With the massive media storm in the wake of Herm Edwards being named head coach at ASU, much of the focus surrounding Arizona State has shifted to speculating about what will happen next season. However, the Sun Devils still have one more hurdle to jump before this season is over as the take on No. 24 NC State in the Hyundai Sun Bowl.
The Wolf Pack have been up and down this season on their way to an 8-4 record but they will certainly still provide a huge challenge for ASU in their final game of the season.
Here are five things to watch out for from NC State.
1. Balance is Key
NC State is one of the most evenly balanced teams in the country, never completely relying on either side to carry the team. They rank within the top 50 in every major offensive and defensive stat and while they do have that balance, the Wolf Pack only manages to score three more points than they allow per game (28.9 to 25.5).
2. Oh the O Line
An understated reason for NC State’s success this season has been the proficiency of its offensive line. The Wolf Pack has one of the most physical offensive lines in the ACC and they did a solid job both in pass protection and run blocking. NC State only allowed a sack on 2.5 percent of plays and just 12 sacks were recorded against them all season, the seventh fewest in the country. The team is also averaging 4.7 yards per carry and 29 rushing touchdowns.
3. Finley is just fine
The Wolf Pack has been lead on offense this year by junior quarterback Ryan Finley. The Phoenix native is seventh in the nation in completions with 287 and has 3,196 yards passing with 16 touchdowns. Finley has struggled somewhat during the final stretch of the season, with three interceptions and just one passing touchdown in his last three games. He has only had four multi passing-touchdown games this season and has six interceptions in the last five games of the regular season. ASU should look to exploit his recent struggles throwing the ball.
4. Solid Hines
While Finley has been struggling down the stretch, junior running back Nyheim Hines has been picking up some of the slack. Hines has five games with over a hundred yards on the ground in his last eight games and had his best game of the year so far last week against rival North Carolina. Hines had 196 yards rushing and two touchdowns with an average of 8.9 yards per carry. He has 1,040 rushing yards this season with nine touchdowns.
5. Ups and Downs
NC State went through a turbulent season before landing on a No. 24 ranking. After losing to South Carolina in the season opener, the Wolf Pack won six games in a row, including wins over No. 12 Florida State and No. 17 Louisville. Then they got blown out at No. 9 Notre Dame and barely lost at home to No. 4 Clemson, winding up at 8-4 after beating North Carolina in their last regular season game. That inconsistency has hurt NC State a lot this year and ASU certainly has a good chance of upsetting the Wolf Pack in the Sun Bowl.
The two teams will face off December 29 at 12 p.m. PT on CBS.