Pack Pride's James Henderson, Steve Williams, Rob McLamb, and Bryant Carson answer several critical questions facing NC State heading into today's matchup with Miami.
NC State returns to action on Saturday.... Senior Day vs. Miami. What is the biggest key of the game for the Wolfpack?
James Henderson: Don't beat yourself. NC State should win this game if they win the turnover battle and have less penalties than the Hurricanes.
Steve Williams: The biggest key is for State to come out excited and ready to play. They can't lay an egg like they did against Boston College. Obviously there is so much to play for- bowl eligibility, senior day. The Pack has to be ready to go mentally.
Rob McLamb: The NC State defensive line needs to step up and create pressure on Brad Kaaya, while also limiting a solid running game from the Hurricanes.
Bryant Carson: On defense it’s stopping the run. On offense it’s dealing with the pressure. Last season the Pack faced a Manny Diaz-coached defense at Miss. St and handled the constant pressure poorly. This may not be the best overall defense State has played this season but it’s likely the most aggressive.
Brad Kaaya is considered one of the best passers in the country, and Miami has plenty of talent at running back. What is the biggest factor for the Wolfpack versus Syracuse's offense?
James Henderson: Stop the run. NC State's defense is built around stopping the run and making offenses one-dimensional. The Wolfpack will be in trouble if Miami's three-headed backfield gets going.
Steve Williams: Stop the run first. If the Pack can stop the run and force Miami into some obvious passing situations, I think the opportunity will be there to make some plays behind the line of scrimmage.
Rob McLamb: The Wolfpack has to win the line of scrimmage. The defensive line has to play in Miami's backfield on a regular basis and the linebackers must limit what the Hurricane running backs do when they do break past the front four.
Bryant Carson: Kaaya is very good but I think the first priority here is stopping the run. If State can take the run away early and force Kaaya to continually beat them with his arm then I think good things can happen for the Pack.
What is the biggest concern for NC State's defense?
James Henderson: I think this is the best GROUP of tailbacks NC State has faced this season, and Miami will commit to running the football. Walton, Yearby, and Edwards are all talented and explosive. NC State has to keep them under control so they can turn up the pressure on Kaaya.
Steve Williams: For me it's the big play. I don't think Miami is going to drive the ball up and down the field on the Pack. I feel like State has to guard against giving up a freebie whether it be on a blown coverage or a missed tackle.
Rob McLamb: Stopping the run is the first priority because Miami tends to be less successful as an offense when Kaaya is forced to throw 30-to-40 times. Make the Hurricanes a one-trick pony and it also helps prevent the NC State secondary from being forced to make tackles on the Miami running backs if the make deep runs.
Bryant Carson: Miami has been a well-oiled machine the last two weeks with decisive wins over both Pitt and UVA. Probably the biggest concern, on both sides of the ball, is playing a ‘hot’ team. Miami is a little like State in that they had a 4-game losing streak with some close/tough loses in there but they found a way to rebound and things seem to be really clicking for them at present.
Pick one player who you feel needs to step up on the defensive side of the ball.
James Henderson: It has to be junior Jerod Fernandez. NC State's middle linebacker has been lights out the last three weeks against the run game, and with Miami's downhill attack he has to be able to get off blocks and make plays.
Steve Williams: I would really like to see Bradley Chubb step up and build on his performance against Syracuse. I think he's a guy that could put some pressure on the Miami offensive line and possibly force Kaaya into some mistakes.
Rob McLamb: Bradley Chubb is having a terrific season and, while this is not a vintage Miami team he is facing, the game Saturday represents another chance for those on the national stage to see how wonderful he is. He can play a big role in how well the Wolfpack does if he is able to pressure Kaaya and force Miami to rush inside.
Bryant Carson: I think this is a game where the DEs will have a real opportunity to get in the backfield and disrupt Miami’s passing attack. It would be beneficial for State for Street to step up this week and make Kaaya uncomfortable.
Unlike Syracuse, Miami is now for a stingy, aggressive defense that has stymied opponents all season. What is the biggest priority for NC State's offense?
James Henderson: Finish. NC State's offense has to finish drives with touchdowns and not rely on field goals or long 4th-down opportunities.
Steve Williams: The Pack has to maximize its opportunities. When they get inside the red zone they need to come away with points. I think State, for the most part, has under performed relative to the defenses they've faced and they probably won't have a lot of chances to score on Saturday so they need to make the most of each opportunity.
Rob McLamb: This could be a game where the slots work inside and guys like Matt Dayes and Jaylen Samuels have the biggest impact on the game going out wide. The key for the Wolfpack is misdirection, especially as it pertains to the Miami front seven.
Bryant Carson: Protect Finley, Miami will come after him often—keep him upright and you should have some good opportunities down the field.
NC State faced defensive coordinator Manny Diaz in the Belk Bowl, and Diaz brought a lot of pressure. How do you think Eli Drinkwitz should look to attack Miami's pressure schemes?
James Henderson: I think you'll see State look to scheme open the wideouts with some slants and crossing routes, and you can also mix in some wheel routes from the running backs. Look for State to try and attack Miami's defense from within the hashes with Dayes, Hines, and Samuels.
Steve Williams: The Pack has to run the football, stay on schedule and be unpredictable on offense. The Pack can't get itself into obvious third and longs. State has also shown the ability to run screens and quick hitting passes which is something that could work against Miami's pressure.
Rob McLamb: NC State needs receivers to be durable and make tough catches inside because it will give the Wolfpack more freedom to make plays out wide.
Bryant Carson: I think early on you want to get the ball out quickly and put that defense on its heels. This is a game where screens and slants can help you deal with the defensive pressure and if you’re able to slip a tackle or two you can gain big yardage.
Pick one player who you feel needs to step up on the offensive side of the ball for NC State?
James Henderson: Matt Dayes. If NC State can out-rush the Hurricanes it should be a good day for the Wolfpack.
Steve Williams: I feel like Nyheim Hines is a guy that could have a big day. If the Pack catches Miami in a blitz situation and State is able to get the ball out to Hines in space then he could make some big plays.
Rob McLamb: Nyheim Hines has re-emerged of late and NC State needs him to be a X-factor against Miami. Whether it is Hines or another inside player, like Samuels or Thad Moss, the Wolfpack needs someone to keep the Hurricane linebackers from roaming.
Bryant Carson: This game could be a great opportunity for Nyheim Hines. Hines has been outstanding the last few weeks and this game in particular should give him some one-on-one match-ups that he can win.
Prediction time... let's have it. What do you think happens on the field?
James Henderson: This is a game NC State can definitely win. For me, it will come down to turnovers, penalties, and redzone success.
I think State does enough to get it done against Miami and pick up the sixth win of the season.
Steve Williams: I've felt all year that this is a matchup that favors NC State. I think State gets bowl eligible on Saturday.
Rob McLamb: Miami 28, NC State 20
Bryant Carson: State is at home, on senior day with a little momentum gained from a much needed road win at Syracuse last week. The Pack again has something to play for with a potential bowl birth on the line. On the other hand you’ve got a hot Miami team coming in although this will be their second road game in a row.
Realistically I could see this going either way but I’m afraid the Canes will find the play down the stretch that has altogether alluded State all season. Canes in a close one.