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Game 7 Preview: Scouting NC State

Game 7 Preview: Scouting NC State

THE MATCHUP: PITT (2-4) VS NORTH CAROLINA STATE (5-1)
WHEN: 12:00 P.M. EST
WHERE: HEINZ FIELD, PITTSBURGH, PA
HOW TO WATCH: AT&T SPORTS NET PITTSBURGH
HOW TO LISTEN: 93.7 THE FAN & THE PITT IMG SPORTS NETWORK

It’s homecoming weekend for Pitt, the retro uniforms that everyone loves will be worn, and the first 30,000 fans to enter Heinz Field receive a James Conner bobblehead doll. The makings for a special Saturday afternoon are all in place, with just one exception:

Pitt is playing 20th ranked North Carolina State, who happens to be a pretty good team.

After posting a 7-6 record in 2016, North Carolina State is exceeding expectations in Dave Doeren’s fifth year as head coach. Following a 7-point loss to South Carolina on opening weekend, the Wolfpack have won five straight, including victories over Florida State, Syracuse and Louisville.

On offense, North Carolina State starts one running back, an H-back, two wide receivers, and either a tight end or a third wide receiver (the depth chart reflects 12 starters to support their flexibility with the last starter). Their 471 total yards-per-game is tied with Clemson for 25th in the FBS, with their 305.3 passing yards-per-game serving as the team’s relative strength. NC State also rarely concedes a turnover, ranking 3rd in the FBS with just three turnovers lost.

In his second season as the Wolfpack’s quarterback, Ryan Finley has become one of the more efficient passers in college football. The graduate transfer from Boise State has completed 158 of 223 passes with 10 touchdowns, and he has done so without throwing a single interception. On Monday, Coach Narduzzi labeled Finley as a “very smart quarterback,” calling attention to the player’s mind over his physical attributes.

“He does a great job of just managing the game,” said Narduzzi. “He doesn’t try to do too much. He’s obviously very intelligent. I don’t know what his GPA is, but based on watching him and what he does, how he manages the game, you can tell he’s probably a 4.0 guy that pays attention to details. He’s probably in the film room right now trying to dissect our defense and figure out what he can do and how he can do it and what tells him this, what tells him that. That’s what he does, and you can see it on tape.”

Finley has a number of weapons in the passing game from which to choose, but his favorite has been H-back Jaylen Samuels. Samuels, whose 50 receptions lead the team, was ESPN’s choice at tight end/H-back for their midseason All-American team. From his 50 receptions, the 5-foot-11-inch, 228-pound senior has accumulated 425 receiving yards and 3 touchdowns. Samuels also contributes as a ball carrier, registering 25 rushing attempts for 129 yards and 5 touchdowns.

Aside from Samuels, Finley’s other top targets are wide receivers Kelvin Harmon and Stephen Louis. The two have combined for 786 yards and 4 touchdowns on 58 receptions.

On the ground, the Wolfpack’s leading rusher is 5-foot-9-inch, 197-pound running back Nyheim Hines. The former 4-start recruit also runs track for NC State, earning 2017 first-team All-ACC honors in the 100m dash. Hines’ speed has helped him rush for 513 yards and 5 touchdowns on 100 carries.

The Wolfpack’s offensive line, which Coach Narduzzi called “big” and “physical” earlier in the week, deserves its fair share of credit for the team’s success. All five members of the line started for the Pack last season, including Tony Adams, a 2016 second-team All-ACC honoree. As a unit, they have allowed just 8 sacks this year.

On defense, the Wolfpack’s base 4-2-5 defense has experienced drastically different results in run and pass defense. If Pitt is looking to get its 107th ranked rushing attack back on track, it will be difficult to do so against NC State; they are allowing 90.7 rushing yards-per-game, good for 8th best in the FBS, and opponents are averaging just 3.1 yards-per-rush. However, the Wolfpack have struggled when defending the pass. Their 296.3 passing yards-per-game is tied for 121st in the FBS, placing them six spots behind Pitt.

