The Wolfpacker game predictions: UNC at NC State
NC State football has one last chance to have a positive moment in what has otherwise been a mostly insufferable season filled with injuries and disappointing outcomes.
Archrival UNC comes to Raleigh Saturday for a 7 p.m. kickoff. The Heels are 5-6 and need a win to become bowl eligible. Despite playing a litany of close games this fall, UNC is a healthy 9-point favorite over the Wolfpack.
Can NC State spring an upset and go into the offseason with a good taste in its mouth? The Wolfpacker staff offer their predictions.
The old adage is you can throw the records out the window when it comes to a rivalry game like NC State and UNC, and there is some truth to that. But you also have to be analytical, too.
Is there a conceivable path to victory for NC State in this game, outside of the emotional argument of beating a rival? I can actually see it, but it's a narrow one with a small margin for error.
Lost in the frustrations of NC State losing to a subpar Georgia Tech team on the road is that quietly the offense, in its last five real possessions (not counting a kneel down to end the first half) scored on every drive. The offense, for the first time this season, was actually in a rhythm. It even showed a bit of an identity.
It just so happens it might be the character of an offense that could conceivably upset UNC. NC State ran for a season-high 230 yards on Georgia Tech. In the second half, it seemed to wear down the Yellow Jackets' defense.
North Carolina's defense has some talented players on its frontline, like senior defensive linemen Jason Strowbridge and Aaron Crawford, junior Chazz Surratt and sophomore Jeremiah Gemmel at linebacker and senior Myles Dorn at safety. But depth is a weakness. There was a feeling among those who covered the Heels that in back-to-back losses in November to Virginia and Pittsburgh, the toll of many snaps was wearing down the Heels' defense.
The stats bear that out: UNC gave up 517 total yards to Virginia and 498 to Pittsburgh. That represented a season-high for both of the Heels' opponents. The game prior to playing UNC, Pitt had just 362 total yards at Georgia Tech, and after beating Chapel Hill the Panthers had only 177 yards in a shutout loss at Virginia Tech.
If NC State can wear down UNC's defense and take advantage of the Heels' own young secondary that has been torched at times, then it could be a close game.
That's the potential path I see to victory for NC State. However, in the end I think the skill talent on UNC's offense plays right into NCSU's weakness on the back end of its defense too well, and the Heels will prevail 34-28.
Week 1 vs. ECU — Prediction: 34-17 NC State; Actual: 34-6 NC State
Week 2 vs. WCU — Prediction: 51-10 NC State; Actual: 41-0 NC State
Week 3 at WVU — Prediction: 20-14 NC State; Actual: 44-27 West Virginia
Week 4 vs. Ball State — Prediction: 38-27 NC State; Actual: 34-23 NC State
Week 5 at Florida State — Prediction: 34-24 Florida State; Actual: 31-13 Florida State
Week 6 vs. Syracuse — Prediction: 30-27 NC State; Actual: 16-10 NC State
Week 7 at Boston College — Prediction: 24-21 NC State; Actual: 45-24 Boston College
Week 8 at Wake Forest — Prediction: 34-21 Wake Forest; Actual: 44-10 Wake Forest
Week 9 vs. Clemson — Prediction: 52-10 Clemson; Actual: 55-10 Clemson
Week 10 vs. Louisville — Prediction: 33-20 Louisville; Actual: 34-20 Louisville
Week 11 at Georgia Tech — Prediction: 17-14 NC State; Actual: 28-26 Georgia Tech
It seems so much of the recent success in the NC State and North Carolina series has come down to which program has the better quarterbacks. Statistically, it's also been proven that whatever team runs the ball the best usually wins. NC State has had the better quarterbacks (five current NFL quarterbacks] and running game of late.
That is the conundrum NC State finds itself in Saturday because UNC now has the perceived advantage at those two spots. Between freshman quarterback Sam Howell and the one-two punch of running backs Michael Carter, a junior, and sophomore Javonte Williams, the Tar Heels are in an enviable position. Howell has thrown for 2,946 yards and 32 touchdowns, and Carter leads the way with 822 rushing yards with Williams right behind him at 790. Both have three rushing touchdowns apiece.
The kicker is that UNC got somewhat lucky with both Howell and Williams, both in-state prep products. Howell was a prodigy that The Wolfpacker watched from his freshman year-on at Monroe (N.C.) Sun Valley High. NCSU tried with Howell, but he really liked Maryland offensive coordinator Walt Bell. When Florida State hired Bell, that ended his recruitment. Bell then got hired to be the head coach at UMass, Howell decommitted from FSU and eventually the new staff at UNC found its franchise quarterback.
In the case of Williams, he attended Wallace-Rose Hill High. Diehard NC State fans know that former Wolfpack star linebacker Nate Irving went to that high school years ago in the class of 2006. Williams was undervalued and did not have any other scholarship offers despite great on-field successes with Wallace-Rose Hill. He played in four straight state title games, and during his senior year rushed for 2,271 yards and 27 touchdowns. UNC took a chance on him late in the process, and he's blossomed in Chapel Hill.
NC State's back eight is decimated with injuries, and Howell has so many weapons around him. I predict UNC to win 31-17.
Week 1 vs. ECU — Prediction: 38-17 NC State; Actual: 34-6 NC State
Week 2 vs. WCU — Prediction: 48-3 NC State; Actual: 41-0 NC State
Week 3 at WVU — Prediction: 27-10 NC State; Actual: 44-27 West Virginia
Week 4 vs. Ball State — Prediction: 27-17 NC State; Actual: 34-23 NC State
Week 5 at Florida State — Prediction: 27-24 Florida State; Actual: 31-13 Florida State
Week 6 vs. Syracuse — Prediction: 26-19 NC State; Actual: 16-10 NC State
Week 7 at Boston College — Prediction: 27-24 NC State; Actual: 45-24 Boston College
Week 8 at Wake Forest — Prediction: 31-20 Wake Forest; Actual: 44-10 Wake Forest
Week 9 vs. Clemson — Prediction: 45-17 Clemson; Actual: 55-10 Clemson
Week 10 vs. Louisville — Prediction: 31-17 Louisville; Actual: 34-20 Louisville
Week 11 at Georgia Tech — Prediction: 20-17 NC State; Actual: 28-26 Georgia Tech
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