NC State

NC State-UNC: Who has the edge?

When UNC has the ball

The Tar Heels have scored more points in ACC play (42.1 per game) than any other team. They are also only one of eight teams in the country to average more than 7 yards per play (7.4) and only Baylor (7.9) averages more.

The big play has been UNC’s best friend. The Tar Heels have an ACC-best 75 plays that have gone for 20 yards or longer. That’s more than 10 percent of their offensive snaps on the season.

Senior quarterback Marquise Williams has been a touchdown machine, throwing for 17, rushing for 10 and catching one.

Sophomore running back Elijah Hood (1,060 yards) has rounded out a running game that was previously overly dependent on Williams.

N.C. State’s defense has played its best recently, forcing 11 turnovers and recording 10 sacks in the past three games. The Wolfpack’s defensive front, led by senior defensive end Mike Rose, has been its strength all year and will need to pressure Williams.

One problem area for N.C. State has been the deep ball. Both Clemson and Florida State were able to exploit them on the outside. UNC receiver Mack Hollins (26.3 yards per catch) might be in for a big day. Edge: UNC

When N.C. State has the ball

The Wolfpack rediscovered its running game last week with 276 yards in a 42-29 win over Syracuse.

Freshman Reggie Gallaspy, sophomore Dakwa Nichols and freshman Nyheim Hines – who combined for 229 yards – need to be effective for the Wolfpack.

Quarterback Jacoby Brissett got off to a slow start in ACC play but has thrown for 2,242 yards and 17 touchdowns (compared to three interceptions) in 11 games.

Junior tight end David J. Grinnage has been his favorite target against ranked opponents. Fourteen of Grinnage’s 21 catches came against Clemson and Florida State.

UNC’s defense has made significant improvement from last season. The Tar Heels are giving up 20.5 fewer points and 113.7 fewer yards per game.

N.C. State ran all over last year’s version of UNC’s defense, 388 yards in a 35-7 Wolfpack win.

Stopping the run has still be an issue for the Heels this year. Duke piled up 327 rushing yards in a 66-31 loss on Nov. 7. South Carolina had 254 yards in the opener (and only 72 last week in a home loss to The Citadel). Edge: N.C. State

Special teams

N.C. State’s return teams have been excellent this season. The Wolfpack leads in the ACC in kickoff return average (27.1) and are tied for third (with UNC) in punt return average (13.0).

Ryan Switzer is a home-run hitter for UNC’s punt return unit, he has returned two punts for a touchdown this season.

North Carolina’s much-improved kicking game gives the Tar Heels an advantage here, though.

N.C. State freshman kicker Kyle Bambard has gone 5 of 12 on field goals this season and 0 for 4 from 40 yards or longer.

UNC junior Nick Weiler is 17 of 19 on the season and ranks second in the ACC in field goal percentage (89.5). Edge: UNC

Intangibles

UNC’s confidence is at an all-time high riding a 10-game winning streak. The Heels hadn’t won 10 straight since the start of the 1914 season.

The Heels are also, no doubt, motivated to pay back last year’s 35-7 embarrassment on their home field. N.C. State didn’t just beat UNC last year, the Wolfpack beat them up.

For N.C. State, it’s one last chance to pull out an upset over a ranked team and to spoil UNC’s outside shot at a spot in the College Football Playoff. Edge: UNC

Players to watch

Mack Hollins, WR, jr. UNC Clemson was able to hit some deep shots on N.C. State’s secondary with size on the outside. Hollins, 6-4, is UNC’s deep threat and has seven touchdowns in the past eight games.

Mike Rose, DE, sr. N.C. State The Wolfpack was able to pressure, harass and eventually knock UNC quarterback Marquise Williams out of last year’s game. The defensive front will be the key for the Wolfpack’s upset chances and Rose is the team’s best pass-rusher.

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