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UNC Opponent Preview: Wolfpack Seeking Bowl Eligibility

UNC is 3-1 against N.C. State under Larry Fedora.

Series Record:
UNC leads, 66-33-6

Last Five Games:
UNC leads, 3-2

Getting to Know the Wolfpack
N.C. State (5-6, 2-5 ACC) had a good start to the 2016 season that quickly cooled off once ACC play began. The Wolfpack has struggled against ACC opponents on the top half of the conference table, and comes to Chapel Hill this week the losers of four of its last five conference matchups.

The Black Friday matchup with the Tar Heels presents an important opportunity for head coach Dave Doeren – not only does N.C. State have a chance to play spoiler in UNC’s long-shot opportunity for a bid in the ACC title game, but a win against UNC would make the Wolfpack bowl eligible. In a season where a lot has gone wrong, this is the Wolfpack’s chance to turn things around.

The Wolfpack has struggled mightily in the past seven games to put the ball in the end zone, and it has been the primary reason for the decline in success. Doeren’s offense is averaging only 17.4 points over its last seven games – a stretch during which N.C. State has gone 2-5.

Boise State-graduate transfer Ryan Finley has had a rocky first season in Raleigh. Finley followed quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator Eliah Drinkwitz to N.C. State, and the pair have struggled to find their footing. Finley’s struggles, like the rest of his team’s, have come from ACC play. The 6-foot-4 quarterback has thrown all eight of his interceptions this season in conference play, while only throwing six touchdown passes the last seven weeks.

One thing Finley has found success with this season is the deep-ball. In four games this season, he’s completed a pass longer than 65 yards. The only problem with Finley’s arm is that he’s prone to overthrow his receivers, which has been a problem in recent weeks.

The Wolfpack's rushing attack is led by one man and one many only: Matthew Dayes.

Dayes passed the 1,000-yard mark on the season in last week’s loss to Miami, and has been a bright spot for the faltering State offense. At 5-foot-9, 201 pounds, Dayes has a nice mix of speed and power that allows him to be as dangerous on a pitch as he is on a draw play up the middle. His ability to get low makes him tough to tackle in the open field, one of the reasons he’s reached the end zone eight times this season.

The most versatile and unpredictable player on NCSU’s offense is Jaylen Samuels. The junior is a hybrid fullback/tight end and can make a play from anywhere on the field. He has nine touchdowns this season - four rushing and five receiving. Doeren uses him in several different formations to confuse the opposing defenses about his role in the play.

The Wolfpack rank 66th nationally in total offense (413.2 ypg) and 86th in scoring offense (25.6 ppg).

The fate of N.C. State’s season is going to depend on their defense’s ability to stop UNC’s offensive attack.

The Wolfpack defense is highlighted by the disruptive play of its defensive line, especially the ends. Junior defensive end Bradley Chubb has been a menace in opposing backfields all season, as he’s accumulated a team-high nine sacks and 19 tackles for loss. Chubb is complemented by fellow end Darian Roseboro, who is second on the team with seven sacks. With both ends measuring up to 6-foot-4, they not only stretch the offensive line wide, but make it difficult for the quarterback to get the ball over them on throws across the middle.

Linebacker Airius Moore is the most versatile player in the Wolfpack’s front seven. The junior has 64 tackles on the season, 12 for loss, and has forced two fumbles. As good as Moore is at getting into the backfield, the 237-pound linebacker is almost just as good when dropping back into coverage. For a player of his size, he has the agility and speed to stay with tight ends or receivers cutting through the middle on slant routes.

Moore is complemented in the front seven by junior linebacker Jerod Fernandez. Fernandez is involved on almost every team tackle the Wolfpack collects, with 48 of his 67 tackles this season being assisted. While he doesn’t get into the backfield as easily as Moore, Fernandez is able to hold the line of scrimmage well to stop opposing rushers from getting by him.

Jack Tocho and Josh Jones are the two playmakers in State’s secondary. Jones is a bit of a mixed bag – he leads the Wolfpack in tackles (89) and has two interceptions to his name, but he is also susceptible to giving his zone receiver space so that he can cover deep instead of playing his man tight. Regardless, the 6-foot-2 junior safety is a physical hitter that sets the tone for the defense. Tocho has the best hands in the secondary and positions himself well against the man he’s covering. He’s intercepted two passes this season and quarterbacks are becoming hesitant to throw in his area.

N.C. State ranks 24th nationally in total defense (350.8 ypg) and 37th in scoring defense (23.5 ppg).

Notable Quotes
“For a season of ‘almosts,’ we’d love to finish it with a win against our rival. I’m sure that would make a lot of us feel better than we do today. But big-picture-wise I’m really concerned more about just this five-day span here and getting our guys ready to play the best that they can so they can feel the gratification of their work.” – N.C. State coach Dave Doeren on his team’s approach to this week

“Very accurate passer, great arm strength. He doesn’t miss a lot of throws…. He’s a very good passer, understands their offense, and you know he distributes the ball well. He gets them out of trouble and he’s not a guy you would say is a great runner, but he’s good at evading the rush, buying himself time, and getting out of sack opportunities. He’s developed, he’s been there a long time and is now seizing the moment.” – Doeren on UNC quarterback Mitch Trubisky

Matchup to Watch
UNC quarterback Mitch Trubisky vs NCSU’s secondary
Regardless of what the stats say, Mitch Trubisky doesn’t think he’s played well the past two weeks. The junior went 24-for-33 with three touchdowns in UNC’s loss to Duke two weeks ago, and threw three touchdowns against the Citadel this past week. Those stats haven’t stopped Trubisky from believing he can play a lot better. The Maxwell Award semifinalist will look to get back into form on Friday afternoon against UNC's intrastate rival. The Wolfpack rank 89th in the nation in passing yards allowed per game (248.7), while Trubisky averages 290 passing yards per game. NCSU likes to gives receivers space, so if that continues, look for Trubisky to feed senior receiver Ryan Switzer on the slant route.

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