This has to be the biggest key for NC State in Saturday's contest against Virginia.
The Cavaliers enter the game with the ACC's top pass rusher in Chris Long, but defensive end Jeffrey Fitzgerald and linebacker Clint Sintim get after the quarterback as well. Virginia ranks No. 15 nationally in sacks, as they have totaled 24 through eight games. Their 3-4 scheme allows Long and Fitzgerald to bring pressure off the edge with a linebacker free to bliz either end on every down.
Wolfpack tackles Meares Green and Jake Vermiglio need to be solid. Vermiglio, making just his second start, will have his hands full with Long. The true freshman is playing in place of the injured Julian Williams, and he was impressive against East Carolina.
Expect tight ends Marcus Stone and Matt Kushner and the backs to help both tackles at times in obvious pass-rushing situations. NC State needs Daniel Evans to have a big game. For him to do that, he has to be able to stand in the pocket and make plays.
CONVERT BIG PLAYS
Virginia is No. 21 nationally in total defense and No. 21 nationally in scoring defense, as they do a good job of limiting big plays and forcing the opposition to sustain long drives.
However, if there is a a weakness for Virginia's defense it is in the secondary. At times, opposing teams have been able to attack their corners. NC State's wide receivers routinely came down with deep balls against East Carolina, and look for Evans and his wideouts to test Virginia deep.
In a game that figures to be low scoring, if NC State can make a few big plays, that could be the deciding factor in the game.
NC State isn't a team that can afford to lose the turnover margin in any game. With the injuries they have sustained, winning games will come down to limiting penalties, turnovers and actually creating them defensively.
Offensively, the Pack can't give the game away with mental miscues. They need to make teams beat them, and for the first time this season they did that against East Carolina and came out victorious.
Evans and company must convert on third down, gain sufficient yardage on first down to stay out of obvious passing situations, and offensive coordinator Dana Bible will look to mix it up to keep Virginia's defense off-balance.
Most importantly, the Wolfpack offense just needs to be efficient. An efficient offense against Virginia, in what should be a great atmosphere, will be crucial.
NC State Defense vs. Virginia Offense
Virginia's offensive attack is built around the running back. It isn't enough to simply contain the Cavalier backs in the run game, they must be accounted for on pass routes as well.
So far this year the Virginia RB's have accounted for 49 pass receptions and 441 yards which is nearly a third of the Cav's receiving yardage. Virginia is also averaging nearly 140 yards per game on the ground. While not a particularly explosive offense, Virginia likes to grind it out with time consuming drives that focus on the running game as well as safe passes to the backs and tight ends. This means NC State will need to get solid production from their defensive line and allow the linebackers to free up to make plays.
State's run defense has been much-improved the last two weeks, holding Florida State to 124 yards and East Carolina to just 72 yards on the ground. Continued production like this is a must against Virginia.
NC State did a solid job against dual-threat QB Xavier Lee at FSU a few weeks back and they'll need a similar effort against Jameel Sewell.
The Cavaliers won't necessarily utilize him much as a running option as he tends to get most of his yards while improvising on pass drops. He can be extremely slippery and you have to stay on him until he's down on the ground. Sewell can be up and down with his accuracy at times and he can get flustered. He is extremely effective with play action passes and loves to hit his backs and tight ends on safer passes.
State has to find a way to get him out of his comfort zone and force him in to bad decisions. If the Pack defense can take away those backs and tight ends and force him to go further down the field, then perhaps they can come up with a turnover. Sewell has thrown three picks over the last three games.
MAKE THE TACKLE
Virginia will try to wear down the NC State defense with it's running game and that puts utmost importance on the Wolfpack's tackling.
They seemingly corrected many of the tackling issues that plagued them in the first five games of the season and have played much better the last two times out. They must continue this streak against UVA to be successful. James Martin's play inside will be critical as will that of Nate Irving, LeRue Rumph, and Ernest Jones.
If the Virginia backs are able to pick up four and five yards consistently on the ground, it could be a very long day for the Pack.