Prister’s Preview: Notre Dame @ N.C. State

On paper, the offenses are virtually even. Notre Dame is more explosive while N.C. State is more efficient. If the difference lies on defense, the advantage tilts to Wolfpack.


Who: Notre Dame (2-3) @ N.C. State (3-1)
Where: Carter-Finley Stadium (57,600); Raleigh, N.C.
When: Saturday, Oct. 8, 2016; 12:00 p.m. ET (ABC)
N.C. State head coach: Dave Doeren (44-25 career, 21-21 at N.C. State)
N.C. State 2015 record: 7-6
Last meeting: 2002 season—N.C. State 28, Notre Dame 6 (Gator Bowl)
Series record: N.C. State 1-0


Overall ND/opponent rank: t5th 
Rank by position: QB (10th), RB (6th), WR/TE (4th), OL (10th), DL (1st), LB (5th), DB (8th), ST (2nd), C (8th)


The Wolfpack have beaten up on lesser competition (William & Mary, 48-14, and Old Dominion, 49-22), lost on the road to East Carolina (33-30), and put together a penalty-filled yet winning performance against Wake Forest (33-16) last week.

N.C. State overwhelmed William & Mary, totaling 521 yards of offense (259 rushing, 262 passing) to the Tribe’s 168. But the Wolfpack got off to a slow start at East Carolina the following week, falling behind 12-0, taking the lead, losing it, and taking the lead again, only to allow the Pirates to march 14 plays and 84 yards while consuming 7:15 of the fourth quarter for the game-winning score.

N.C. State netted 502 yards (215 rushing, 287 passing) in the defeat while allowing 297 yards passing (33-of-43).

Old Dominion scored 13 points in the fourth quarter after the Wolfpack took a 35-9 lead into the final 15 minutes. NC. State netted 470 yards (158 rushing, 312 passing) against the Monarchs, who were limited to 321 yards total offense.

Last week, the Wolfpack did everything in their power to keep Wake Forest in the game with an avalanche of penalties -- 13 for 144 yards. The Wolfpack jumped to a 17-0 lead, led by as much as 20, and saw the lead dip to 10 late in the third quarter before sealing the victory midway through the fourth. A generally-sound Demon Deacon defense allowed 527 yards to N.C. State.


“(N.C. State has a) good system of offense. I like what they do. (Quarterback Ryan Finley) is smart and doesn’t go outside of what his capabilities are as well. He knows what he can do and he does it well. He’s a veteran player. He doesn’t try to do too much, but does enough to be effective in what they’re asking him to do…They’re a good team and they’ve got good players.”
-- Brian Kelly.


Dave Doeren’s inconsistency: The Wolfpack have a 7-18 ACC record under Doeren, who replaced Tom O’Brien following the 2012 season. His home ACC victories have come against Wake Forest twice and Syracuse. At 21-21 overall, Doeren had as much success on the road (7-4) in 2014-15 as he did at home (7-6). Of his 21 losses, 18 have come by double digits. His most notable victory came at 6-7 North Carolina in 2014. He has a 0-18 record against Power 5 teams with winning records at the end of the season.

Notre Dame’s passing game: The Irish can wing it, even in the rain as they proved last year against Clemson. They likely will be facing a similar scenario in Raleigh one year and five days since the monsoon in Death Valley. The Irish rank 15th in the country in passing yards per game at 327.8.

The Wolfpack allowed 297 yards on 33-of-43 passing by East Carolina quarterback Philip Nelson. None of their other three opponents thus far pass the ball well. Strong safety Josh Jones leads the secondary with a team-leading 36 tackles. But the Wolfpack have just three interceptions on 135 pass attempts. They were susceptible in man-coverage against East Carolina and were burned badly by running back wheel routes.

Irish energy: It seems a bit remedial at the midway point of the regular season to be talking about sense of urgency, playing hard, having fun and showing energy. But that’s where the Irish are, and it carried Notre Dame to a 17-point victory away from home last week.

If all these catch phrases allow the team – the defense in particular – to play loose and let it rip, then it will be beneficial. Everyone will be lined up ahead of the snap. No one will be turning to the sideline looking for another signal. Everyone should know his responsibility. Compared to the first four weeks of the season, that’s significant progress.


N.C. State’s balanced attack: Quarterback Ryan Finley (a graduate transfer from Boise State), running back Matthew Dayes, jack-of-all-trades Jaylen Samuels, and wideouts Stephen Louis, Kelvin Harmon and Nyheim Hines can be a handful. In fact, N.C. State averages 40.0 points per game to Notre Dame’s 39.8.

The difference between the two offenses is N.C. State’s balance. The Wolfpack average 208 yards rushing per game and 5.0 yards per carry while the Irish are a middling 167.6 and 4.4. Notre Dame has a 30-yard per game edge through the air, but Finley is 11th in the country in pass efficiency with nine touchdown passes and no interceptions on 116 attempts.

DeShone Kizer is 9th in passing efficiency with 14 touchdown passes and four interceptions. Kizer and his receiving corps are more explosive with more big-play ability; N.C. State’s balance can mitigate some of Notre Dame’s offensive advantages.

N.C. State DL vs. Notre Dame OL: Although N.C. State yielded the game-winning drive to East Carolina due largely to the Pirates’ success on the ground, this is a notable unit, led by interior defensive linemen Justin Jones and B.J. Hill, and ends Bradley Chubb, Darian Roseboro and Kentavious Street.

