This is a weekly concern for the Wolfpack, but when you have a team that is No. 119 in the country in turnover margin (NC State) playing a team that is No. 8 (East Carolina), you really have to be concerned with it.
The Pirates have feasted off other teams making mistakes, and the turnovers have been a key factor in East Carolina's three-game winning streak. Teams have moved the ball at will against East Carolina's defense, a unit rated No. 107 in total defense, No. 115 in pass defense, and No. 100 in scoring defense. However turnovers and capitalizing on those turnovers have been crucial for the Pirates.
If NC State is going to win this game, they have to win the turnover battle.
WIN SPECIAL TEAMS
Darrell Blackman vs. Chris Johnson. Steve Hauschka vs. Ben Hartman. Special teams could actually decide this game.
Outside of the turnovers, East Carolina has been solid on special teams. The Pirates are No. 6 nationally in kickoff returns, averaging 27.76 yards per return, with Johnson rating 10th in the nation at 30.95 yards per return including two for touchdowns. State must neutralize Johnson in the return game.
On the bright side for the Wolfpack, East Carolina has been horrible on kickoff coverage. Enering the game No. 116 nationally, the Pirates yield an average of 26.41 yards per return, including two that were returned for touchdowns. Blackman will have plenty of chances to impact the game on special teams.
The Pack's MVP thus far might be Hauscha, a walk-on graduate kicker who is perfect this season. He has to be confident and should have had even more chances but redzone turnovers have limited his attempts to just five. East Carolina's Hartman is just 7-of-12 on the season, and he has been shaky at times, particularly early this year against North Carolina when he missed three kicks inside of 40 yards.
Be sound in the kicking the game... win special teams and you have a chance of winning this football game.
ATTACK THE SECONDARY
In what will be a hostile environment, NC State must take advantage of East Carolina's porous defense, particularly through the air.
The Pirates have struggled stopping the pass all year, yielding 306 yards per game through the air. UNC's T.J. Yates torched the Pirates for 344 yards and three touchdowns in week two. West Virginia's Pat White completed 18-of-20 passes for 181 yards and two scores in week four. Last week, UTEP's Trevor Vittatoe completed 38-of-55 passes for 409 yards and thre touchdowns against East Carolina... previously he had only passed for more than 300 yards just once all season.
NC State will have ample opportunities to make plays through the air. The line must give Evans or Beck the time needed to make the proper reads and the wideouts have to get open and catch the ball when it's thrown their way.
Attacking East Carolina's secondary has to be a priority for the Wolfpack.
NC State Defense vs. East Carolina Offense
East Carolina doesn't put up eye-popping numbers in the run game but they are efficient enough that it helps them set up the pass.
The Pirate's top threat on the ground is Chris Johnson. He's rushed for 530 yards on the year with seven touchdowns. State must also be prepared for ECU's unconventional runs that utilize freshman wideout Dwayne Harris. He's carried the ball just 13 times but is averaging over 20 yards per carry.
ECU likes to create confusion with misdirection and they're looking for big yardage when they run these plays. This means the Wolfpack defense must be ready and play disciplined football. If State's LB's get out of position they could be vulnerable to giving up a big play.
Statistically, East Carolina is similar to Florida State and, after an improved showing against the Noles, will need to take it a step further against the Pirates.
BEWARE OF THE THIRD QUARTER
ECU has been outscored 136-79 in the first half so far this year. However, head coach Skip Holtz and his staff have shown an amazing ability to adjust at halftime. In the third quarter this season, the Pirates have outscored their opposition, 94-51. Just like with Florida State two weeks ago, the Pack needs to get off to a quick start and try to force East Carolina to play catch up.
They then need to be prepared for a dangerous ECU team in the second half. The Pirates feed off of their crowd and they boast one of the tougher places to play in the southeast. State will have to weather the storm to give themselves a chance late in the game.
Sophomore QB Rob Kass had some early off the field issues but he has emerged as the go-to QB in the Pirate's last two games. In impressive wins over Central Florida and UTEP, Kass completed 30 of 55 passes for 420 yards and four touchdowns. These two games were two of ECU's most impressive offensive outputs of the season as the Pirates rolled up 97 total points in those two games.
It is obvious that Kass' insertion as the starting QB has made ECU a much more balanced and dangerous offense. Another impressive facet of Kass' game is that against UTEP he completed passes to seven different receivers. He isn't a run threat which means State needs to find a way to pressure him and force errant throws. The Pack also needs to mix up their coverages and give him multiple looks.
He did throw three picks against UTEP and for once this season, State needs to find a way to win the turnover battle.