Pack Pride's James Henderson, Steve Williams, Rob McLamb, and Bryant Carson answer several critical questions facing NC State heading into Saturday's matchup with Louisville.
NC State has to bounce back against Louisville. What is the biggest key of the game for the Wolfpack offense?
James Henderson: Finish. NC State entered the Notre Dame game as one of the best redzone teams in the country but has struggled the last couple of weeks. The Wolfpack has to finish drives with touchdowns and not look to rely on the kicking game for points.
Steve Williams: I think the key is going to be the same for the entire team- offense, defense and special teams. Can they be mentally ready to play at the level they need to be at to compete and have a chance to win against Louisville. That was a demoralizing loss to Clemson, a week after a tough, physical game against Notre Dame. What will the team's mindset be and can the Wolfpack coaches have them ready to go?
Rob McLamb: The offensive line and then consequently Matt Dayes will be important factors for the NC State offense, both based on what the Wolfpack has done and the way teams have attacked Louisville's defense.
Bryant Carson: I continue to believe State has a good offense this season. It’s neither gimmicky or one dimensional and I think when you have that the biggest key is always just execution. State has ran the ball and thrown the ball (and everything in between) pretty well this year so I’d say continue to be yourself and don’t reach on doing anything new or crazy just to surprise L’Ville.
I do believe the L’Ville defense will come out super aggressive so maybe using the screen and the quick slant early will help get that defense on their heels.
The Cardinals use a lot of different coverages, but teams have had some success... how would you look to attack the Cardinal defense?
James Henderson: Pound the ground. I think NC State should look to rely on their ground game with Matt Dayes, Reggie Gallaspy, and the jet sweep game from Nyheim Hines and Jaylen Samuels.
Steve Williams: Keep doing what you're doing. The short and intermediate passing game has been solid for NC State and I'd continue it. I think Stephen Louis continues to emerge as does Kelvin Harmon. Those are guys that could have big days for NC State.
Rob McLamb: NC State should take some shots deep if for no other reason than to clear some space for Dayes and a short passing game. Louisville cannot be allowed to load the box.
Bryant Carson: Again, I think State has to be themselves and continue to use balance. Take some vertical shots with Louis and Harmon, play underneath with Hines and Samuels and give consistent doses of Dayes.
Strategically, do you think NC State should play aggressive and look to hit chunk plays or would you try and ground out a running attack and shorten the game, if possible?
James Henderson: I don't think NC State can strictly look to run the football because while Duke leaned heavily on that gameplan they also benefited from Louisville being flat and having an off-night. I don't expect NC State to face "that" Louisville squad.
I think State needs to play their game. Run the ball, throw it, be aggressive, and efficient.
Steve Williams: I like running the ball, grinding it out and keeping Lamar Jackson off the field. The Pack had success with this approach- just moving the chains- against Clemson. It'll probably be even more important against Louisville. You can't get in a track meet with the Cards.
Rob McLamb: Teams always need to take deep shots and have some offensive variance. That will help NC State in that the Wolfpack will likely be more successful with a short passing and running game.
Bryant Carson: I think any time you play an explosive offense that controlling the ball and chewing clock is important—especially on the road. I thought State did a fantastic job of doing just that at Clemson last week and I would believe they’ll attempt more of the same this week.
Pick one player who you feel needs to step up on the offensive side of the ball for NC State?
James Henderson: Ryan Finley. Everyone from Louisville will be keying on Matt Dayes this week. NC State needs to have a big game through the air.
Steve Williams: I'd like to see Jaylen Samuels step up. I think priority one for Louisville is going to be to stop Matt Dayes. While Samuels has been effective this year we've yet to see him really take over a game. This would be a perfect opportunity.
Rob McLamb: Thad Moss could be the guy to excel for NC State. If Dayes runs well, the Wolfpack could work off the running game.
Bryant Carson: I think the OTs may get tested often this week with L’Ville trying to come hard off the edge to disrupt the backfield. I think the OL has played extremely well all season but if State is going to throw the ball well on Saturday Tyler Jones and Will Richardson will need to move their feet and keep those quick DEs out of the backfield…AND, here is the important part—without accumulating a ton of False Starts or Holds.
