The Wolfpack run a no huddle that changes tempo. They line up in a lot of shotgun formations and utilize the read-option as well as west coast elements. N.C. State is a run-first offense that relies on the ground attack to set up the pass. They are very multiple to try and confuse their opponents with various personnel packages and formations.
Things have not gone according to plan for the Wolfpack at the quarterback position. Arkansas transfer Brandon Mitchell was supposed to be the guy. His athleticism and ability hurt an opposing defense with his feet are a perfect fit for their system.
But an injury in the season opener has sidelined him ever since. There is a chance he is able to return on Saturday against the Orange. If he does, he makes the Wolfpack much more dangerous. Mitchell is the better passer and runner. Even if he does return, he will be rusty and it is unclear if he will return as a full starter or just be worked into certain packages.
Should Mitchell not be ready to go, Pete Thomas will be the starter on Saturday. Thomas is a pocket passer who can use his legs to pick up yardage at times. He has struggled with accuracy and decision making in 2013, throwing seven interceptions on the year. He has solid arm strength but nothing overwhelming.
The Wolfpack are a run first team that likes to use a few guys in their ground attack. Shadrach Thornton gets the start, but is really the third or fourth best back on the team. Matthew Days and Tony Creecy will see more snaps and have more talent.
Days and Creecy compliment each other nicely. Creecy is a bigger back who runs with power. Days is a bit more elusive and has more quickness. The Wolfpack use both between the tackles as well as on the edge, and both can be affective in the passing game.
Ryan Cheeck and Tyler Purvis split time at fullback, but are used primarily as blockers. Neither has a single carry on the season and they have only a handful of receptions between them.
The wide receivers are deepest and most talented unit on the offensive side of the ball. Senior Bryan Underwood is the top target despite being undersized at 5-foot-9, 177 lbs. Underwood has good hands, runs strong routes and solid speed.
Rashard Smith, Quintin Payton and Marqez Valdes-Scantling are the other primary targets. Payton and Valdes-Scantling are bigger targets at 6-foot-4 and 6-foot-3, respectively. They are more possession type receivers. Smith is built like Underwood but has better speed.
Smith and Underwood are utilized in the run game as well, taking sweeps a few times per game similar to how West Virginia used Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey. Both have had success on the ground with Underwood averaging 14.4 yards per carry and Smith 7.5.
In the Trenches
The N.C. State offensive line is inconsistent and struggles in pass protection. They have a strong zone blocking scheme that helps to mask some of their weaknesses against the run. Left tackle Joe Thurney was the starting guard when the season started, but was forced to move to the outside due to injury. He does not have the footwork and strength you traditionally see from left tackles.
At right tackle, Tyson Chandler has a big frame with long arms to keep defenders at bay. However, he is susceptible to the edge rusher.
On the inside, guards Duran Christophe and Alex Barr have good size and help pave the way for interior rushes. Center Quinton Schooley is a solid interior lineman with a mean streak. All three are prone to the interior pass rush from strong defensive tackles.
N.C. State runs a traditional 4-3 system that doesn't mix things up very often. They stay in their base defense and don't bring pressure on a regular basis. The front four is relied on to generate pressure. The secondary switches between zone and man, but likes to use zone coverage primarily.
In the Trenches
Art Norman and Mike Rose are the two starting ends. They have a combined five sacks on the season. Forrest West and Drew Davis rotate in behind them. All four will see plenty of spans. Norman and Rose are solid against the run. As pass rushers, all four are unspectacular but get the job done at times.
On the inside, Thomas Teal and T.Y. McGill are big bodies who take up space to collapse interior running lanes. Monty Nelson and Carlos Gray rotate in as well. This group doesn't make their name as pass rushers but have the ability to collapse the pocket if the quarterback holds onto the ball too long.
The Wolfpack defensive line is known for being good against the run, but can struggle at times pressuring the quarterback.
The Back Seven
The linebackers maintain gap integrity very well which is why the Wolfpack defense has been solid against the run all season. Middle linebacker Robert Caldwell is the biggest body and is a traditional run stuffing 4-3 backer.
On the outside, Brandon Pittman and D.J. Green are built like the Syracuse linebackers at around 220 to 230-pounds. They run well and are relied on in coverage as well as against the run. They are better attacking opposing ball carriers then running with tight ends or receivers, however.
Juston Burris and Dontae Johnson start at corner. They are solid in coverage but can get burned with playaction or double moves. Burris and Johnson both tend to peak into the backfield to try to help against the run.
Safeties Hakim Jones and Jarvis Byrd like to come into the box and help against the run. In coverage over the top, both can run well enough to stay with receivers.
Niles Clark and Jack Tocho will cover the slots when Syracuse lines up with three or four receivers. Both are solid but inexperienced. Each of the Wolfpack corners has good size and strength to jam opposing receivers. With Clemson having success last week, expect to see them test the Orange with physical play.
The N.C. State coverage units are largely untested due to the effectiveness of the Wolfpack kickers. Place kicker Niklas Sade is an accurate kicker with solid power. Punter Will Baumann does not have a big time leg, but makes up for that with hang time to prevent returns.
Receiver Rashard Smith will be the primary returner on punts. He is a dangerous returner who already has a touchdown on the season. Smith is averaging over 16-yards per return.
Smith also factors into the kickoff return game. Johnathan Alston is the other kickoff returner. Both are solid, but neither has been dynamic this season. The longest kick return of the season is from Alston at 37-yards. Despite that, Alston is averaging less than 19-yars per return.
On paper, Syracuse and North Carolina State are an intriguing matchup because both have serious deficiencies. Having the game at home will help the Wolfpack, but there is plenty of opportunity for the Orange to be successful.
PackPride.com's James Henderson contributed to this report.