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Three things to watch: North Carolina State

The Hurricanes will face one of the top defenses in college football on Saturday

Miami v North Carolina
Miami running back Jaylan Knighton scores a touchdown in the second half of the Hurricanes’ 45-42 loss to North Carolina on October 16.
Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

The Miami Hurricanes will play a pivotal ACC game on Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. at Hard Rock Stadium. The game will be broadcast on ESPN2.

Miami (2-4, 0-2) will host North Carolina State (5-1, 2-0) in a game it must win to carry any realistic hope of winning the ACC Coastal division. The Hurricanes defeated NC State 44-41 in Raleigh in 2020 but that was behind 535 total yards from D’Eriq King, who is out for the rest of this season with a shoulder injury.

Tyler Van Dyke will start at quarterback on Saturday for Miami. Here’s three things to watch for Saturday’s game.

Van Dyke against an elite defense

Van Dyke has improved in each of his starts against power five opponents but he will face a defense unlike one that he has seen in his young career on Saturday.

North Carolina State allows just under 295 yards per game and is ranked No.11 in the NCAA in total defense. The Wolfpack also just 92.8 rushing yards per game (11th in the NCAA) and 201.8 passing yards per game (34th in the NCAA).

Still, Van Dyke seemed unfazed at the thought of having to face the ACC’s top defense when he met with the Miami media this week.

That is what we call “bulletin board material” there, folks. I can’t remember the last time a Miami quarterback was that honest in a media session.

Take what you will from Van Dyke’s comments but one thing is for sure—Miami’s offense cannot come out and lay an egg after Van Dyke laid it on the line like he did. That would be an utter embarrassment.

Offense starts with the quarterback play so after those comments, this is the week that Van Dyke needs to be as good in the first half as he has been in the second half and lead Miami to a complete offensive performance.

Miami must tackle North Carolina State’s ball carriers

Miami turned in another poor tackling performance in its 45-42 loss to North Carolina last week. It’s just a fact at this point: Miami does not tackle well.

That is a scary thought heading into this matchup with North Carolina State’s offense. The Wolfpack are incredibly physical on offense and it starts with running backs Zonovan Knight and Ricky Person.

Knight (6.1 yards per carry) and Person (5.0 yards per carry) split the carries for North Carolina State and make an incredible tandem in the backfield. Additionally, NC State left tackle Ikem Ekwonu is a massive run blocker who creates holes for both runners.

Knight and Person rushed for 124 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries in NC State’s 2020 loss to Miami. If the Hurricanes cannot wrap them up when they first get their hands on them on Saturday, that number will be significantly higher this year.

We are in game seven of the 2021 season. It is unreasonable to expect Miami to all of a sudden become a sound tackling team now. However, even just the slightest of improvements from the North Carolina game or the abomination we saw in the Michigan State game earlier this year would help the Hurricanes immensely on Saturday.

Miami is going to miss tackles in space. But if the Hurricanes can do a better job and miss less than they have against other power five opponents, they will have a chance to hold the Wolfpack running attack in check on Saturday.

Jaylan Knighton against a great run defense

One of the few reasons that I am not completely sour about this season is the promise that freshman running back Jaylan Knighton has shown in his two games back from suspension. He is electric, fun to watch, and gives Miami an element of speed at the running back position that was sorely missing in the first four games of the season.

With Cam’ron Harris and Don Chaney Jr. both out for the season, “Rooster” figures to be Miami’s feature back the rest of the way. And that should be exciting to all of us.

As was mentioned before, North Carolina State does have a great run defense. The most rushing yards given up to any individual player this season by the Wolfpack defense is the 71 it allowed to Louisiana Tech quarterback Austin Kendall.

I rarely make predictions in this article but I will now—I think Knighton will eclipse that mark and record the highest individual rushing total against NC State this season on Saturday.

Knighton rushed for 92 yards (most of which came in the second half after the Harris injury) against North Carolina and also had 75 yards receiving. He finished the game with three total touchdowns.

Miami needs another game like that from Knighton if it is going to compete with the Wolfpack on Saturday.