By Ed Peak
No secret North Carolina State has a stingy defense. The once ranked Wolf Pack allow an average of 18.1 points a game. The most points allowed in any one game this season, 24 at Syracuse.
The Wolf Pack (7-3, 3-3) is scrambling after losing three-year quarterback starter Devin Leary to a season ending injury in a 19-17 win over Florida State. N. C. State. graduate transfer backup Jack Chambers started in the loss to Syracuse. True freshman M.J. Morris entered the following week off the bench and led the Pack to a 22-21 comeback victory over Virginia Tech.
Then came last Saturday’s home loss to Boston College 21-20, on Senior Day. In the loss Morris was 12 of 24 for 135 yards and one touchdown with an interception. He has thrown for 648 yards and seven touchdowns. His most productive game was a win over Wake Forest, 18 of 28, 210 yards.
“I think setting him up (to be successful) is important,” said Coach Dave Doeren. “What he does best? Where is he most efficient? Where is the guy most confident?”
With the way Louisville pressures the quarterback, N.C. State will probably prefer to run run the ball to take the pressure off Morris. The Pack averages 131.6 yards a game rushing. Jordan Houston averages 53 yards a game while Michael Allen 44. State averages only 51 percent (19-37) in red zone scoring chances.
Hence winning with defense. The Pack has forced 16 interceptions and 21 sacks for losses of 145 yards. Linebacker Drake Thomas leads in tackles with 73, tackles for loss, 11.5 for 48 yards in losses.Thomas has five sacks, four pass break ups and 19 quarterback rushes.
“They have an excellent defense,” said UofL Coach Scott Satterfield. “They’ve been led by their defense all year. They probably have the best linebacker combination in the country. ”Thomas, Payton Wilson and Isaiah Moore form a strong nucleus. “Extremely productive. They do everything from interceptions to tackles for loss,” said Satterfield.
N.C. State allows the ninth least yards in the country is and is 19th in total defense and 13th in points allowed.
With the cold weather and the possibly of no Malik Cunningham because of a shoulder injury in the first half at Clemson, it looks like a run heavy offensive game. If Cunningham can’t go then Brock Domann gets his second start.
Louisville’s defense has drawn the attention of The Pack. “Their defensive ends are really good, fast, strong with great hands. A great base,” said Wolfpack offensive lineman Timothy McKay.
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The Cardinals will honor 20 seniors Saturday. All-American Offensive guard Caleb Chandler is the most experienced starter on the roster having started in 50 career games dating back to 2017. Yasir Abdullah ranks fourth with 58 games played and Jones is tied for fifth with 57 games. Cunningham if able to play will amass 55 games and Chandler 54.
“It’s a good group,” said Satterfield. “It’s kind of odd because I feel like there’s three different classes within this class. With COVID, you’ve got the guys that’s been here, like Malik, that’s been here forever. Caleb and those guys have been here a long, long time.
“Really, I got a special place in my heart for them because they’ve been through so much in this period of time. Been through probably more than any group, coaching changes, COVID. A lot.”