Louisville has one of the best offenses in the country with Lamar Jackson at the helm. What would be your gameplan defensively to defend the Cardinals?
James Henderson: Limiting explosive plays. Last week NC State held Clemson's offense to just one play over 21 yards, a 29-yard completion, and none for touchdowns. If they can do that against Louisville, the Wolfpack will have a good chance knocking off the Cardinals.
Steve Williams: Hope he falls down. Seriously, people that are a lot smarter than me have no clue how to stop him. I suppose you want to keep him in the pocket and force him to throw the football. But heck, he's shown he can be pretty effective with that, too.
Rob McLamb: Although he is much better than he was last season, I'd still want Jackson to throw the ball. On option reads, NC State must force him to pitch to the tailback.
Bryant Carson: With a guy like Jackson that is so explosive I think you’ve got to try and box him in, not over-pursue and make him look to throw the ball. I think anyone in their right mind will take their chances with that dude passing as opposed to getting loose beyond the LOS.
The one thing that kills me to see is a LBer on a blitz or a DE that gets free coming wide open at a QB, just humming along as fast as they can go and then the QB simply slides forward or takes a step sideways and the would be sack-er goes flying by shocked that the QB didn’t stand still and take the hit. State defenders have to be smart enough to know that Lamar Jackson will not stand still and let them tee off—box him in, stay in your lane and don’t let him get outside of you because once you whiff…he’s gone.
What is the biggest concern for NC State's defense?
James Henderson: It has to be Lamar Jackson and the Louisville read-option. Priority No. 1 must be taking him out of the equation, but the Louisville running backs are good as well.
Steve Williams: Lamar Jackson.
Rob McLamb: If Jackson is given room to run Louisville will score often and NC State will lose. Make him throw the ball and take your chances.
Bryant Carson: Lamar Jackson. I think without Jackson L’Ville still has a decent offense—solid OL, good set of WRs, etc but Jackson pilots the ship. Jackson always seems to draw the Mike Vicks comparisons (and rightly so) and that guy took an okay VT team to a national championship game.
Pick one player who you feel needs to step up on the defensive side of the ball.
James Henderson: I'll say a position and it is NC State's defensive ends. If they do well against the read option, NC State will have a good shot. It's critical that they are disciplined and handle their assignments.
Steve Williams: I'm actually going to pick two- Josh Jones and Dravious Wright. I think the Pack needs both of these guys to have huge games. Last week proved how important Wright's production is to the Wolfpack defense. If he can replicate that and Josh Jones can protect the back end, the Pack may have a chance.
Rob McLamb: Darian Roseboro. NC State will have to play its lanes correctly on read-options and such or it will be a long afternoon.
Bryant Carson: Any of the Safeties or Nickels will need to play their best to give State a chance to contain/control Jackson. If I’m picking one I’d go Josh Jones though as he’ll likely be the last guy to have a chance at bringing Jackson down if/when he gets loose.
Prediction time... let's have it. What do you think happens on the field?
James Henderson: This is a much tougher challenge than Clemson, not just because of how explosive Jackson is, but it's game No.3 in a really physical string of games with this one being the second of back-to-back road trips.
I see Louisville winning by 14, but if State is somehow able to match the intensity from last week, they can definitely beat Louisville.
Steve Williams: I honestly don't know which team will show up. I didn't give State much of a chance against Clemson and they proved me wrong. I do know if they can match last week's effort they have a chance. Doing so will be easier said than done, however. I'll have to go with Louisville.
Rob McLamb: Louisville 30, NC State 21
The Wolfpack will likely play a spirited game and give the Cardinals a run for their money but Jackson's ability to rush the ball -- particularly on busted plays or during tight pass coverage -- will be too much for NC State to handle.
Bryant Carson: With one loss on their resume already L’Ville simply can’t afford to drop another game. I think Duke scared them last week and then they saw State put a scare in Clemson so I would imagine L’Ville will be on their guard and will not overlook the Wolfpack. Meanwhile you’ve got State coming off what has to be the most disappointing loss in the playing career of every player on that team so it’s feasible to think State could come out a little flat.
I believe State will come in ready to play but I think L’Ville will too. I expect an entertaining game that ends in favor of the Cards 31-24.