likely look to commit extra defenders into the box to try and take away NC State's ground attack. If they do, Brissett and Co. must make them play with deep passes against North Carolina's solid secondary.
Nyheim Hines and Maurice Trowell will get opportunities to make plays deep, and Hines could be a problem for North Carolina's linebackers in space.
If NC State is going to win this game they must be able to not only run the football but also pick up chunk plays offensively. A gameplan similar to Louisville and Virginia Tech simply won't work against North Carolina because of UNC's explosiveness offensively.
North Carolina's defense wants you to try and grind out drives. They've successfully implemented a "bend-don't-break" scheme all season, yielding yards while capitalizing on mistakes made by the opposition.
UNC has 23 takeaways this season (15th-best nationally), including 14 interceptions. While they still struggle stopping teams on the ground their pass defense has been superb, limiting the opposition to just 184.9 yards per game through the air (14th-best nationally). Now, you can question the level of competition they've faced (UNC didn't play FSU and Clemson), but they have certainly improved as a pass defense.
NC State must take care of the football. The Wolfpack should be able to move the ball against North Carolina, but they can't give the Tar Heel offense short fields and/or easy scoring opportunities. Simply put, they are too good.
If NC State turns the ball over or allows penalties and negative plays to stall out drives, it could be a long day for the Wolfpack.