Louisville bottles up NC State’s running game

N.C. State's Jaylen Samuels (28) stiff-arms Louisville cornerback Shaq Wiggins (6) during the first half at Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh.
N.C. State's Jaylen Samuels (28) stiff-arms Louisville cornerback Shaq Wiggins (6) during the first half at Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh.

Jaylen Samuels wasn’t acting paranoid, Louisville was following the N.C. State sophomore’s every move on Saturday.

After sneaking up on teams outside the ACC, with eight touchdowns in the first four games, Samuels was a known commodity to Louisville’s defense in a 20-13 home loss to the Cardinals.

“After the game, (one of their players) came up to me and told me they were game-planning for me the whole week,” Samuels said.

Samuels still scored a touchdown, a 21-yard catch-and-run in the third quarter, and he led the Wolfpack with five catches for 75 yards. But he wasn’t involved in the running game.

Samuels, who is listed as a tight end/running back, had 12 carries for 103 yards and five touchdowns in the first four games.

His specialty had been on the “jet” sweep plays that offensive coordinator Matt Canada employs with Samuels lining up as a wing back and coming across the formation to get the handoff from quarterback Jacoby Brissett.

Canada used Samuels in motion, as a decoy, on most plays, but he did not get a chance to run the jet sweep. Matt Dayes’ 3-yard touchdown run in the second quarter was off a jet sweep, where both Samuels and Dayes lined up in a wing position.

Samuels had scored in the past two games on a shovel pass, out of an option run setup. Louisville quickly snuffed out that play the few times N.C. State tried to run that on Saturday.

“I could see it in their eyes, they kind of knew what was going on,” Samuels said. “It happens; they game-planned pretty good on us.”

In the first ACC game, N.C. State’s running game could never get going. Dayes, a junior, ran for 68 yards on 19 carries, but as a team the Wolfpack finished with 45 rushing yards – 214 below its season average.

It was the first time the Wolfpack had played since senior running back Shadrach Thornton had been dismissed from the program for recurring legal problems.

Thornton, who was suspended for the first two games of the season, ran for 92 yards against Old Dominion and 111 against South Alabama. Thornton was N.C. State’s best power runner, and he was able to give Dayes a chance to rest.

Without Thornton, Dayes had 19 carries on Saturday and freshman Reggie Gallaspy had one. Brissett, who was sacked three times, had 10 official rushing attempts (sacks are included in that number) for minus-26 yards.

Dayes also had a fumble in the third quarter, with N.C. State down 17-13, when it looked like he was trying to do too much against Louisville’s faster defense.

N.C. State’s problems on the ground were a direct result of what Louisville did, Wolfpack coach Dave Doeren said.

“They won the line of scrimmage,” he said. “They were penetrating up front and I told you all week their strength was their defensive line and they’re good.”

With the heart of ACC play coming up, N.C. State’s going to have to figure out how to run against bigger and faster defenses or a promising season is going to end in disappointment.

Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio