By the numbers, NC State's rushing game is one of the worst in the country, as the Wolfpack rushing game is rated No. 109 nationally. Facing a UNC defensive rated No. 47 against the run, that might not be a good thing, but the Wolfpack has actually fared much better recently churning out yards.
A few factors influence the Pack's low ranking. First of all, Daniel Evans isn't a running quarterback. NC State receives no hidden yardage from the quarterback position and generally have sacks negatively impact the overall rushing total. Also, the pro-style offense doesn't rey on misdirection or stretch plays to generate rushing yardage. NC State rarely runs reverses, wideout handoffs, etc... to get extra rushing yardage from their wide receivers (a scheme teams like Wake, UNC, and Miami use effectively with Kenny Moore, Brandon Tate, and Darnell Jenkins respectively. Finally, there is no real depth at the position. Eugene has become the workhorse, with true freshman Curtis Underwood receiving very few carries. Most teams have 2-3 backs split carries and gain yards to add to the total (North Carolina uses as many as 4 tailbacks in a game).
When you look strictly at Jamelle Eugene's numbers, particularly since the Florida State game when he became the primary option, he has played extremely well. Over the past four games, Eugene is averaging 91 yards per game rushing. Now he has yet to receive enough carries to be ranked among the league leaders (as he started the season as the third-string back), but Clemson's James Davis, the ACC's 2nd leading rusher, is averaging 88 yards per game.
NC State is getting solid production from Eugene on the ground and they also use him in the passing game, at times often serving as extra rushing yardage. He is averaging another 33 yards per game receiving over the same four-game stretch, and led the Wolfpack in the category at Florida State and Miami.
Whether it is by ground or through the air, look for NC State to continue establishing Jamelle Eugene. His ability to consistently gain yards has been huge in the offensive resurgence.
LIMIT TURNOVERS, BLOCK FOR EVANS
Daniel Evans and the entire offense have done a great job of limiting turnovers over the three-game winning streak.
The Pack has turned the ball over just three times, and Evans has been really effective. In the last three games, Evans has averaged 296.3 passing yards and has completed 57% (74-130) of his throws. He has thrown six TD passes and been picked off just twice in those three games, posting a 126.52 passing effiency mark. Evans has set career highs for completions (29 vs. ECU), yards (347 vs. UVa) and tied his mark for TD passes (3 vs. ECU and Virginia).
Evans has been especially good in the fourth quarter in the last two weeks, completing 62% of his throws (18-29) for 254 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. Short stints in games against UCF, Boston College, Wofford, and Lousiville prevent Evans from ranking among the league leaders in several categories, but he is playing as well as any quarterback in the confernence.
For Evans to keep performing well, the Wolfpack's offensive line has to continue the terrific job they are doing. Facing three aggressive, talented defenses, this patched-up unit has allowed Evans time on passing plays to find open receivers and make plays vertically. UNC's Hilee Taylor and Kentwan Balmer are two of the best defensive linemen in the conference and the Pack's front must contain those two and the rest of the Tar Heel's aggressive defensive line.
If Evans has time he can likely take advantage of some favorable matchups on the perimeter.
ATTACK THE SECONDARY
NC State has one of the most underated receiving corps in the ACC, and with Evans playing well oppposing teams are beginning to see that. John Dunlap and Darrell Blackman are proven veterans, but the key might be the Pack's four reserve receivers. Sophomore Donald Bowens and the three freshmen, Owen Spencer, Darrell Davis, and Jarvis Williams, are all 6-foot-3 or taller, with Davis and Williams checking in right at 6-foot-5. All four of the youngsters have shown the ability to go up in traffic and come down with the acrobatic catch, regardless of the defender.
While North Carolina is strong against the pass, No. 30 nationally, the Heels haven't faced a wide receiver group as talented as NC State's. The Wolfpack's size, athleticism, and speed could give UNC's young secondary problems. The Tar Heels start three freshmen in the defensive backfield, with corners Kendric Burney and Charles Brown check in at 5-foot-9 and 5-foot-10 respectively.
Virginia's Ras-I Dowling, the corner NC State targeted all day in the Wolfpack's win over the Cavaliers stands 6-foot-2, and that didn't prevent Evans, Spencer, or Bowens from going right at him.
In the passing game, NC State has to remain aggressive on the edges. If UNC leaves their young corners on an island... go right at them.
NC State Defense vs. North Carolina Offense
CONTAIN T.J. YATES
It's not just that Yates is one of the league's best young QB's. He's one of the league's best period. Right now, only Boston College's Matt Ryan and Clemson's Cullen Harper are rated higher in the ACC. Yates is completing 62% of his passes and thrown for better than 2,000 yards and 12 touchdowns.
State has to defend against the long ball against UNC. Yates loves to go deep and he has three stellar receivers to throw the ball to. Hakeem Nicks, Brooks Foster and Brandon Tate have combined for nearly 100 receptions and 1,400 yards. This means State's defensive backs will have to come up big.
To try to slow down Carolina's passing attack, State will need to mix up their coverages and most importantly, get pressure on Yates. When he's forced to move his feet and get out of his comfort zone, Yates has a tendency to throw errant passes- having tossed 14 interceptions on the year. A best case scenario is if the Pack can get decent pressure with it's front four and allow State to drop back in coverage and put itself in position for a turnover.
DEFEND FIRST DOWN
It sounds cliche and is important every week but the Pack must be successful on first down. They have to force UNC in a position to throw the ball out of necessity versus throwing it when they want to. The Heels don't have a particularly strong run game, averaging just over 100 yards per contest but the Pack will need to play much better than they did against Miami in run defense. UNC also knows they don't run the ball that well so State has to be prepared for a lot of passes on first down as well. If the Pack can force second and long and third and long consistently, then they have a chance to be successful. If Carolina is able to pick up five and six yards on first down, it could be a miserable day for State.
MAKE PLAYS IN THE BACKFIELD
One of the keys to T.J. Yates being able to go deep is having the time to complete the pass. UNC's pass protection has been shaky at times and the Heels have given up 28 sacks this year. NC State's defensive line play has been better of late and they must continue that against Carolina.
The Pack will likely bring a lot of pressure from different angles but after seeing a multitude of blitzes against Maryland this past week, it's safe to say that Carolina will work on that quite a bit this week. Beyond putting pressure on Yates, State also needs to create as many negative running plays as possible for Carolina as well.
If they can make tackles for loss in the run game, it puts much more pressure on the Heels' passing game and forces them in to more predictable passing situations.