Posted by Jerry Hinnen
LOUISVILLE WILL WIN IF: the Cardinals can get things going on the ground. Sounds simple enough, but it's hardly coincidence that the Cards went 7-1 in games in which they topped 100 rushing yards -- including all six of their 5-1 sprint to the 2011 finish line -- and 0-4 in games in which they didn't. With true freshman quarterback Teddy Bridgewater still learning the ropes when it comes to putting the ball in the air (the Cards averaged just 24 pass attempts a game over those final six), the Cards simply don't have the means to overcome consistent 3rd-and-long situations. And that probably goes double against the Wolfpack, who boast All-American safety candidate David Amerson and ranked 31st in the country in opposing quarterback rating. The NCSU rush defense was somewhat softer, though (ranking 41st) and the Cardinal offensive line picked up some legitimate steam down the stretch; if they can give talented backs Victor Anderson and Dominique Brown just a few seams to work with, the Cards should be able to move the ball just enough to earn the victory.
N.C. STATE WILL WIN IF: they likewise can get things going in the air. While the Cards likely need some semblance of balance to make their offense work, the Wolfpack should probably just forget trying to run the ball in this matchup; Charlie Strong's defense boasts the 10th-best rush D numbers in the FBS, while the NCSU running attack is ranked 107th. That's a no-go. But Mike Glennon quietly enjoyed a steady-if-unspectacular season under center for the Wolfpack (28 TDs-to-11 INTs) and a deep corps of receivers emerged with six different targets finishing with 25 or more receptions. The Cards struggled with viable passing attacks, too, yielding 11.8 yards an attempt to FIU, 410 yards on more than 9 an attempts to West Virginia, even 8.5 an attempt to Tino Sunseri at Pitt. If the Wolfpack can keep Glennon upright -- the Cards finished 19th nationally in sacks -- there will be some holes for the Wolfpack to exploit.
THE X-FACTOR: red zone efficiency. While we can talk about what the offenses do and don't bring to the table, don't make any mistake: this is a "battle" between the nation's 104th- and 93rd-ranked total offenses going against a pair of top-40 defenses, and points are going to be at an extreme premium. (That's Louisville and N.C. State, respectively, but the order hardly matters; in yards per-play, the Cards are 91st and NCSU 107th.) That means whatever rare opportunities these two attacks get to put points on the board must be taken advantage of; don't be surprised to see a 17-13 type of scoreline where one touchdown for one side vs. one field goal for the other proves the difference.