Jamelle Eugene's great play has been the biggest reason in NC State's four-game winning streak, and the Wolfpack need to keep feeding the productive sophomore.
Since taking over for Andre Brown in the Florida State game, Eugene has rushed for 524 yards and three touchdowns. In the past four games, he has accounted for more than 100% of NC State's net rushing yards. He's netted 423 rushing yards in those contests (all Pack wins), while the team has netted just 410.
Eugene has been a true workhorse. Against UNC, he rushed a career-high 32 times without losing a single yard. Over the past five games, his workload has increased each game (14, 22, 23, 27, and 32) as NC State has used him to spur their offensive attack.
Not only has he been strong on the ground, but Eugene also has recorded 25 catches for 164 yards and another score as a receiver out of the backfield. Dana Bible's ability to match him up with linebackers in space has extended drives and given Daniel Evans a true safety valve when under pressure.
To defeat Wake Forest, NC State must win the rushing battle. That all starts with Jamelle Eugene... and maybe a little Andre Brown mixed in.
LIMIT TURNOVERS; BE SPECIAL
Wake Forest lives off turnovers... it's how they win games. The Deacons are 25th nationally in turnover margin and have scored nine non-offensive touchdowns, the most in the country.
Wolfpack quarterback Daniel Evans must be careful when passing on the edges at cornerback Alphonso Smith is arguably the league's top cover corner. The junior has four interceptions.... and has returned three of them for touchdowns. In the last three games against Wake Forest, NC State has had three passes intercepted and returned for scores by the Deacs... Smith was the culprit in 2005. Evans needs to make sure he is accurate with his passes and remember that when pressured he can take a sack or throw the ball out of bounds instead of forcing a pass because NC State has a legit weapon on the sidelines.
That weapon is senior kicker Steven Hauschka, and he and Wake's Sam Swank are arguably the ACC's top two kickers in 2007. Both will be key as the winner of this game likely will have won the special teams battle.
Hauschka is 15-of-16 this season and Swank has booted 15-of-18. He single-handily defeated the Wolfpack in 2006, as the senior booted three field goals from more than fifty yards away, a NCAA record.
Another matchup to watch is Darrell Blackman and Donald Bowens vs. Kevin Marion and Kenny Moore in the return game. Moore is third in the ACC in punt returns while Marion is second in kickoff returns with Blackman ranking second and fifth respectively in both categories. Lately teams have been kicking away from Blackman, allowing Bowens to return kicks and he has responded with a solid 23.7 average. Last week Wake allowed a kickoff return for a score. If Blackman or Bowens can break one for six, that might be the advantage NC State is looking for.
NC State is riding a four-game winning streak, and Wake Forest has lost the last two games, including a 34-point defeat at Clemson just last week. The Wolfpack must come out aggressive and attack Wake Forest on the opening kickoff.
It will be Senior Day in Winston-Salem and emotions will be high, but Wake is a team that could be reeling. NC State should use the same gameplan employed to perfection at East Carolina.
The Wolfpack played as if they had nothing to lose and challenged the Pirates on the edge. Evans completed two long passes for scores and after a blocked punt was returned for a touchdown the Pack held an early 21-0 advantage and the crowd was out of the game... without truly ever getting back in it.
NC State needs to play aggressive. They need to go right at Wake Forest and attack the Deacs, but while doing so they must be careful not to give up any cheap scores or big plays.
NC State Defense vs. Wake Forest Offense
NC State must play as disciplined as they have all year in order to have success against Wake Forest. Every offensive player must be accounted for and it is paramount that State's defenders not get sucked in to trying to cover other player's assignments.
The Pack's defensive line must control the line of scrimmage and not allow Wake's offensive line to control the flow of the defense. If they can get State's defensive line moving where they want consistently, they can force the Pack out of position and the Deacs will use cutbacks and misdirection to pick the Pack apart.
Another key is for State's DL and LB's to keep their feet. Wake likes to cut block and the Pack has to be ready for this. State must also control the gaps, not over-pursue and funnel Wake Forest's backs and receivers to the linebackers. If the Pack gets into a game of chasing the ball-carrier, it could be a long day.
SUCCESS ON FIRST DOWN
It seems to be a key every week but it may not be more important against any other team. Wake does not have dominant talent so staying on schedule is a must for their offense.
If the Pack can hold the Deacs to three yards or less on first down, Wake Forest tends to turn to the passing game on second down and that's when you are at an advantage. Riley Skinner is a solid QB but the Deacs would much rather pass when they want to versus when they're forced to do it. He's not as effective when going against a defense set up to defend the pass.
If you're looking for one clue as to how things may progress for the Pack defensively, watch what's happening on first down. If Wake is getting five or six yards per play, State is going to be in a tough position.
GUARD THE PERIMETER
You have to give Wake Forest credit. Teams know they're going to use their wide receivers in the run game and yet, they execute it so well, opposing defense's come away looking as though they've never seen it.
You have to account for Kenny Moore and Kevin Moore on every single snap and especially if you see either go in motion. On the year, those two have combined for roughly 350 yards and three touchdowns. This means State's DB's will have to constantly be on the lookout for wide receiver handoffs, reverses and throwbacks to the QB.
SPECIAL TEAMS DEFENSE A MUST
Special teams coach Jerry Petercuskie will have his hands full this week preparing for Wake's punt and kickoff return teams.
Kevin Marion is a threat to take it to the house on every single kickoff and he's currently ranked 10th in the nation for kickoff return yardage. Obviously, the best defense for this is for Pack PK Steven Hauschka to put his kicks into the endzone. At worst, State needs to keep Wake inside their own 30 and not give up a score or short field. Kenny Moore is another threat on punt returns and he's No. 22 in the country.
Bradley Pierson's punting has been up and down this year but more important than yardage is for him to get good hang-time on his punts and give State a chance to get down in coverage.