N.C. State’s problems started early against Louisville, and not just in falling behind 14-0.
The Wolfpack (4-1) struggled on first down for much of its 20-13, ACC opening loss to the Cardinals.
Fixing its early down problems will be a primary focus for Friday’s trip to Virginia Tech (2-3) against another formidable defensive front, N.C. State coach Dave Doeren said Monday.
The Wolfpack ran for a season-low 45 yards against Louisville and it was their lowest team rushing effort (which includes negative yards from sacks) in an ACC game since a home loss to Boston College (43 yards) Oct. 11.
Junior running back Matt Dayes finished with 68 yards on 19 carries. He went into the game averaging 113.5 yards per game and 6.0 per carry. He had 3.6 yards per carry against Louisville.
“I’m not doubtful about our ability to run the football,” Doeren said. “We’ve got to do a better job of staying on schedule.”
Staying on schedule means more success on first down. N.C. State ran 22 first-down plays against Louisville, 11 went for zero or negative yards and another resulted in a fumble.
Quarterback Jacoby Brissett struggled in particular on first down, completing 4 of 11 passes for 66 yards (39 on one play to Jaylen Samuels in the second quarter).
The Wolfpack couldn’t find much more success on the ground, especially in the first half as Louisville built a 17-3 lead.
N.C. State had two first-down rushing attempts for minus-4 yards in the first half. There was more room in the second half, with eight rushes for 50 yards.
Senior left tackle Joe Thuney said the offensive line takes responsibility for the running game issues. Thuney said the blockers need to be more physical.
“It comes down to execution,” Thuney said.
Despite a rush defense that ranks 102nd in the country, Virginia Tech represents another difficult test for N.C. State’s offensive line, which is hopeful to get senior left guard Alex Barr back from an ankle injury.
The Hokies gave up 359 rushing yards to No. 1 Ohio State in the season-opener, a 42-24 loss, but have allowed an average 157 yards in the other four games.
East Carolina had success running with quarterback James Summers, who ran for 169 yards and touchdown, against Virginia Tech’s veteran defensive front during a 35-28 ECU win Sept. 26.
Virginia Tech’s 5-man front, or a “Bear” front, lends itself to some runs off the edges, but it also makes for some tough sledding in the middle of the field.
“You’re not going to sit there and just run downhill on their loaded front all day and have a good day doing it,” Doeren said.
After a disappointing start to the ACC season, getting the running game back on track will be a big key. Doeren said Louisville beat N.C. State on the line of scrimmage last game.
That’s a challenge, Thuney said, the Wolfpack is up for this week with Virginia Tech.
“It comes down to the offensive line being physical and being able to move those interior guys out of the way and make holes for Matt and Jacoby,” Thuney said.
Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio
N.C. State at Virginia Tech
When: 8 p.m., Friday
Where: Lane Stadium, Blacksburg, Va.