NC State (3-5) at Duke (6-2)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, November 9, 4 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Wallace Wade Stadium (33,941) -- Durham, North Carolina. Television: ESPN U. Home Record: NC State 3-3, Duke 3-2. Away Record: NC State 0-2, Duke 3-0. Neutral Record: NC State 0-0, Duke 0-0. Conference Record: NC State 0-5, Duke 2-2. Series Record: Duke leads, 40-36-5.
GAME NOTES: Two Atlantic Coast Conference squads seemingly heading in opposite directions square off on Saturday afternoon, as the Duke Blue Devils play host to the NC State Wolfpack.
After qualifying for a bowl game in each of the past three seasons, NC State has faltered in 2013 under first-year head coach Dave Doeren, going 3-5 overall while remaining winless in the ACC at 0-5. The Wolfpack suffered their fourth consecutive setback last weekend, losing their Homecoming matchup to rival North Carolina, 27-19.
Meanwhile, Duke continues to exceed most expectations. At 6-2 overall, it has become bowl eligible in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 1988-89. The Blue Devils' latest victory came in upset fashion over nationally-ranked Virginia Tech on Oct. 26 (13-10), the team improving to 2-2 in conference, and it was their first win over a Top-25 foe on the road since 1971. One more victory will assure the squad of a winning record for the first time since 1994.
Duke leads the all-time series with NC State, 40-36-5. The teams last met in 2009, when the Blue Devils snapped an 11-game series losing streak with a 49-28 triumph.
Despite churning out a respectable 409.8 ypg, NC State's offense ranks just 10th in the league in scoring (23.0 ppg), and its output has been even worse in conference play, as it has scored 19 points or fewer in all five ACC bouts.
The quarterback play has been predictably underwhelming. Pete Thomas is throwing for less than 195 yards per game with only three touchdowns against eight interceptions. Brandon Mitchell has seen increased playing time in recent weeks, but has not performed any better (.517 completions, 351 yards, zero TDs, four INTs).
Shadrach Thornton, despite missing the first two games of the season, is piecing together a solid campaign with 447 yards and four touchdowns on 90 carries, with 263 of those yards coming in the past two games.
Bryan Underwood acts as the team's top receiving target, tallying 32 catches for 382 yards and a touchdown.
While the NC State defense has performed well (25.4 ppg, 390.2 ypg), the unit still ranks in the bottom half of the ACC and isn't strong enough to support the lackluster offense.
Robert Caldwell in the heartbeat of the defense, leading the way with 64 tackles and 8.5 TFL. Dontae Johnson has picked off three passes, while Thomas Teal (8.0 TFL, 2.5 sacks) and Art Norman (7.5 TFL, 3.0 sacks, FF) have been solid along the defensive line.
Duke has found success this season behind a rock-solid offensive attack, as it ranks fifth in the ACC in scoring (32.9 ppg) and sixth in yardage (420.4 ypg).
Anthony Boone missed three games in September with a broken collarbone, but has since returned as the Blue Devils' starting quarterback. He is completing better than 62 percent of his passes for 922 yards with eight touchdowns (three rushing). He also has six interceptions, with four of those coming at Virginia Tech, nearly costing his team the upset victory. Brandon Connette (.644, 1,069 yards, 12 TDs, six INTs) proved to be a quality backup in Boone's stead, and he is still a factor in the rushing game (243 yards, seven TDs).
Jamison Crowder is a bona fide playmaker at receiver, ranking third in the ACC in receptions (60) and fourth in yardage (769), while catching three touchdowns. His talents aren't limited to just catching passes however, as he also has two punt returns for scores, as well as a rushing touchdown.
The running back-by-committee approach Duke utilizes is led by Jela Duncan, who has rushed for 372 yards and three touchdowns. Josh Snead (57 carries, 338 yards) also sees plenty of work but has yet to find the end zone.
The Blue Devils defense (22.5 ppg, 383.6 ppg) has played well for the most part this season. Minus a two-game hiccup in late September where the unit allowed 86 combined points, Duke has given up just 11.2 ppg in the six other games, and its four-turnover performance at Virginia Tech was arguably its best yet.
David Helton leads the team with 78 tackles. Jeremy Cash isn't far behind with 72 while also pitching in with 7.5 TFL, three interceptions and two forced fumbles. Kenny Anunike generates a strong push up front with 10.0 TFL, 4.0 sacks and a blocked kick.
With Duke playing its best football of the season and NC State struggling to find its identity, there is no reason to believe that these trends won't continue, especially with the Blue Devils returning home to what is sure to be a rowdy crowd.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Duke 31, NC State 17
11/06 10:51:46 ET