Thursday Night College Football – Louisville at NC State
The ACC was on center stage last weekend with Clemson holding off Virginia Tech in a possible preview of December’s championship game. The Tigers lead the pack but NC State and Louisville are formidable threats in the Atlantic division as well. The Wolfpack will get a shot at Clemson in November with the Cardinals already losing in their opportunity to take out the champions. This week’s Thursday night game will determine whether or not NC State could emerge as a serious contender in the division race in what looks like a breakthrough season in Raleigh.
Match-up: Louisville Cardinals at NC State Wolfpack
Venue: At Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh, North Carolina
Time/TV: Thursday, Oct. 5, 8:00 PM ET ESPN
Line: Louisville -3½, Over/Under 65½
Last Meeting: 2016, at Louisville (-18½) 54, NC State 13
Louisville has been in the sports news cycle a lot in the last week but the football program hasn’t been a part of that, quietly getting back-to-back blowout wins at home following the lopsided loss to Clemson in mid-September. While the Cardinals will need a lot of help to get back in the ACC Atlantic race they could still surpass last season’s great success and reach a major bowl game for the first time since the 2012 Sugar Bowl win.
[displayProduct type=”carousel” category=”big-e-sports-football,point-train-football” productnamecolor=”#ffffff” pricecolor=”#ffffff” textcolor=”#ffffff” carousel=image,title,price,button,excerpt]
While Louisville reached as high as #3 in the national polls for three different weeks in the 2016-17 season the final season tally was just 9-4. Despite featuring the Heisman Trophy winner the Cardinals closed the season with losses against Houston, Kentucky, and then had a very poor showing in the Citrus Bowl with a 29-9 loss to LSU.
Louisville went 7-1 in ACC play last season and October will feature three difficult road games with games at Florida State and Wake Forest to close the month after next week’s homecoming game with Boston College. The Cardinals have decent wins over Purdue and North Carolina on the resume but didn’t pass the eye-test in a 47-21 loss hosting Clemson, unable to match the very competitive game Louisville had with the eventual national champions last season.
Lamar Jackson has a chance to be a repeat Heisman winner as he has thrown for 13 touchdowns while rushing for another five after combining to score 51 touchdowns last season. His completion rate in the passing game and his yards per attempt are both up dramatically compared with his numbers last season and he is also rushing at 6.1 yards per carry to even best last season’s pace. Jaylen Smith is one of the top receivers in the ACC with 22 catches already this season and the Cardinals are likely to top last season’s passing numbers as they could be involved in some high scoring shootouts as they were in the first two weeks with Purdue and North Carolina.
[displayProduct type=”carousel” category=”nellys-football,nellys-newsletter” productnamecolor=”#ffffff” pricecolor=”#ffffff” textcolor=”#ffffff” carousel=image,title,price,button,excerpt]
The Louisville defense has similar numbers to last season on the surface allowing 24.6 points per game and 318 yards per game for an almost identical pace. The Cardinals have been excellent against the run under Bobby Petrino, allowing 3.3 yards per rush or less in each of the last three seasons, including surrendering just 3.1 yards per rush last season and so far in 2017. The problem is those numbers feature the blowout wins the past two weeks vs. Kent State and FCS Murray State, and seven power five foes remain on the schedule as the defensive figures are likely to climb upward by season’s end.
It was a bit odd watching Sunday Night NFL football last week and watching Jacoby Brissett and Russell Wilson face off as opposing quarterbacks, both who recently played the bulk of their college snaps at NC State. Despite having two NFL quarterbacks in the last decade NC State has a nine-win 2010 season as its high watermark. In his fifth season in Raleigh Dave Doeren certainly was a candidate to be on the hot seat despite three straight bowl appearances as the program has failed to take the next step.
Many hyped the Wolfpack this summer as a serious threat for a breakthrough season with 17 starters back, an experienced quarterback, and a favorable schedule ahead. NC State promptly lost the opener to South Carolina, admittedly with some tough breaks as the Wolfpack had a 504-246 edge in total yards despite the 35-28 loss in Charlotte. NC State has rebounded with four straight wins including an upset at Florida State but the season still hangs in the balance.
[displayProduct type=”carousel” sort=”nameaz” productnamecolor=”#ffffff” pricecolor=”#ffffff” textcolor=”#ffffff” carousel=image,title,price,button,excerpt]
This game is followed by road games at Pittsburgh and at Notre Dame before an ambitious homecoming date with Clemson in early November. If NC State wins out they’ll climb on the national radar as a New Year’s Day bowl candidate but they are likely be dogged in three of the next four games counting this week and could wind up 5-4 heading into the final three contests, heading towards another uninspiring spot in a minor bowl game.
Boise State transfer quarterback Ryan Finley has great numbers in his second season with NC State, completing nearly 72 percent of his passes with nine touchdowns against no interceptions. Junior Nyheim Hines has led the team in rushing with more than 400 yards while Jaylen Samuels has 43 catches already, third nationally, though mostly in short gains.
NC State has allowed over 23 points per game this season including a FCS win over Furman as the defense has marginal numbers, allowing 370 yards per game for a slight decline compared with the past two seasons. The Wolfpack are 14th nationally in allowing just 2.9 yards per rush as they look likely to dare Jackson to beat them through the air. That was what happened last season and the Heisman winner had one his biggest passing games of the season with 355 yards.
[displayProduct type=”carousel” sort=”newness” productnamecolor=”#ffffff” pricecolor=”#ffffff” textcolor=”#ffffff” carousel=image,title,price,button,excerpt]
Big plays could decide this game as there has been a non-offensive score in every Louisville game with the Cardinals scoring two but allowing three in five games. Allowing an opening kickoff return touchdown doomed NC State in the opening loss as well. NC State is +6 in turnovers this season while Louisville is -2 and one big play could be the difference in this closely-lined division battle.
Last Season: NC State started 4-1 last season with an upset loss at East Carolina but a notable win over Notre Dame. In mid-October they took undefeated and #3 ranked Clemson to overtime, losing 24-17 and then had to go to Louisville for a second straight major road test. Louisville was up 17-0 in the first quarter and 44-0 by halftime in a complete blowout. NC State scored twice in the third quarter to save some face but the game was never in doubt. The 2015 meeting in Raleigh featured a 20-13 win for Louisville with modest production on both sides.
Historical Trends: Louisville is 3-0 S/U (2-1 ATS) the past three years in this series as ACC foes. These teams previously met in bowl action in 2011 with NC State winning 31-24 in the Belk Bowl. Since Petrino’s return to Louisville in 2014 the Cardinals are 12-6 S/U and 10-7-1 ATS on the road, going 7-5-1 ATS as a road favorite. NC State is 41-28-1 ATS as a home underdog going back to 1984 but that track record hasn’t held up under Doeren. Since taking over in 2013 NC State is 0-10 S/U and 3-7 ATS in the home underdog role. NC State has actually lost S/U in at least three home games in each of the previous four seasons to add to the frustration of the fan base, with Doeren now 17-14 S/U and 13-18 ATS at Carter-Finley Stadium. NC State has gone 11-14 ATS as an underdog in any venue since 2013 though the two biggest outright upsets have occurred in the last two opportunities, beating North Carolina (+9½) in Chapel Hill last November and beating Florida State (+11) in Tallahassee two weeks ago. Louisville is just 15-17-1 ATS when favored since 2014 including going 3-8-1 ATS in the last 12 instances, suffering two upset losses.