NC State football will return to Carter-Finley Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 17 to take on the Duke Blue Devils. The matchup will feature a Wolfpack squad seeking to improve to 4-1 on the year and a Duke outfit trying to turn its season around after a 1-4 start.
The Wolfpack has started to heat up on the gridiron the past couple of weeks, staging a comeback win against the then-No. 24 Pittsburgh Panthers and a solid dismantling of the Virginia Cavaliers.
These performances were hallmarked by the return of redshirt sophomore quarterback Devin Leary to the starting lineup. Leary was written in as NC State’s starting quarterback in the spring but was sidelined at the start of the season as a part of COVID-19 contact tracing protocols.
The Wolfpack’s field general has impressed in his appearances thus far: completing 75% of his passes against then-No. 20 Virginia Tech after taking over for redshirt junior quarterback Bailey Hockman and notching over 300 passing yards and four touchdown passes against then-No. 24 Pitt. Leary’s Pittsburgh performance included a game-winning touchdown with 23 seconds left in regulation and he oversaw an offensive attack that put up 38 points in the win over UVA.
NC State’s offensive performance has been matched by that of the defense, for better and for worse. On the plus side, the defense has stepped up to protect leads more often than not, though this difference is marginal. The Pack has put up a point differential of exactly zero in its first four games, scoring and surrendering 137 points apiece.
For its opponent, the Duke Blue Devils, the season has gotten off to a rough start. After losing their first four games, including the season opener against then-No. 10 Notre Dame, the Blue Devils secured their first win of the season on the road against the Syracuse Orange.
Blue Devils quarterback Chase Brice was once again a mixed bag of performances, throwing for over 200 yards for the fifth consecutive time this season. Brice also committed one interception and two fumbles, though only one fumble resulted in a turnover.
Brice’s tendency to cough up the ball, which has amounted to eight interceptions and three lost fumbles, will be something the NC State defense will be looking to capitalize on, especially for NC State defensive stalwart, junior defensive tackle Alim McNeill, who recorded a pick six against the Cavaliers last week.
The Duke defense will be looking to go toe-to-toe with McNeill and the NC State defense, as the Blue Devils have been putting together better defensive stats than the Pack. In addition to allowing 3.6 less points per game than the Pack, the Blue Devils have given up 37.4 less offensive yards per game as well, most of that difference coming from the aerial defense.
Duke has also generated more turnovers per game than NC State, 1.6 compared to the Wolfpack’s 1.3, and sacks per game, 3.6 compared to the Wolfpack’s three. This Duke defensive unit will be looking to wreak some havoc come Saturday.
When the Wolfpack and the Blue Devils take the gridiron, it would seem as though it could turn out to be a closer matchup than most people expect between a 3-1 team and a 1-4 team. The difference-maker in this game will be Leary’s performance. Despite trotting out a statistically superior defense to that of NC State, Duke will be hard-pressed to find ways to disrupt Leary.
The two teams have also faced two common opponents, UVA and Virginia Tech. Though the Blue Devils lost against both, NC State managed to pull out a victory on the road against Virginia, further signifying the Wolfpack as the favorite this week. In what could prove to be a statement win for the Pack, Duke will most likely fall to 1-5 on the season.
Prediction: NC State 35 - Duke 17
The game will kick off at 3:30 p.m.