How No. 14 N.C. State and No. 9 Notre Dame matchup:
When Notre Dame has the ball
The Fighting Irish have turned into a running team this season. The running ability of junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush, a first-year starter, is a big reason why. Wimbush has run for 508 yards in six games and has three 100-yard games (he had 106 yards and two touchdowns in the Irish’s 49-14 win over Southern California last week).
As dangerous as Wimbush is as a runner, he’s not even Notre Dame’s biggest threat. Senior running back Josh Adams has racked up 967 yards in seven games. His 9.2 yards per carry is the best in the country. He had 229 yards against a usually stout Boston College run defense on Sept. 16.
Nationally, the Irish rank No. 6 in rush offense (317.9 yards per game) but No. 118 in pass offense (157 ypg). That’s a good matchup for N.C. State’s defense, which ranks No. 6 in rush defense (91.3 ypg) but No. 122 against the pass (287 ypg).
Senior defensive end Bradley Chubb had three sacks in N.C. State’s 10-3 win over the Irish last season in Raleigh. Chubb has stood out in N.C. State’s best wins this season.
This game will come down to if Wimbush can beat N.C. State with his arm.
Edge: N.C. State.
When N.C. State has the ball
Junior running back Nyheim Hines got off to a slow start this season but has found another gear in ACC play. Hines has given the Wolfpack a go-to feature back to set up the efficient passing game of quarterback Ryan Finley. Hines has run for 111.5 yards per ACC game and has five touchdowns in the past three games.
Finley started the season with 100 pass attempts in the first two games, but with Hines’ emergence, has had 148 in the five games since.
Finley had a breakout game (367 yards) in the 39-25 win over Louisville on Oct.5, which has put him on the radar of NFL scouts. For the season, he has completed 69.4 percent of his passes (172 of 248) and has 11 touchdowns and no interceptions.
His willingness to take more chances down the field – and the receivers ability to make those plays – has been the biggest difference in N.C. State’s offense from this season to last.
The Irish have made significant improvement under first-year defensive coordinator Mike Elko, who was hired from Wake Forest. Notre Dame, 4-8 a year ago, finished the season No. 61 in scoring defense (27.8 points per game) in 2016. They enter this game ranked 12th, giving up 16.4 points per game.
Linebackers Te’von Coney and Nyles Morgan are active in the middle and Jerry Tillery has been their best defensive lineman.
Like N.C. State, Notre Dame is not great against the pass (No. 85 in the country). Finley and his receivers have proven more capable than Notre Dame’s passing game to exploit that area of concern for the Irish defense.
Edge: N.C. State
N.C. State’s kicking problems are well-documented. Newcomer Carson Wise missed a 34-yard attempt at Pittsburgh and is 6 of 11 on the season (which is what N.C. State’s kicking combination of Kyle Bambard and Conner Haskins were after 11 attempts last season). Notre Dame’s Justin Yoon has only been slightly better (7 of 10).
Hines is a dynamic returner, on both punts and kickoffs, and can change the game with one run (as he did at Pitt with a 92-yard punt return for a score).
Notre Dame’s decisive win over USC moved them into the top 10 and the College Football Playoff conversation. So N.C. State gets a completely engaged version of Notre Dame, not one going through the motions.
The Irish also have the home crowd and more experience on the national stage than N.C. State.
N.C. State is coming off the open date on its schedule. The extra time has been good recently for coach Dave Doeren. The Wolfpack has won its past four games after a week off and Doeren’s only loss after a bye was during the disastrous 2013 season.
Edge: Notre Dame
Prediction: N.C. State 20, Notre Dame 18.
By the numbers
Yards per play (O)
Yards per play (D)
3rd-down conversion % (O)
3rd-down conversions % (D)
Ryan Finley, State
Brandon Wimbush, ND
Josh Adams, ND
Nyheim Hines, State
Brandon Wimbuish, ND
Reggie Gallaspy, State
Kelvin Harmon, State
Jaylen Samuels, State
Equanimeous St. Brown, ND
Chase Claypool, ND
Notre Dame (6-1)
at Boston College
at Michigan State
N.C. State (6-1)
vs. South Carolina*
at Florida State
at Notre Dame
at Boston College
at Wake Forest
Note: *-at Charlotte.