RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina State doesn't know exactly what kind of defense it has entering Saturday night's visit from Ball State.
The Wolfpack didn't allow a touchdown in the first two games against overmatched East Carolina and Western Carolina teams. But the defense followed with a shaky showing against a West Virginia team that had shown little offensive potential to that point, and now that unit faces one of the nation's top passers in Ball State quarterback Drew Plitt.
North Carolina State (2-1) had allowed six points entering last weekend's trip to West Virginia, which had managed a combined 27 points in its first two games while failing to reach 300 yards in either. Yet the Mountaineers posted 44 points and 445 yards in the win, including two touchdowns of at least 20 yards in the opening quarter.
"I thought we played slow," Wolfpack coach Dave Doeren said. "I didn't think we tackled, as well as we have, whether we were losing a gap, misfitting a run or not setting the edge appropriately. . We weren't disruptive, didn't play with good enough technique. A lot of basic things."
That unit has to fix those mistakes against the Cardinals (1-2) from the Mid-American Conference and Plitt, who is fifth in the Bowl Subdivision ranks in passing yards per game (346.7) while ranking tied for third with 11 passing touchdowns.
Ball State ranks in the top 35 nationally in total offense (488 yards per game) and scoring (37.3), though the Cardinals committed four turnovers in their last game and rank roughly in the bottom third of the FBS ranks in turnover margin.
Plitt "does a good job of spreading the ball around," Ball State coach Mike Neu said. "There's a lot of guys that have opportunities to get touches during the course of the game. . Every one of those young men know that we can't have the turnovers. That's going to shoot ourselves in the foot."
Here are some other things to know about Saturday's Ball State-N.C. State game:
North Carolina State needs another step from first-year starter Matthew McKay at quarterback.
McKay completed just 23 of 48 passes (47.9 percent) for 207 yards and a touchdown in the loss to the Mountaineers. Doeren credited McKay for avoiding turnovers and managing the clock, and also put some responsibility on coaches for not making the right play call.
"Did he play great? No, he didn't," Doeren said. "Can he play better? Yes, he can."
BIG PASS PLAYS
There could be an interesting matchup between Ball State's pass defense and a Wolfpack offense that hasn't been able to connect downfield consistently with McKay just yet.
Ball State gave up a 75-yard TD pass in the season-opening loss to Indiana, and has allowed at least one pass play of 48 yards in each of the past two games. Neu pointed to communication errors and missed assignments that have led to shaky pass defense.
North Carolina State safeties Tanner Ingle and Jarius Morehead pointed to issues with the Wolfpack getting lined up correctly against West Virginia, with Ingle saying it felt like the team had "75 mental errors as a defense."
"As players, if we see something in a game that we don't fully understand, we need to take it to the sideline and talk to the coaches about it so we can fix it," Morehead said.
AGAINST THE ACC
Ball State will try for its second win against a current member of the Atlantic Coast Conference. The Cardinals are 1-7 against those ACC teams, with the lone win coming at Virginia (48-27) in October 2013.
SET THE EXPECTATION
North Carolina State has designated this as the #SetTheExpectation game to raise awareness for combating sexual assault and physical violence, a national campaign led by rape survivor Brenda Tracy.
Tracy speaks about her experiences with college athletes and coaches across the country, including Wolfpack male athletes in April. She's making several campus appearances this week and will present the game ball at the pregame coin toss, while the team will wear shirts and helmet stickers to raise awareness for the campaign.
"When she came and talked, her message was very emotional and great for the guys to hear," Morehead said, adding: "I actually wrote a paper on her the other day about it."
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