It’s a very good if not great unit against a Notre Dame offensive line that has been inconsistent in the running game. The Wolfpack are allowing just 99 yards rushing per game (12th nationally). What the defensive line misses, linebacker Airius Moore and safety Josh Jones clean up.

Turnover margin: N.C. State is plus-15 in turnover margin over its last 30 games; Notre Dame is minus-13 in last 31 games. The Wolfpack tied for 15th in the country last year in turnover margin at plus-nine. N.C. State is plus-one in turnovers this year compared to Notre Dame’s minus-four.

Special teams: The Wolfpack had the No. 2-ranked special teams (among Notre Dame’s ’16 opponents) in 2015. Kick returner Nyheim Hines and punt returner Bra’Lon Cherry each had returns for scores. The Irish counter with an equally-effective C.J. Sanders.

The difference is coverage. Notre Dame is under threat for a long return every time they play, although Duke has been the only one to crease the Irish kick coverage unit. The Wolfpack were seventh in the country in punt coverage last season. This year, N.C. State punter A.J. Cole has had one – count ‘em – one punt return against him on 10 attempts for a total of six yards. Notre Dame ranks 121st in punt coverage, allowing 18.7 yards per 10 returns. N.C. State is 43rd in kick coverage compared to Notre Dame at No. 80.

Kyle Bambard, who lost his job to transfer Connor Haskins in the spring, has regained a foothold by nailing all three of his field goal attempts, including a 48-yarder. Notre Dame’s Justin Yoon has yet to find his groove with misses on three of seven field-goal attempts, including his last effort from 40 yards against Syracuse.

Third down efficiency: N.C. State is 2nd in the country in third-down conversions offensively with 28 successes on 51 attempts. Despite considerable success by the Irish offensively, they rank just 69th at 39.4 percent.

N.C. State’s defense is 40th in the country on third down at 33.9 percent; Notre Dame’s is 58th at 37.6 percent, but prior to the Syracuse game, it was 42 percent (91st).


North Carolina State is a dangerous team with plenty of skill-position talent on offense and a well-respected defensive front. Rarely under Dave Doeren, however, have the Wolfpack turned the threat they present into a victory over quality competition.

A comparison of the offenses shows a virtual deadlock in scoring at 40 points per game with the Wolfpack averaging 45 more yards total offense (against inferior opposition) and about 45 more yards on the ground.

So it comes down to the respective defenses, which shows clear separation, again, with N.C. State playing against opposition not even close to the level of Notre Dame’s slate.

Notre Dame has allowed 461 yards per game while N.C. State is yielding just 321.

N.C. State has played two FCS teams – William & Mary and Old Dominion – the AAC’s East Carolina, which is projected to finish near the bottom of the East Division, and Wake Forest, which lost nine games in each of Dave Clawson’s first two years in Winston-Salem.

But as we learned with Michigan State after opening with Furman, followed by a bye week, just because they’ve played against inferior competition does not mean they’re incapable of playing quality football, particularly against a Notre Dame team which has been anything but consistent.

N.C. State is talented, but they rarely threaten to pull the upset. The only games the Wolfpack have won as an underdog under Doeren are at Syracuse and at North Carolina in 2014.

Of course, N.C. State is the favorite in this game, but those past numbers aren’t any better. The Wolfpack’s only wins under Doeren as a favorite have come against Wake Forest, Boston College and Syracuse – the bottom feeders of the ACC.

And so we have two worlds colliding in this game. Notre Dame, which beats itself with misguided defensive game plans and a nuclear-war-waiting-to-happen special teams, versus N.C. State, which beats itself, despite one of the top turnover margins over the last three seasons and a defense that showed steady improvement from 2013-15 before returning eight starters this year.

N.C. State is not as good as one would expect at home; Notre Dame is struggling on the road, particularly as an underdog.

Unless Brian Kelly was sandbagging the media following the final practice of the week in South Bend on Thursday, he described the final session of the week as less than stellar while half-heartedly commending the team on how hard it’s working.

He called his team “a work in progress” while noting their focus on “wanting to be coached.” Added Kelly: “They don’t quite get the whole thing yet…I feel like it’s the first week of the regular season in terms of trying to build a consistency with this group.”

Not exactly encouraging words following what is has been known as “Perfect Practice Thursday.”

At a certain point, energy and adrenaline run dry, and when they do, you better be well-drilled and prepared for anything to happen. Notre Dame’s vanilla defense will not be nearly as effective against the Wolfpack as it was against Syracuse. What N.C. State has that Syracuse doesn’t is a complementary ground game and a defense.

In Notre Dame’s last 14 true road games, the Irish are allowing 32.4 points per game. Saturday at noon, the Irish will take on N.C. State in Carter-Finley Stadium – 50 years to the day since the Wolfpack played the first game in their new home.

It will be raining, which makes Notre Dame’s turnover deficit and pass-heavy offense a less likely bet – particularly against the N.C. State defense – than the Wolfpack’s efficient, balanced attack against Notre Dame’s MacGyver-ed defense.

Pointspread: N.C. State by 2½; over-under 64½   
Prister’s Prediction: N.C. State 37, Notre Dame 31
Season Record: Straight-up 2-3, vs. points 4-1, over/under 1-4 Top Stories