The leader on NC State’s defense is defensive end Bradley Chubb. Chubb, a 6-foot-4-inch, 275-pound pass rushing terror, may be the best defensive player Pitt faces all season; CBSSports.com rates Chubb as the #3 defensive end prospect in the 2018 NFL Draft, and the 17th best player overall. The senior has 35 tackles, 14.0 tackles-for-loss (2nd in FBS), 6.5 sacks (T-3rd in FBS) and 1 forced fumble. Like Samuels, Chubb was named to ESPN’s midseason All-American team.

Although the Wolfpack’s entire defensive line has impressed this season, the other player to watch is senior defensive tackle Justin Jones. Jones has 16 tackles, 4.0 tackles-for-loss and 2.5 sacks on the season.

At linebacker, NC State starts a pair of seniors: middle linebacker Jerod Fernandez and weakside linebacker Airius Moore. Fernandez is the team’s leading tackler with 51.

If there is a weakness on the Wolfpack’s defense, it is in their relatively inexperienced secondary, where two positions have an “or” on the depth chart. Senior Mike Stevens is the team’s most experienced cornerback with 22 starts, but he shares an “or” with Jonathan Alston as he recovers from an early-season knee injury. Alston, a former wide receiver, redshirted last season while learning the cornerback position. Now, as a senior, Alston is competing for the starting right cornerback position. Across from Stevens/Alston is Nick McCloud, a sophomore who entered the season with one start. And at nickel back, Shawn Boone receives the start after starting at strong safety in 2016.

Replacing Boone at strong safety this season is Jarius Morehead, a first year starter. And at free safety, the other “or” in the secondary appears. Regardless of who starts – Tim Kidd-Glass or Dexter Wright – he will be a first year starter as well.

Below is this week’s statistical comparison:

THE STATS

PITT NC ST
  PITT OPPONENTS NC ST OPPONENTS
POINTS SCORED 146 185 213 142
Points Per Game 24.3 30.8 35.5 23.7
FIRST DOWNS 116 125 150 14
Rushing 47 56 55 39
Passing 65 61 83 63
Penalty 4 8 12 4
RUSHING YARDAGE 701 985 994 544
Yards Gained Rushing 893 1125 1131 721
Yards Lost Rushing 192 140 137 177
Rushing Attempts 211 217 230 178
Average Yards Per Rush 3.3 4.5 4.3 3.1
Average Yards Per Game 116.8 164.2 165.7 90.7
Rushing Touchdowns 9 10 16 5
PASSING YARDAGE 1452 1682 1832 1778
Comp-Att-Int 133-202-4 111-185-6 162-229-0 132-226-5
Average Yards Per Game 242.0 280.3 305.3 296.3
Passing Touchdowns 7 13 10 9
TOTAL OFFENSE 2153 2667 2826 2322
Total Plays 413 402 459 404
Average Yards Per Play 5.2 6.6 6.2 5.7
Average Yards Per Game 358.8 444.5 471.0 387.0
KICK RETURNS – RETURN YARDS 17-349 12-219 16-383 23-522
PUNT RETURNS – RETURN YARDS 10-179 8-73 5-43 9-96
INTERCEPTION – RETURN YARDS 6-68 4-60 5-76 0-0
KICK RETURN AVERAGE 20.5 18.3 23.9 22.7
PUNT RETURN AVERAGE 17.9 9.1 8.6 10.7
INTERCEPTION RETURN AVERAGE 11.3 15.0 15.2 0.0
FUMBLES – FUMBLES LOST 6-4 8-5 7-3 4-4
PENALTIES – YARDS 23-221 27-203 34-288 49-391
Average Per Game 36.8 33.8 48.0 65.2
PUNTS – YARDS 29-1335 27-1110 23-996 25-1111
Net Yards Per Punt 41.5 34.5 37.0 41.1
TIME OF POSSESSION PER GAME 31:29 28:31 32:53 27:07
3rd-DOWN CONVERSIONS 29/85 36/84 32/77 39/90
3rd-Down Percentage 34% 43% 42% 43%
4th-Down CONVERSIONS 9/13 6/9 7/10 5/11
4th Down Percentage 69% 67% 70% 45%
SACKS BY – YARDS 9-64 18-154 17-109 8-56
FIELD GOALS/ATTEMPTS 6/10 5/6 6/10 12/15
RED-ZONE TOUCHDOWNS/ATTEMPTS 12/18 11/20 18/30 9/22

