NC State Wolfpack: Critical Matchup Versus Cardinals Ahead

RALEIGH, NC - SEPTEMBER 30: Quarterback Ryan Finley
RALEIGH, NC - SEPTEMBER 30: Quarterback Ryan Finley /

On the heels of its fourth straight win, the Wolfpack faces a short turnaround with a Thursday night matchup against Louisville.

No. 24 NC State (4-1, 2-0 ACC) has been dominant since losing the season opener against South Carolina at Bank of America Stadium. After beating Marshall and Furman, the Wolfpack travelled to Tallahassee and took the win in a raucous Florida State environment. Following that road victory, State avoided the anticipated hangover loss by holding off a Syracuse comeback.

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Five games into the season, the Pack appears to be riding high with two early conference wins. However, the Atlantic division is one of the most talented in college football, and the three favorites in the division ahead of NC State were Clemson, Louisville, and Florida State. The Pack already has the win over the Seminoles, and the No. 17 Cardinals (4-1, 1-1 ACC) are set to come into Carter-Finley Stadium as the Wolfpack’s biggest challenge so far.

Cardinals’ Season So Far

Louisville’s lone loss of the season is against ACC Atlantic foe No. 2 Clemson where the Cardinals fell, 47-21. Since then, the team has had cakewalks with blowout wins over Kent State (42-3) and Murray State (55-10). At the center of the Cards’ success is its starting quarterback and the defending Heisman Trophy winner.

Lamar Jackson currently leads the ACC in passing with 1,636 yards and 13 touchdowns on 112-of-175 passing. Jackson is also the Cardinals’ leading rusher with 437 yards and five scores on 72 carries. The Pompano Beach, Fla. native is the centerpiece of Louisville’s offensive production, and the Wolfpack will need to contain him as much as possible.

Bradley Chubb and the Pack’s front six will be at the front of the defensive contingency of containing Jackson. Chubb, the conference’s leader in sacks with 5.5, will need to continue his dominance that earned him ACC defensive lineman of the week status for the last two weeks.

Wolfpack’s Offensive Assets

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The NC State offense has a potent weapon at quarterback as well. Ryan Finley has made a solid case for one of the nation’s best passers. He currently sits third in ACC passing yardage with 1,403 yards with nine touchdowns on 138-of-192 passing. Finley is also interception-free through the first five games of the season.

One of Finley’s top targets is the Wolfpack’s H-back, tight end, and Swiss army knife Jaylen Samuels. The Charlotte, N.C. product is currently third in the nation in receptions with 43, and the State offense has used him in various means. Samuels has 444 all-purpose yards (123 rushing, 321 receiving) and eight total touchdowns (five rushing, three receiving).

What’s On The Line

The Wolfpack is looking to establish itself as a power in the ACC. State just entered the AP and USA Today Top 25 after beating the Orange last week. The offense has thrived on its passing attack led by Finley, and the defense entered the season as a contender for the best in the nation. However, most have assumed that, even with all of that being said, the team would still be left in the middle of the division.

State already caught a break by grabbing a win over the Seminoles, a team without their starting quarterback. This is the first real test within the ACC that can not only give Wolfpack Nation a season to be proud out but can also solidify Dave Doeren as the coach, recruiter, and developer Debbie Yow hoped she’d hired back in December 2012.

Critics of the Wolfpack have said that NC State hasn’t had a signature win in the Doeren era. Thursday night will be the chance for the players and coaching staff to prove their worth.

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