Kenton's Keys: UNC
Editor's note: SI All Wolfpack deputy editor Kenton Gibbs was part of coach Dave Doeren's first recruiting class at NC State in 2013. He played two seasons for the Wolfpack, recovering a fumble that set up the winning touchdown against Syracuse in 2014, before an injury forced him from the field to the press box. Each Friday during the football season, he'll provide his expert analysis in identifying keys that could lead to a potential State victory.
The NC State football team hit on only two of Kenton Gibbs' six keys last week against Duke, a recipe that normally would have added up to a loss. But the Wolfpack was able to overcome an awful first half to rally for a 31-20 victory against the Blue Devils at Carter-Finley Stadium.
This Saturday, as the Wolfpack takes back to the road for its annual rivalry game against North Carolina in Chapel Hill, here are Kenton's Keys to a another season-defining victory:
- Establish the tempo up front: The Wolfpack is going to going to have to do everything it can to put new starting quarterback Bailey Hockman in a position to succeed. And it starts with the offensive line and the running game. UNC's defensive front isn't as good as Wake Forest's and State dominated up front in that game with Hockman at quarterback. It's important for the Wolfpack to have at least 100 rushing yards by halftime.
- Protect the ball, Bailey Hockman. Protest the ball, Bailey Hockman. Protect the ball, Bailey Hockman: Hockman's ability to manage the game and distribute the ball to his playmakers is good enough to win the game as long as he doesn't make any big mistakes -- a problem that has plagued him so far in his Wolfpack career. If he commits a turnover Saturday, make it a good one -- not the kind that gives the game away.
- Perimeter players help Bailey out: State's wide receivers and tight ends need to get open and not have any drops to keep offensive coordinator Tim Beck from losing confidence in the passing game and making the Wolfpack two one-dimensional.
- GASH: That's an acronym for Get After Sam Howell. Considering the depleted nature of its secondary, State can't allow UNC's star quarterback stand in the pocket waiting for his receivers to come open. The guys up front and linebackers have to put to help their young, inexperienced safeties out by putting Howell under duress and keeping him from getting comfortable.
- Linebackers must lead again: Payton Wilson, Drake Thomas and Isaiah Moore are all ranked among the top 10 in the ACC in tackles per game and were the driving force behind last week's win against Duke. They need to take this game over, too, with each recording at least eight tackles and combining to produce at least one turnover.
- Keep the Takeaway Bone: The Wolfpack has produced seven turnovers in the past two games -- including six interceptions. It needs to continue to take the ball away and put signatures on the Takeaway Bone used to celebrate turnovers -- especially since Howell has already been picked off four times after throwing only seven in 13 games last season.
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