NC State will look to slow down undefeated Louisville’s top-rated offense when the Wolfpack host their first ACC home game of the season on Friday.
It’s a unique challenge for NC State, which has struggled to contain big plays this season.
“They’re an explosive play offense, they have explosive players and they’ll take shots,” said NC State coach Dave Doeren. “So you’ve gotta do a good job of staying on top and defending deep balls and you have to pressure the quarterback. Not just with blitzes. You have to do different things to make it hard for him after the snap and not just let him pre-snap know everything that you’re in. It’s going to be that kind of game.”
Louisville is led by senior quarterback Jack Plummer, who transferred from Cal during the offseason. He has thrown for 1,120 yards, 10 touchdowns and four interceptions so far with his new team.
The Cardinals also have threats on the ground and in the passing game. Jawhar Jordan has rushed for 478 yards and six touchdowns on just 50 carries, while Jamari Thrash has totaled 400 yards and five touchdowns on 19 receptions.
“We’re going up against a top offense in the ACC,” Doeren said. “They lead the ACC in scoring offense, rushing offense, passing offense. So (it’s) a great challenge. They’ve got a good scheme and good players that play fast.”
NC State is going to need its defense to step up to contain Louisville.
“Coach (Tony) Gibson and that side of the ball has done a great job,” Doeren said. “The kids that we’ve recruited play really hard. They’re completely invested and have bought in. There’s an edge to them, an attitude. They like challenges too. I think they’re really excited to play this Louisville offense because of what they’ve done.”
The challenge could be even more daunting if starting strong safety Devin Boykin is unable to play after leaving last week’s game with an injury.
“It’s day-to-day,” Doeren said. “Devin is actually doing a lot better than expected, so there’s a long shot, but there’s a chance he’ll play. I have to put those out when I get the information I get, so things do change. It’s not a long-term thing, it’s just how fast his body will allow him to get back.”
Offensively, last week was another tough outing for everyone not named Kevin Concepcion.
The true freshman wide receiver continues to be the Wolfpack’s biggest weapon after totaling 116 yards and two touchdowns on six receptions, including a 48-yard play, in last week’s win over Virginia.
Quarterback Brennan Armstrong, however, has still struggled with consistency and completed just 50% of his passes last week for 180 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.
“We fell short of our scoring goals [against UVA],” Doeren said. “The one drive where we threw a pick (late in the first half) was definitely a drive we could have gotten points on, and that would have helped quite a bit in that game.”
The offense’s struggles aren’t primarily on Armstrong — both the running back and tight ends need to produce more.
“It hasn’t been a very productive position yet in the pass game,” Doeren said of his tight ends. “Trent [Pennix] missed almost all of training camp and then Chris [Toudle] played two games and then was hurt. It’s kind of early to really give you a true assessment, but right now it’s just been inconsistent due to injury more than anything.”
And outside of Armstrong, the Wolfpack picked up just 75 yards on the ground against the Cavaliers. NC State also lost starting running back Jordan Houston last week when he decided to redshirt this season.
“This offense is still growing and guys are learning more and more,” Doeren said. “It’s in progress. That’s the best way to say it. You’ve got some guys that are trying to get into different spots on the field with Coach (Robert) Anae’s system, and I think there’s just a chemistry that’s growing and growing as this thing goes.”
According to Doeren, NC State doesn’t need to look too far to find the improvements it needs to make to beat Louisville.
“It’s going back to your fundamentals,” Doeren said. “As an offensive lineman, getting your first step and second step in the ground, playing with independent feet. Your hand placement, your eyes, where we’re pointing in protections. Just little basic things. One play, a guy does it right. The next play, he doesn’t and he gets exposed. It’s fundamental focus, and that’s really where the emphasis is.”