After a Week 1 loss to South Carolina, only the most die-hard of North Carolina State fans envisioned their team as the ACC Atlantic’s top challenger to Clemson.
Well, those die-hards and any other crazy person who believed in NC State is feeling pretty good right now. The No. 24 Wolfpack thrashed No. 17 Louisville’s defense and held Lamar Jackson in check in a 39-25 win Thursday night.
The victory is NC State’s third conference win of the season and two of those have now come over the teams many considered to be the most likely challengers to the defending national champions.
Two weeks ago the Wolfpack took down Florida State, a preseason top-five team. And five days after handling Syracuse, NC State pulled away from the Cardinals thanks to a late pick-six of Jackson.
After Louisville pulled within seven with just over four minutes left, NC State ran just 54 seconds off the clock before punting back to the Cardinals. But Jackson threw well behind his receiver across the middle of the field on Louisville’s second play of the drive. The ball got deflected up into the air and into the arms of Germaine Pratt, who ran 25 yards for the touchdown.
NC State’s defensive front dominated a Louisville offensive line that has had issues dating back to last season.
While Jackson missed some throws he was forced to move from the pocket far too quickly at times or sometimes just swallowed up by NC State players before he even had a chance to do anything. Fittingly, Louisville’s last offensive play ended with Jackson throwing an incomplete pass after being chased from the pocket by three NC State defenders.
The defending Heisman Trophy winner finished 26-46 passing for 354 yards a touchdown and that interception. He also had 19 carries for 73 yards and two touchdowns. NC State QB Ryan Finley finished 20-31 for 367 yards and a touchdown. He and his receivers were consistently able to beat Louisville’s defense for deep passes as evident by his average of over 18 yards a completion.
Receivers Kelvin Harmon and Jaylen Samuels both topped 100 yards receiving and running back Nyheim Hines had 102 yards and two touchdowns. With the weapons that NC State has on offense — and Finley’s continued improvement at quarterback — the Wolfpack will present an intriguing matchup at home against Clemson.
We’re going to have to wait a while for that game, however. The two teams don’t meet until Nov. 4.
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