For the first time since 2008, ACC foes Miami and North Carolina State face off, each with a chance to give the other its first loss in conference play. Coming off a dramatic comeback victory at Georgia Tech, the Canes are looking to avoid a letdown ahead of next week's trip to Chicago to face Notre Dame.
NC State has reeled off three straight non-conference victories after opening the season with a loss against Tennessee. But those three wins came against two lightweights (South Alabama and The Citadel) and one program in a down year (Connecticut). Miami will be NC State's toughest test to date, but the Wolfpack also have to avoid looking ahead to a home date with #4 Florida State next week.
"I don't even know if we've had anybody who's played them," Miami coach Al Golden said earlier this week. Miami receiver Davon Johnson was the only Cane to get playing time in 2008, when the Canes fell 38-28 at NC State. "But I know (NC State coach Tom O'Brien), so I have an idea of what we're going to face."
"It's still a rivalry," Hurricanes running back Mike James said. "We haven't played them in a while, but we know of them, we know they're a rival and we know we're going to have to do all we can to beat them."
When the Canes have the ball: Miami's offense looked equal parts unstoppable and ineffective last week. In the first and fourth quarters (and overtime as well) the Canes couldn't stay out of the endzone, amassing 42 points and 436 passing yards throughout the game.
But even though Miami has been gaining yards in bunches with the passing game, the most talented players on offense appear to be RBs Duke Johnson and Mike James. Johnson has dazzled early, with 443 yards from scrimmage so far this year. James is coming off a career day in Atlanta, where he had 113 yards from scrimmage and 4 touchdowns.
NC State has the fourth best scoring defense in the nation, giving up only 15.8 points a game. All-American cornerback David Amerson already has 3 interceptions on the year, with the entire defense combing for 11 sacks and 34 tackles for loss. Even so, those stats came against three of four opponents that no one would classify as juggernauts.
When the Wolfpack has the ball: NC State is eighth in the ACC in total offense, despite its soft schedule. The Wolfpack have not settled on a go-to running back, splitting carries between Tony Creecy, Mustafa Greene, and Shadrach Thornton. Thornton rushed 21 times for 145 yards and two touchdowns against The Citadel last week, meaning he could see more action against the Canes.
Senior QB Mike Glennon is coming off two straight very efficient games, completing 70% of his passes for over 200 yards in each. But he can be harassed into bad decisions, as Tennessee did in the Wolfpack's opening game. The Volunteers forced 4 interceptions that day.
Miami gave up 287 yards rushing to Georgia Tech last year, but that was well below the Yellow Jackets' season average. DE Anthony Chickillo continues to build off of his strong freshman season, leading the team with 4 tackles for loss and 2 sacks.
Who has the edge? Miami looks better on paper, but the Canes have struggled against the run all season, which could be enough for NC State to pull off an upset.
The pick: Miami 28-NC State 20
Kickoff is at noon on ESPNU.