North Carolina State at Pittsburgh

Sports Xchange

October 11, 2017 at 1:27 pm.

GAME SNAPSHOT
KICKOFF: Saturday, noon ET
SITE: Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, Pa.
TV: RSN
SERIES: Pitt leads 5-3-1. N.C. State won the last meeting 38-31 in 2009.
RANKINGS: North Carolina State No. 20

PLAYERS TO WATCH
Wolfpack

–QB Ryan Finley continues to show a high degree of efficiency and hasn’t thrown an interception while completing 10 touchdown passes across the first five games. With 288 consecutive passes without an interception (dating to last season), he holds the longest active streak in the country.

–RB Nyheim Hines leads the ACC with 166.7 all-purpose yards per game and has rushed for more than 100 yards in the past two games. A junior, he is also a kickoff returner and ranks ninth in school history with 3,770 all-purpose yards.

–WR Kelvin Harmon has had three games with more than 100 receiving yards this season. He is coming off a career-high outing with 133 receiving yards against Louisville.

–DE Bradley Chubb has continued to gain recognition as being one of the country’s top pass rushers. He has won the ACC Defensive Lineman of the Week award twice this season after the Wolfpack played ACC opponents. He owns 6.5 sacks this season.

Panthers

–QB Ben DiNucci will get the start in place of the injured Max Browne. DiNucci has completed 55.4 percent of his 65 pass attempts in five appearances and has two touchdowns against two interceptions.

–RB/KR Qadree Ollison is Pitt’s leading rusher, though for with only 249 yards on 63 carries. He has scored four of the team’s nine rushing touchdowns.

–S/RB Jordan Whitehead has been used on both sides of the ball in his collegiate career and actually started on both sides of the ball against Virginia last year. He has 10 carries for 132 yards rushing for this season and has 19 tackles in three games after starting off the fall on suspension.

KEYS
TO THE GAME

These are banner times for North Carolina State.

The 20th-ranked Wolfpack (5-1, 3-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) holds its highest national ranking since early in the 2003 season and will be trying to move to 4-0 in conference play for the first time since 2002 when it plays at Pittsburgh on Saturday.

Kickoff is at noon at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh. The game, the 10th in the series but the first as ACC colleagues, will be telecast regionally.

The Panthers have been struggling, and things become even more challenging with the arm injury that has sidelined starting quarterback Max Browne, who is expected to miss at least two games. Sophomore Ben DiNucci has been dubbed the starter for the second time this season.

“Ben has got a ton of ability,” Narduzzi said. “We’ve talked about that. He needs to relax in the pocket and identify who he’s supposed to read.”

Browne, a transfer from USC, has completed 71.1 percent of his passes this season. DiNucci is 36-of-65 (55.4 percent) for 442 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions.

Pittsburgh’s is looking for a spark to its offense. Safety Jordan Whitehead was summoned to the backfield last week and gained 73 yards on seven carries against Syracuse. Narduzzi said it’s important to keep him fresh so he doesn’t slack off on the defensive side.

“I don’t want to wear the kid out,” Narduzzi said. “We’ll do what we need to do, but he’s a super kid who’s all in.”

The Wolfpack, however, is taking no chances and is approaching the game with caution.

“We can’t ever think that we’ve made it because we haven’t,” N.C. State coach Dave Doeren said. “We’re at the halfway point right now. We’ve put ourselves in a great place. It doesn’t mean that we’re satisfied at all.”

N.C. State has a steady hand at quarterback in Ryan Finley, who has thrown 10 touchdown passes this season. His 288 consecutive attempts, dating to last season, without being picked off is the longest active streak in the country.

The Wolfpack also has a threat in running back Nyheim Hines, who totaled 225 all-purpose yards in last week’s win against Louisville. Hines has eclipsed 100 rushing yards in each of the past two games and is a threat as a kickoff returner.

The Wolfpack also ought to be well-rested with a couple of extra days to prepare after knocking off the then-No. 17 Cardinals 39-25 in a Thursday night affair.

“We just put the pieces of the puzzle together and believed that we could really make something happen,” receiver Kelvin Harmon said. “As the season goes on, it keeps growing.”

Doeren said Pittsburgh’s offense reflects some of the influence of former N.C. State offensive coordinator Matt Canada, who spent the 2016 season with the Panthers before leaving for LSU.

Not only will the Panthers have a different starting quarterback this week, but they’ll likely be without running back Chawntez Moss (suspended indefinitely) and will continue rotating some of the offensive lineman, Narduzzi said.

That could be daunting against a rugged N.C. State defensive front that features end Bradley Chubb, who has moved up to No. 8 among the top prospects for the 2018 NFL Draft, according to NFLDraftScout.com.

“They’ve got one of the best D-lines you’ll see in the country,” Narduzzi said.
Moss has started one game this season, splitting time with Qadree Ollison, who has a team-high 249 yards on 63 carries for the nation’s 107th-best rushing attack.

Without a strong surge in the second half of the season, Pittsburgh will be without a bowl appearance for the first time in a decade. Narduzzi said such matters aren’t worth thinking about now.

“The great thing about our kids is they care,” Narduzzi said. “They’ve got a great care factor. They want to get better.”

Pittsburgh has mostly fared well against the ACC’s Atlantic Division, going 7-2 (with one of the setbacks last week to Syracuse and the other in its first ACC game to 2013 eventual national champion Florida State).

N.C. State junior defensive end Darian Roseboro expects to play while grieving the death of his father on Saturday. Roseboro rotates at end and has 17 tackles in six games this season. Wolfpack players will wear a helmet decal to honor the late Johnny Roseboro, 43.