It's not Thanksgiving week until the crazy relatives show up at the house for dinner, and in that vein we're doing a Q&A with our good friend Will Thompson from our SB Nation brethren at the excellent NC State blog Backing the Pack. You can check out Will's questions and our answers here.
It's well worth it to give Will a follow on Twitter (@thrillis4) and make sure you check out BTP for his weekly feature (and one of my favorite things on the interwebs), the #goacc Moment of the Week. Now for the askin' and answerin':
Q: It looked like there was a point early in conference play that State was teetering a little bit after the Virginia Tech and Louisville losses but since it seems the Pack has won the games they're supposed to and played the heavyweights Clemson and Florida State tough. What is the state of State headed into the final game?
A: Those losses are still somewhat disappointing, sure. Both were winnable games, particularly the Virginia Tech game, and letting them slip away definitely ruined a chance at a more special season. However, coming into the year, the target was at least 8 wins in the regular season, and that's still possible. I mentioned this last week in talking to the folks over at Nunes Magician, but if State can beat UNC and finish with a bowl victory from the Belk Bowl or wherever they end up, that's a positive step forward to build on for next season. On the flip side of that, if State loses to UNC and then loses a bowl game, well, the vibe will be drastically different heading into next season. Kind of silly that two wins make all the difference, but as Cam Newton once said, "that's just the life we live."
Q: If I'm Larry Fedora, what do I have to do to stop the Wolfpack?
A: The biggest thing is to keep State's offense off the field and to score a lot early. UNC has one of the most explosive offenses in the country, and can score in bunches in a hurry. State's goal is going to be to keep UNC's offense off the field with long sustained drives. If UNC gets ahead 14-0, or 17-0 in the first quarter, that will hamstring a lot of what State will want to do offensively.
To do that, UNC's defense will have to put a lot of pressure on Jacoby Brissett to try and force him into mistakes, which he hasn't made many of this season. On the whole, Brissett has tossed 17 TD passes and only 3 picks. If UNC can force Brissett into bad situations, NC State will be in major trouble. At least in my opinion, this is the most important matchup of the game, because UNC's going to score points in this game regardless. That offense is just insane. The question is, how many points, and can State lessen that amount by limiting the number of possessions UNC gets?
Q: Last season the Pack completely shut down the Carolina offense. Why do you think that happened and what do you see State trying to do for an encore?
A: The biggest reason was State put enormous pressure on Marquise Williams, and UNC's offensive line could not protect him. Even when Marquise went out of the game, that continued as Mitch Trubisky was not able to do much either. Then when State had the ball, kind of piggybacking off the above, they had long drives where State ran the ball right down UNC's throat. State had 58 rushing attempts that day for almost 400 yards.
UNC's offensive line, and Williams are both much improved this season, and also have a dominant running back in Elijah Hood that the Pack will have to account for as well. The Pack has a strong defensive line, and in particular both Mike Rose and Darian Roseboro have played tremendously in the last few weeks. This is the second most important matchup for me - the battle between the Pack's defensive line and UNC's offensive line. If State can get to Marquise like they did last year, things could get pretty interesting at Carter-Finley.
Q: What does rational StateFan think about UNC's success this season and what weight does it add to the usual rivalry battle, if any?
A: After watching the loss to South Carolina at the beginning of the year, if you had told me that UNC would not lose another game prior to the last week in the season I would've said you were crazy. They looked awful against South Carolina. But, they've had a tremendous season since and have earned the right to play Clemson in the ACC Championship game. It definitely adds some emphasis to this game. Even though State cannot prevent UNC from reaching the title game, the Heels I'm sure don't want egg on their face heading into the championship game. But, ignoring that for a moment - this game will be huge regardless, because I can guarantee UNC will want revenge for the drubbing they took last year in Chapel Hill. So UNC's success certainly adds a cherry on top to the bragging rights at stake Saturday, absolutely. But, even when both of these teams aren't at their best, this is always a wildly entertaining and intense game.
Q: Prediction time. Who wins and why?
A: In my best announcer voice - "TOSS OUT THE RECORD BOOKS WHEN THESE TWO MEET AND OTHER SPORTS CLICHES!!" But in all seriousness, I don't see this being a repeat of last season. I think it will be much closer, and ultimately, I think this will be a game where whomever has the ball last will have a chance to win. I see Elijah Hood having a huge day for UNC, and I believe Brissett will have a great performance for State. If this game was being played in Chapel Hill I'd feel a lot worse about it, but I think the crowd at Carter-Finley will be nuts, and will give State a slight edge. I'll take a touchdown pass to Nyheim Hines being the difference maker: Pack wins, 31-24.