Both teams are playing for a bowl bid tomorrow, but the pressure is on NC State. The Wolfpack offense must come out and play aggressive from the beginning, but they can't play tight. Offensive coordinator Dana Bible has to allow Daniel Evans to test Maryland's sometimes-suspect secondary. Over the last five games he's attempted more than 40 passes in each of them, and Evans has thrown eight touchdown passes and had a pair of 300-yard games. Evans has proven he is capable of winning big games, now he needs to go out and prove it again. Playing loose and aggressive will be the key for him and the Wolfpack offense.
In what could end up being a low-scoring game, NC State's offense can't give away points in the redzone. That doesn't mean by failing to capitalize... it means giving the other team scoring opportunities on turnovers. In the past two games, Evans has thrown three interceptions in the redzone, with two of them being returned for touchdowns. He also had another pick thrown for a 57-yard score. Kicker Steven Hauschka has missed just two kicks all year. Maybe it is time for State to become a little more conservative in the redzone and take the sure three points, even if it is sacrificing potential scoring opportunities through the air.
When you get deep in Maryland territory, run some with Jamelle Eugene and Andre Brown, or attempt high percentage passes such as screens and swing passes, unless you have a receiver run wide open. Maybe that is not playing extremely aggressive, but it is playing smart, especially when you consider the past couple of weeks. You have a weapon in Hauschka... don't be afraid to use him.
Maryland is last in the conference in sacks, totaling just 21 in 11 games, so the Wolfpack offensive line should be able to protect Evans. However, Maryland's big playmaker is junior linebacker Erin Henderson... he's all over the field and the line has to be able to get to the second-level and block No. 1.
Henderson has tallied 116 tackles in 11 games, his 11.6 average ranking first in the conference and sixth nationally. He has battled a lingering back injury and pain in his knees, but Henderson's remains the league's most productive linebacker mainly due to his aggressiveness, athleticism, and toughness.
However the injuries are starting to take their toll. Henderson has missed valuable practice time the past three weeks, and he managed just four tackles in last week's game against Florida State, often needing to be helped off the field by his teammates. With Maryland's bowl hopes still alive, you know Henderson is going to play, and NC State will need to make sure they know where he is at all times.
NC State Defense vs. Maryland Offense
PLAY WITH EMOTION
This may be the biggest defensive key of the game. The Maryland offense has struggled mightily as of late. Injuries along the offensive line have taken a toll and the Terrapins have had a tough time putting points on the board.
If NC State comes out and sets the tempo early in the game by getting after Maryland, they can have success in shutting them down. It will be the last game in Carter-Finley for several seniors so emotion shouldn't be a problem. If State dictates the game on defense, it could be a long day for Maryland.
DB'S WILL NEED TO BE READY
In their first five games of the year, Maryland averaged better than 176 yards per game rushing. However, over the last four games, the Terps have only managed a little more than 100 yards per game and were actually held under a 100 in the three of those four contests. As a result, Maryland has turned heavily to the pass game over the last several weeks.
QB Chris Turner, in for Jordan Steffy who was injured earlier in the year, has been effective. His favorite target is Darrius Heyward-Bey who has 42 receptions for 640 yards on the season. The Terps like to use play action and they like to force your DB's to cover the entire field in the passing game. NC State's corners have to play disciplined and not get sucked in on play action as they have on a couple of very obvious occasions this season.
KEEP THEM OUT OF THE RED ZONE
NC State must find a way to keep Maryland out of the red zone and this could be a tough task. The Terps convert on better than 40% of their third down chances which means they are able to keep drives moving. Once inside the redzone, the Terps are converting those trips into points 90% of the time. Out of 41 trips, they've hit on 27 touchdowns and 10 field goals. Because of their ability to convert inside the 20, there are several factors that will be important in State's effort to stop the Terp's scoring chances. First, field position will be critical. The Pack must get good coverage on kickoffs and punts. State cannot give up the short field to Maryland and must make them sustain drives of 70 and 80 yards. The Pack must also try to force Maryland into obvious passing downs to try to keep their third down conversion percentages at a minimum.
If State is successful in those two areas, then the Pack should be able to limit Maryland's opportunities. They are not a big play, quick strike offense so the Wolfpack will need to play smart and be patient.