Five Louisville Players To Watch
Senior safety Zykiesis Cannon — He leads the Cardinals with 32 tackles this season. The 6-0, 185-pounder from Mauldin, S.C., had nine tackles apiece against Purdue and Clemson, which matched his previous career high.
Sophomore kicker Blanton Creque — Creque made a career-high four field goals against NC State last year. He has connected on all seven field goal attempts this season, including a season-long 44-yarder last week against Murray State. The Shelbyville, Ky., native has made 23 of 26 career field goals with a long of 47, and he has been good on 62 of 63 extra points.
Redshirt freshman wide receiver Dez Fitzpatrick — The 6-2, 200-pounder has emerged as a key red zone target for the Cardinals. The Farmington Hills, Mich., native has 16 catches for 280 yards and six touchdowns in five games. Fitzpatrick snagged four passes for 78 yards and two scores in the 47-35 win over North Carolina on Sept. 9. Rivals.com had ranked him No. 208 overall nationally in the class of 2016, and he picked Louisville over Nebraska, Indiana and Arizona.
Sophomore defensive end Jon Greenard — The rangy 6-4, 257-pounder from Hiram, Ga., has emerged as the Cardinals top pass rusher through the first five games. Greenard has 19 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, five sacks and one forced fumble this season. His backup has earned at least one sack in four games.
Junior quarterback Lamar Jackson — The 6-3, 211-pounder from Pompano Beach, Fla., has come a long way since he made his first ACC start Oct. 3, 2015 against NC State. He ran for a 68-yard touchdown in a 20-13 victory over the Wolfpack and solidified his spot. Jackson then exploded last year to win the Heisman Trophy, passing for 3,543 yards and 30 touchdowns, and rushing for 1,571 yards and 21 scores.
Jackson has improved his passing percentage by nearly eight points (64.0 percent) this season. He has gone 112-of-175 passing for 1,636 yards, 13 touchdowns and three interceptions, and has tallied 72 carries for 437 yards and five scores.
Three Keys To The Game
Seize the moment: The psyche of the NC State players is completely different from the last time the two teams met.
NCSU was fresh off of losing 24-17 in overtime at Clemson and couldn’t mentally rebound to play Louisville the next week. The Cardinals obliterated the Wolfpack 54-13 with star quarterback Lamar Jackson putting on a show. Louisville jumped out to a 17-0 first-quarter lead, which reached 44-0 at halftime.
Jackson finished 20-of-34 passing for 355 yards and three touchdowns, and he rushed 17 times for 76 yards and a score. NC State finished with 25 carries for 14 yards and threw three interceptions.
NC State is now 4-1 this season and fresh off a solid 33-25 win over Syracuse. The back-to-back wins at Florida State and home vs. Syracuse have propelled NCSU to No. 24 national ranking.
Carter-Finley Stadium crowd should be rocking, and the players will be sporting the “Black Howl” adidas uniforms Thursday. That atmosphere could be worth at least seven points.
Cardinals health update: NC State's top cornerback is out with an injury, and so is Louisville's.
Charlotte native Jaire Alexander injured his knee against Purdue in the season opener, and has been out ever since. The junior corner and punt returner is expected back against NC State on Thursday, but it remains to be seen if he will resume full-time duties.
Alexander had five interceptions and 39 tackles, plus averaged 10.5 yards on 20 punt returns with a touchdown, as a sophomore and is considered an All-American candidate.
NC State went through a similar ordeal with senior cornerback Mike Stevens getting hurt in the preseason. NCSU head coach Dave Doeren indicated that Stevens might play against both Furman and Florida State, but he missed both games. He returned against Syracuse and played 33 snaps.
NC State could in line for a huge break with Louisville junior wide receiver Jaylen Smith possibly out for the third-straight game with a wrist injury. The 6-4, 219-pounder has 22 catches for 379 yards and two touchdowns in three games. He torched UNC for nine catches for 183 yards and a touchdown Sept. 9. Smith had two catches for 90 yards, including a 74-yard score against NC State last year.
Keep Louisville’s ground game in check: NC State starts every game with the same goal of stopping the run game.
Louisville presents a unique challenge because junior quarterback Lamar Jackson is its best runner. The chance to see Jackson go against NC State senior defensive end Bradley Chubb is one of the great games within the game. Jackson has topped 100 yards rushing in three out of five contests this season and has 437 yards overall thus far.
The Cardinals piled up 312 rushing yards against both North Carolina and Murray State this season. Clemson has done the best job, limiting the Cardinals to 27 carries for 116 yards.
Louisville’s top running back will be enjoying a homecoming of sorts Thursday. Junior Malik Williams played at Wilson (N.C.) Hunt High before embarking to Allan Hancock College in Santa Maria, Calif., where he played wide receiver and running back. The 6-3, 221-pounder has rushed 33 times for 244 yards and two scores, and has caught 12 passes for 120 yards. Louisville will likely use a running back by committee approach during the game.
Three Questions With Louisville Head Coach Bobby Petrino
Are you surprised by how many younger players you are playing?
“Not really because of how it has changed. They get to come here in the summer, and they work out with our guys. They spend two months here, and they get into their comfort zone.
"When we used to bring them in three days before the veterans got here, you got to coach them up for three days, /then basically when the veterans got here you put them aside and said, 'We'll see you in winter.’ You didn't have many freshmen play, but now because they are here and training they get used to it, and they are in much better condition.They are able to do it.”
What are your expectations of playing NC State?
“NC State's been very good. We've had some great battles with them. Last year, we got ahead of them early, and that helped us. But, it's all the same guys. All the same defensive line. All the same linebackers. They're a very good football team.”
How has the uncertainty within the athletic department caused some concerns?
"What I'm focused on is our football team. I love our football team. I love the University. I love the city of Louisville. We made plans to stay here and spend the rest of our career here. Rright now we just have to focus on this game Thursday night and get ready for that."
Three Questions With NC State Head Coach Dave Doeren
How has redshirt junior quarterback Ryan Finley throw 257 passes without an interception ?
"He is playing smart, and he got lucky too. He had a couple of drops by their defense, but that is part of the game. That is why they are on defense, supposedly because they can't catch. It's just a matter of time. He's not going to be perfect for the year.
"He is making good choices and putting the ball where it is hard for them to get to it. He is throwing it on time, and the guys are fighting for the ball. Jakobi Meyers had a great catch where he took it away from the defensive player. That is what you want."
Fifth-year senior middle linebacker Jerod Fernandez is having a productive season and had 14 tackles against Syracuse. What has been the key for him?
“He has improved himself athletically. A lot of those were just throwing hitch routes to the No. 3 receiver, so it wasn’t all run game tackles. Syracuse’s No. 1 receiver in that game was their No. 3 receiver in those trips and empty sets. They were just throwing hitches to him. He was able to make plays there.
“I really like his preparation, consistency and toughness and how much it matters to him. It’s very personal to him.”
What does it mean to be ranked No. 24 in The Associated Press poll?
"It's good recognition for our program and well deserved, but it's still early in the season and a lot of football left. After week 12 if we are in the top 25, I'll be really excited."
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