Series Record: North Carolina leads, 65-33-6
Last Five Games: N.C. State leads, 3-2
Getting to Know The Wolfpack
N.C. State enters this weekend’s game after ending a 2-4 skid with a 42-29 victory over Syracuse. The Wolfpack started the season 4-0, winning each of those games by at least 24 points, but have struggled against conference competition, posting a 3-4 record against ACC teams.
NCSU has competed closely against quality teams, though, and it’s a safe bet that the Pack will be highly motivated to spoil its archrival’s College Football Playoff hopes with a victory on Senior Day. The Wolfpack have one of the better defensive units in the nation, and senior quarterback Jacoby Brissett will be one of the best offensive players the Tar Heels have seen this season.
Brissett leads the Wolfpack offense and is one of the most efficient passers in the ACC this season. The Florida transfer has completed 63 percent of his passes this season, and has thrown 17 touchdowns while giving away just three interceptions. Brissett’s downfield optiosn are limited, as evidenced by his 6.8-yards-per-attempt average. He will look to stretch the Carolina defense horizontally.
The running back situation at N.C. State hasn’t panned out as expected this season due to discipline and injury. Senior running back Shadrach Thornton, regarded by many as one of the best backs in the league, played in just two games this season, and was dismissed from the team on Sept. 30. Junior running back Matt Dayes stepped up for the Wolfpack and averaged 108 yards per game while scoring 12 touchdowns before suffering a season-ending toe injury against Clemson on Halloween. That leaves freshman back Reggie Gallaspy II as the starter. He has averaged 57 yards per game since the Clemson game, scoring a pair of touchdowns.
The man to watch Brissett throw to the most is sophomore tight end Jaylen Samuels, who is in the midst of a breakout season for the Wolfpack, accounting for nearly 27 percent of the team’s receptions on his own. He has 502 yards and seven touchdowns this season. Given that he’s a tight end, it will be interesting to see how the Tar Heel linebacking corps handles covering Samuels. Brissett will look to him on quick routes to try and take chunks of yardage at a time.
The N.C. State offensive line moves bodies, according to Larry Fedora. They’ve opened up holes to allow the Wolfpack to have the fourth-best rushing game in the ACC with 192 yards per game. They still need improvement in pass-blocking, though, especially against a re-energized Carolina defensive line. The Wolfpack have allowed 30 sacks this season, the fourth-worst mark in the league.
N.C. State boasts the 13th-best defense in the country in yardage allowed, giving up just 313 yards per game. This is in large part due to State’s imposing front seven, a unit that rotates quality starters and reserves. The Pack has collected 31 sacks this year, good for 13th in the nation. They’ve also allowed only 123 rushing yards per game.
Senior defensive end Mike Rose will be the biggest problem for the UNC offensive line. He has brought consistent pressure off the edge for the Wolfpack, tallying 15 tackles for loss, 10.5 sacks, and five QB hurries this season.
Sophomore Bradley Chubb and true freshman Darian Roseboro are also players who could get to Marquise Williams on Saturday. The pair has combined for 9.5 sacks, seven pressures, and two interceptions, including a pick-six that Roseboro made against Syracuse last weekend.
Sophomore linebacker Airius Moore leads the team in tackles with 64 on the season, including 7.5 for a loss. Senior cornerback Juston Burris is the Pack’s top defensive back, notching five pass break-ups and an interception.
North Carolina loves to go for explosive plays in its spread offense, and that is something that NCSU takes away consistently. State has only given up 47 plays of 20+ yards this season, and 27 plays of 30+ yards. The Tar Heels will have to pick their spots and try to land some haymakers against such a tough defensive match-up.
"No, I don't think so. I think the year before he said what he said. If you win the game you can say whatever you want. That's what a rivalry game is. In his press conference he can say whatever he wants and in mine I can say what I want to say. I didn't lie about anything. That's what I want our program to be, and I believe in that. If you run the ball for 300 yards in a game and win, it says something about you. That's who we want to be. Last week we ran for 270 and won the game; I was proud of our guys for that. Outside of one run they averaged 2.0 yards a carry in that game and they are a triple-option team. I was proud of our guys for that." – N.C. State head coach Dave Doeren on if he regrets his postgame comments after the win over UNC in 2014
“It’s not so much what they said, just what they did, really. A 35-7 loss was embarrassing, really. We’re a completely different team than we were last year, we have different goals, and we still have a goal to win the state championship, so they’re the last team in our way to get that goal, so we’re pretty fired up about that… I was not aware of how much these schools hated each other, until I got here, and it’s a huge rivalry. I’d put it up there, higher than Duke, to be honest. That’s the team we always want to beat, and that’s our biggest game so far this season… I just don’t like their football program. I don’t want to say anything bad about their school or anything, I just like beating their football program.” – UNC LB Jeff Schoettmer on N.C. State’s postgame comments last season, and what the rivalry means to him
Matchup To Watch
North Carolina’s Offensive Line vs. N.C. State’s Defensive Line
In 2014, N.C. State promised it would hit Marquise Williams early and often, and the Wolfpack did just that. The Wolfpack consistently collapsed the pocket, sacking Williams four times and hurrying him an additional four times, and forced him out of the game with a leg injury in the third quarter. North Carolina was also held to a paltry 30 rushing yards in that contest, thanks to the Wolfpack line fitting gaps nearly perfectly throughout the game.
The NCSU defensive front is just as imposing this year, but they’ll play an improved UNC offensive line, led by senior Landon Turner. Simply put, UNC will not win this game if it turns in a repeat performance up front from the 35-7 blowout last season. The Tar Heels have to give Marquise Williams time to throw or tuck the ball, and they have to open up holes for Elijah Hood and T.J. Logan.