Each year college and pro football fans need to be reminded that early games don’t always give us an accurate forecast for the remainder of season.
In the NFL, it’s the preseason games that can be deceptive. In the college, records often even out once conference play begins and a slow starting school that played a tough schedule faces a fast starting team that scheduled soft.
Case in point: Louisville defeated previously unbeaten North Carolina State 20-13 on the Wolfpack’s home field Saturday in the wind and rain at Carter-Finley Stadium.
Louisville, left for dead after opening 0-3 with losses to Auburn, Houston and in ACC Atlantic play to Clemson, has won two in a row to stand 2-3 overall and 1-1 in the ACC Atlantic.
NC State can say goodbye to the 10 votes among “others” in the AP Top 25 that it had accumulated. The Wolfpack dropped to 4-1 overall and 0-1 in the ACC Atlantic.
The Wolfpack also had been gaining attention as a dark-horse candidate in the ACC Atlantic, but that label now belongs to Louisville.
NC State was averaging 46.2 points, 259.0 yards rushing and 478.5 per game after opening with wins over Troy (49-21), Eastern Kentucky (35-0), Old Dominion (38-14) and South Alabama (63-13).
But Louisville’s defense held the Wolfpack to two touchdowns, with one a mere three-play, five-yard drive after true freshman Nyheim Hines’ 90-yard kickoff return. For the day, NC State managed only 45 yards rushing and 183 passing for 228 total yards.
Quarterback Jacoby Brissett, who seemed poised to make his mark in the ACC as a second-year senior starter, was contained by Louisville’s front seven. He carried 10 times for seven yards gained but lost 33 for a net minus-26. His passing totals were 16 of 28 for 183 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions.
NC State also felt confident after Week 4 featuring two rushers averaging 100 yards an outing: junior Matt Dayes (113.5 in four dates) and senior Shadrach Thornton (101.5 in two).
But Thornton, who was suspended for the first two games, was dismissed from the team on Wednesday following an arrest Tuesday night for a hit-and-run incident on a moped. He had previously been suspended and arrested twice.
The Wolfpack may have not missed him the first two games, but Dayes couldn’t carry the load against Louisville. He was held to 19 carries for 68 yards, 3.6 yards per rush, and one TD.
Louisville had been plagued by turnovers in its early games, but the Cardinals played clean football this time, winning the turnover battle, 2-0.
Dual-threat quarterback Lamar Jackson continued to demonstrate his potential, but this time without the mistakes of turnovers or inconsistent play. He scored the Cardinals’ first touchdown late in the first quarter on a 68-yard run. Then he engineered a 13-play, 93-yard TD drive for a 14-0 lead on a 20-yard pass to Devonte Peete midway through the second quarter.
Jackson finished the day carrying 19 times for 121 yards with one touchdown and completed 10 of 27 for 103 yards with one TD. He had thrown all four interceptions in the first four contests.
NC State could have entered the second half trailing 17-0, but true freshman Nyheim Hines’ 90-yard kickoff return to the five-yard line followed Louisville’s second TD to make it a game again. Three plays later Dayes scored on a three-yard run.
But NC State’s roughing-the-passer penalty on third down gave Louisville a first down at the Wolfpack 19-yard line to set up a field goal and 17-7 halftime advantage.
Louisville, having already lost to Clemson, now has a bye before facing Florida State Oct. 17 in Tallahassee. With an upset of the Seminoles, Louisville’s remaining conference games are against Boston College, Wake Forest, Syracuse, Virginia and Pitt.
NC State, though, has one loss already with both Clemson and Florida State to go.