What: N.C. State goes for the ACC Atlantic against a Maryland team playing for little more than pride
Where: Byrd Stadium, College Park, MD
Gameday Weather: 44 and sunny
In a Turtleshell
NC State Offense vs. Maryland Defense: Meet Wolfpack QB Russell Wilson. He pretty much is the N.C. State offense. He anchors the #17 passing offense in the country and is 14th in the nation in yards/game himself. He has the 12th most attempts per game in the country. His 24 TDs are 11th best in the nation. Heck, he's even second on the team in rushing, with upwards of 100 attempts, 340 yards, and 7 rushing TDs. He's incredibly prolific: he's 11th in the country in total offense, just three yards/game behind Cam Newton.
Considering how much they lean upon him, it's not a huge shock that some of Wilson's other stats - like QB rating (54th), interceptions (13, good for 85th), and completion percentage (just a touch under 60%, good for 64th) - aren't too great. But all in all, Wilson is incredibly dangerous; his arm is accurate, pretty strong, he's smart with the ball, and has a great set of legs. Wilson will be a big test for this defense.
Wilson likes to spread the ball around to his stable of solid, not spectacular, wide receivers. Senior WR Owen Spencer is the biggest target, with 52 catches for 799 yards. Other names to know include leading touchdown-getters Jarvis Williams and T.J. Graham, as well as tight end George Bryan. There's some decent height among this group, too; Spencer (6-3) and Williams (6-4) are both large targets, as is 6-4 Darrell Davis. That's something to watch for.
Past that? Eh. Mustafa Greene is the leading running back, but at just 129 carries on the 94th-ranked rushing offense in the country, that's not saying a lot. There is some good news along the OL: N.C. State is ranked 101 in sacks allowed, and though part of that is Wilson's tendency to scramble and exit the pocket, the Wolfpack aren't particularly good at protecting their star QB. Maryland will need to get pressure on Wilson to disrupt his otherwise great passing ability.
All in all, this is a very productive offense thanks almost solely to Wilson. They're 28th in points scored (almost 33 a game) and 44th in total yards (403/game). Slowing Wilson is priority #1.
Maryland Offense vs. N.C. State Defense: If there's one person you need to know on this defense, it's Nate Irving. The senior linebacker is sensational; the 8 tackles per game and 5 total sacks are nice, but he's also 4th in the country in tackles for loss. "Quarterback of the defense" is an overused phrase, but considering the status of both Irving and Wilson, it's kind of true in this case.
The Wolfpack's defense is pretty good and rather underrated. They get a lot of pressure on the QB, coming in at 3rd in the country in sacks, led by Irving and fellow linebacker Audie Cole. They force a lot of turnovers, with their 24 good for 16th in the country. They have a young yet good secondary, too, with sophomore safeties Brandan Bishop and Earl Wolff leading the team in interceptions (3) and tackles (49), respectively.
Really, N.C. State's defense is above-average in almost every category and is the biggest reason (besides, well, Wilson) they are where they are right now. A quick run-down: 20th in rushing defense, 53rd in passing defense, 30th in total defense, 34th in scoring defense, the aforementioned 3rd in sacks and 16th in forced turnovers, and 52nd in red zone defense. That's in the upper-half of essentially every category that matters. This is an all-around strong unit.
So, where should Maryland attack, then? Well, the stats would say to pass the ball, but that's putting Danny O'Brien directly in the path of one of the nation's best pass-rushing teams with nothing but Maryland's patchwork offensive line to slow them down. Irving is a beast against the run, and I don't trust Maryland's line to stop him consistently. I'm guessing it'll be yet another pass-heavy day for O'Brien, but it'll be an interesting battle.
Keys in Cliches:
- Slow down Wilson. Easier said than done, but State's offense will struggle if Wilson is somehow limited.
- Take care of the ball. The biggest reason Maryland lost against FSU? An uncharacteristic four turnovers. N.C. State's defense is much better than FSU at forcing turnovers, so Maryland's offense will need a strong bounce-back game in that area.
- Care. Simple, but necessary. Maryland's now out of the ACC race and is all but locked into the Military Bowl unless some other random bowl (Shreveport? please no) decides to take pity on the Terps or Duke pulls out a miracle upset over UNC. Is this game really going to matter to them?
- Owen Spencer, WR, N.C. State: No, actually, Russell Wilson. But I didn't want to talk about him too much.
- Audie Cole, LB, N.C. State: No, actually, Nate Irving. But I didn't want to talk about him too much and Cole is a pretty solid 'backer in his own right.
- Pete White, G, Maryland: Maryland's missing Justin Lewis (aka JLew) and he'll be replaced by White, a highly-touted redshirt freshman that has, so far, not lived up to fans' admittedly (too) lofty expectations. He'll be a target point of a blitz-happy, sack-happy defense.
- Alex Wujciak, LB, Maryland: This really applies to whoever spies Russell Wilson. His feet are almost as dangerous as his arm, and Wujciak - traditionally seen as hard-nosed but slow - would have his hands full (really, any LB in the nation would). Wuj may not spy him, with Don Brown instead electing to use Adrian Moten, Demetrius Hartsfield, or maybe even Darin Drakeford in that role, but whichever one it is need a good game.
Prediction: Wilson accounts for upwards of 400 yards of total offense, but no one else shows up offensively. White surprises and gives Danny O'Brien plenty of time to throw to Torrey Smith, who, in potentially his last home game, has 150 yards receiving on three long receptions. An N.C. State-dominated fourth quarter give the 'Pack the win, 30-24.