 

Passing:

COMP ATT YDS TD INT EFFIC
PITT
Browne, Max 96 135 997 5 2 142.4
DiNucci, Ben 36 65 442 2 2 116.5
NC ST
Finley, Ryan 158 223 1770 10 0 152.3

 

Rushing:

CAR YDS AVG TD LONG
PITT
Ollison, Qadree 63 249 4.0 4 32
Whitehead, Jordan 10 132 13.2 1 35
Moss, Chawntez 41 113 2.8 2 11
NC ST
Hines, Nyheim 100 513 5.1 5 45
Gallaspy II, Reggie 52 203 3.9 4 30
Samuels, Jaylen 25 129 5.2 5 22

 

Receiving:

REC YDS TD LONG
PITT
Araujo-Lopes, Rafael 26 335 1 28
Weah, Jester 18 278 2 55
Mathews, Aaron 12 150 0 20
Flanagan, Matt 15 138 0 30
NC ST
Samuels, Jaylen 50 425 3 79
Harmon, Kelvin 33 434 2 48
Louis, Stephen 25 352 2 39
Meyers, Jakobi 21 257 2 71

 

Defense:

SOLO TOTAL TFL FF FR INT SACKS
PITT
Idowu, Oluwaseun 33 49 7.5 1 1 0 2.0
Brightwell, Saleem 22 38 4.0 1 0 0 0.0
Zeise, Elijah 17 26 1.5 0 0 0 0.0
Garner, Bricen 20 24 0.5 0 0 1 0.0
Jackson, Dane 19 22 1.0 0 0 2 0.0
Whitehead, Jordan 15 19 0.0 0 1 0 0.0
Briggs, Dennis 14 18 0.0 0 0 1 0.0
NC ST
Fernandez, Jerod 22 51 2.0 1 0 0 0.0
Morehead, Jarius 27 42 1.0 0 1 0 0.0
Chubb, Bradley 17 35 14.0 1 0 0 6.5
Moore, Airius 13 29 0.0 0 0 1 0.0
Boone, Shawn 18 26 3.0 0 0 1 2.0
Alston, Jonathan 15 25 2.5 0 0 2 1.0
Jones, Justin 8 19 4.5 0 1 0 2.5

INJURY REPORT

On the injury front for North Carolina State, defensive end Donte Holden is questionable, while the following players are out: Riley Nicholson, Brock Miller, Dakwa Nichols, Dante Johnson, Marquise Braxton, James Valdez, Freddie Phillips, Jr., Trae Meadows, Erin Collins, Isaiah Moore and Xavier Lyles.

The biggest change to Pitt’s injury report this week comes at the quarterback position after Max Browne was lost for the season. Set to miss the game this week with Browne are Chawntez Moss, George Aston, Colton Lively, Tre Tipton, Michael Vardzel, Anthony McKee Jr., Quintin Wirginis and Malik Henderson.

WHERE TO WATCH/LISTEN

The first ACC meeting between Pitt and NC State kicks off at 12:00 Saturday afternoon at Heinz Field. The game will be aired on AT&T Sportsnet Pittsburgh and can be heard on 93.7 the Fan. As always, Pittsburgh Sports Now and its staff will provide in-game updates and observations via Twitter.

North Carolina State will face Notre Dame and Clemson in its next two games, but don’t expect them to overlook the Panthers. The Wolfpack receives a bye next week, giving them two weeks to prepare for the Fighting Irish.

Once again, the pieces are in place for a special weekend at Heinz Field.

But it will be up to the Panthers to make it one.


The Sports Now network is growing! Check out our new site PittsburghHockeyNow.com for the best Pittsburgh Penguins news and opinion.

Kenna JAmes at Blush Night Club
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3 Comments on "Game 7 Preview: Scouting NC State"

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[…] Game 7 Preview: Scouting NC State […]

Billy
Guest

Great write up. Nice to see someone dedicate a little time to doing some quality research. Should be a good game.

Mike Vukovcan
Admin

Thanks for the compliment.

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