RALEIGH, N.C. — Another golden opportunity awaits No. 24 NC State on Thursday night in Carter-Finley Stadium.
The Wolfpack (4-1, 2-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) gets a second shot this season at a nationally-ranked opponent in No. 17 Louisville (1-1), while also facing off against the reigning Heisman Trophy winner in the primetime 8 p.m. ET ACC matchup.
Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson was midway through his drive to the 2016 Heisman Trophy when he accounted for five first-half touchdowns as the Cardinals rolled to a 54-13 victory against NC State last season. Jackson started the rout with a 36-yard run, then tossed four touchdown passes against a Wolfpack team still reeling from a narrow loss against eventual national champion Clemson the week before.
“I think we’re a different team than we were last year,” NC State’s senior quarterback Ryan Finley said earlier this week. “I think this team has been through a lot. We’ve been through the fire and adversity, and that’s how you learn. I think we’re at a good point right now.”
RELATED: Previewing Thursday’s matchup | How does 2017 Lamar Jackson compare to 2016?
The Wolfpack entered this season amid high expectations, but those were tempered after an opening 35-28 loss against South Carolina. Since then, however, NC State has reeled off four straight wins, including a 27-21 triumph against then-No. 12 Florida State that established the Wolfpack as a contender in the ACC’s Atlantic Division race.
.@PackFootball is in the house!
Can’t wait for you to join us soon, #WPN. #GoPack #1Pack1Goal pic.twitter.com/e3co8SPypt
— NC State Athletics (@PackAthletics) October 5, 2017
The Cardinals represent the next major obstacle in NC State’s pursuit of the Atlantic Division crown, and Jackson is their catalyst.
The 6-3, 211-pounder from Pompano Beach, Florida, has already left his mark on one in-state team this season. Jackson gave his 2017 Heisman candidacy a boost last month when he racked up 525 yards of total offense and accounted for six touchdowns in a 47-35 triumph against North Carolina.
Senior linebacker Airius Moore said it’ll take team effort by the Wolfpack to keep Jackson in check.
“He’s probably going to be the fastest guy on the field and the most agile guy on the field,” Moore said. “You have to make sure you leverage the ball and everybody runs to the ball. He can make video game-type plays, but if everybody is running to the ball we can limit his big plays.”
QB Lamar Jackson closing in on more high marks in his career #L1C4 pic.twitter.com/8J2zXY9lD5
— LouisvilleFootball (@UofLFootball) October 3, 2017
NC State’s defense has been far more effective than North Carolina’s this season, and is led by one of the nation’s top front lines. Senior end Bradley Chubb heads that unit and leads the ACC in quarterback sacks (5.5) and tackles for loss (11.0).
MORE: UNLV, San Diego State to honor victims, local heroes at Saturday’s game
Chubb believes limiting Jackson is the key to a NC State victory.
“We’ve got to do a good job of containing him,” Chubb said. “We can’t let him be the reason we lose.”
Let’s keep this trend going! #ACC pic.twitter.com/4e6edoqxsT
— ACC Digital Network (@theACCDN) October 4, 2017
The Wolfpack has faced an eventual Heisman Trophy winner seven times previously during the year they won the trophy, including Jackson last season. This will be the second time NC State has played against a Heisman winner in the year after he earned the award. The Wolfpack lost to Florida State and quarterback Jameis Winston (49-17) in 2013 when Winston won the Heisman as a redshirt freshman. Winston then led the Seminoles to a 56-41 win against the Wolfpack the following season.
This article is written by Sammy Batten from The Fayetteville Observer, N.C. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.