Saturday's Keys

As this weekend's NC State-Louisville game draws near, Pack Pride looks at several keys to the contest.

NC State Offense vs. Louisville Defense

The key to beating Louisville might be keeping their high-powered offense on the sidelines.

Louisville's pass defense has really struggled, but their rush defense hasn't been much better. No. 68 in the nation coming into the game, the Cardinals are allowing 4.64 yards per carry and have given up numerous big plays on the ground, particularly to Middle Tennessee State.

If NC State can establish a running game with Andre Brown, the Wolfpack can control the football, manage the time of possession, and keep Brian Brohm next to head coach Steve Kragthorpe. It is hard to score points with a baseball cap on.

Louisville returned just one starter from last year's defensive secondary, and they have had problems all year defending the pass. Louisville is currently No. 104 nationally in pass defense and gave up a ton of yards last week in their Big East opener.

Syracuse, a team that had entered the game No. 97 in pass offense and No. 116 in total offense, moved the ball at will. Quarterback Andrew Robinson completed 17-of-26 passes for 423 yards and four touchdowns, certainly a career-day for him.

That game was at Papa John's Stadium, ending Louisville's 20-game home-winning streak. How did Robinson do it? He continued to torch Louisville's defenders with the deep ball.

NC State quarterback Harrison Beck has all the tools to do the same, provided his line can give him the time needed to find wide receivers John Dunlap, Darrell Blackman, Donald Bowens, and others.

Louisville is going to make big plays and put up points. NC State has to be able to do the same.

Louisville has struggled on special teams and NC State return man Darrell Blackman is one of the most feared returners in college football.

Last week he returned a kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown, and Louisville allowed a 93-yard kickoff return for a score to Syracuse. They will be kicking to Blackman and he has the potential to score everytime he touches the football.

Louisville has arguably the best kicker in the country in Art Carmody, but the Cardinals have struggled punting as they are No. 115 nationally in net punting. That is another area Blackman can make an impact. The problem is, Louisville rarely has to punt.

In games like this, the underdog needs to win the special teams battle. NC State has to do that on Saturday.

NC State hasn't scored more than 24 points against a D-1A team since the 2004 season. That isn't a good statement when facing a team like Louisville.

No one has been able to shut the Cardinals down, and NC State has had as much problems on defense as Louisville. However, Syracuse's success has to give the Wolfpack some hope, as they have more playmakers than the Orange.

Beck needs to manage the offense and make plays. Limiting turnovers is a must, as that will prevent Louisville from taking over with great field position.

Most importantly, NC State's offense just needs to show up and put points on the board because you know Louisville is going to.

NC State Defense vs. Louisville Offense

Realistically, there is likely no way that NC State can stop the Louisville offense but they must find a way to at least slow it down. The Cardinals have the No. 1 offense in the nation and they'll be matched against a Wolfpack defense rated No. 76 in the country. Heisman candidate Brian Brohm is going to hit some big plays but WR Mario Urrutia has been inconsistent and Harry Douglas may not be 100%. What the Pack has to try to do is greatly reduce Louisville's big plays and try to force them to grind the ball down the field as opposed to giving up 50 and 60 yard bombs. This means the State defensive line will have to try to match their first half effort against Boston College where they got decent pressure on Matt Ryan. The cardinals have averaged giving up just one sack per game so that will be a tall task for a young Wolfpack defensive line.

If State isn't able to get pressure on Brohm then they'll need to look at bringing pressure from their LB's and DB's on occasion. The Pack simply can't let Brohm sit comfortably in the pocket against a four man rush and allow him to pick the NC State secondary apart. The Louisville scheme is too effective and their wideouts too talented to expect the Wolfpack DB's to cover them for long periods of time. If State can get some pressure on Brohm then perhaps they can force him into an errant throw or two.

The NC State defense has dropped at least a half dozen interceptions this year. One of the benefits of a zone defense is to give the DB's a chance to make a play on the ball. Brohm won't throw many bad balls but if he does and the State secondary has a chance to make a play, they have to take advantage. Reducing Louisville's scoring opportunities will likely be State's best chance to keep pace and possibly put themselves in a position to win the game.

Going hand in hand with creating turnovers will be State's ability to get off the field when they force Louisville into third and long situations. The Pack was miserable in this aspect against Clemson and it cost them on several drives. Unfortunately, the Cardinals are one of the nation's best at converting on third down with a 54% conversion rate. Regardless, the NC State defense has to have someone step up and make plays to get the Cardinal offense off the field and eliminate scoring opportunities.

Louisville's forte is to pass the ball but they do a decent job of rushing the ball as well. State must respect this facet of the game and that means doing a better job of tackling. The Pack had one of it's poorest tackling efforts of the year this past weekend against Clemson. They tended to take bad angles and end up trying to arm tackle. This will also be a factor in the passing game as well. The Louisville receiving corps has several players with outstanding speed and if the State defenders blow the tackle, it could result in a seven yard play going the distance for a score.

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