NC State (3-1) at Miami (3-1) Sept. 29, 12:00, ESPNU
Here’s The Deal: Did the significance of this matchup at Sun Life Stadium come completely out of left field or what? Just two weeks ago, Miami and NC State were a couple of 1-1 teams that appeared to be going nowhere fast. Today, both schools are two games over .500, with renewed hopes for a prosperous campaign. The Hurricanes were one of the improbable storylines of Week 4, rallying from a deep deficit on the road at Georgia Tech to pull off an improbable 42-36 shocker in overtime. While this is still the same young team that was ransacked by Kansas State on Sept. 8, last Saturday’s upset in Atlanta lent hope that things are finally turning around for second-year head coach Al Golden. The Pack’s rebound has been far less dramatic, though three straight wins are still three straight wins. NC State has answered its opening day loss to Tennessee with defeats of Connecticut, South Alabama and The Citadel, so it still remains to be seen if it has improved or was just the product of a soft string of non-conference games.
Why NC State Might Win: As impressive as the win was last week, it can’t erase the fact that Miami remains a raw and very erratic program. The defense has been particularly shoddy, a situation complicated by an injury to starting LB Denzel Perryman and an inability to pressure the pocket. Now, the Pack offensive line is hardly a fortress, but it should be able to afford QB Mike Glennon the time he needs to find one of his favorite receivers, Quintin Payton, Bryan Underwood or Tobais Palmer. ‘Canes QB Stephen Morris will labor to build on last week’s breakout performance if his young receivers can’t shake CB David Amerson and the rest of the veteran NC State secondary.
Why Miami Might Win: Well, for starters, the Hurricanes are suddenly hot and unexpectedly confident after upending Georgia Tech. New playmakers have begun to emerge around Morris, who can’t help but be encouraged by last week’s performance. Veteran RB Mike James scored four touchdowns in the win, while rookie Duke Johnson, the nation’s leader in all-purpose yards, continues to provide the flash and big-play ability out of the backfield. On the outside, speedy WR Phillip Dorsett is blooming into the kind of weapon that can take a short hitch and turn it into long gain. The big and physical Miami O-line did not allow a sack last week, a trend that’ll continue if the team’s backs can pick up the blitz.
What To Watch Out For: Miami needs someone other than sophomore DE Anthony Chickillo to mount pressure, or else Glennon will have his way with the defensive backs. In a chess match of weaknesses, the Hurricanes have just two sacks in three games versus teams not named Bethune-Cookman, yet NC State ranks 113th nationally in pass protection. Something has to give this weekend. Golden is holding out hope that one of the interior linemen, Darius Smith or Olsen Pierre, can perforate the mealy Pack line from the inside.
What Will Happen: It’s anybody’s guess which Miami team shows up this weekend. Or which NC State team for that matter. Neither team’s calling card has been consistency in the month of September. The Pack has the more reliable quarterback. The ‘Canes have an edge at running back, especially if rookie Shadrach Thornton needs to shoulder the load for NC State. Miami will sneak by in a close game, looking more battle-tested than a pack team that hasn’t faced a quality opponent in four weeks.
CFN Prediction: Miami 28… NC State 24
ATS Consultants Line (Click for more lines and picks) Miami -3 O/U: 55
Must Watch Rating (5 – Ryder Cup 2012, 1 – SNL Thursday Weekend Update): 3