RALEIGH, NC – It wasn’t Louisville’s best effort of the season. In fact, it was probably the Cardinals’ worst. But it was still good enough to keep them undefeated in the Jeff Brohm era.

After being shut out for the first 2.5 quarters, Jack Plummer and an opportunistic defense took over to lead Louisville to a 13-10 win at NC State on Friday.

Plummer connected with Chris Bell on a 39-yard touchdown midway through the third quarter and kicker Brock Travelstead took care of the rest, connecting on a pair of field goals to give the Cardinals their first 5-0 start since 2013.

More importantly, they’re off to a 3-0 head start in conference play.

The Wolfpack and their struggling offense, meanwhile, drops to 3-2 overall and 1-1 in the ACC. It was a particularly frustrating defeat for Dave Doeren’s team, which jumped out to a 10-0 halftime lead before turning the ball over 3 times and failing to score in the final 30 minutes.

Here are 3 takeaways from the defensive struggle at Carter-Finley Stadium.

Big play bugaboo

NC State led the ACC in scoring defense in 2022 and it’s been just as good this season. The Wolfpack came into Friday’s game tied for the league lead again at just 19.2 points per game allowed.

They were as good as advertised again on Friday, holding Jawhar Jordan – the ACC’s top rusher – to a season-low 32 yards while recording 4 sacks and forcing 3 turnovers.

But as good as State has been, its Achilles heel this season has been its penchant for giving up big plays. That proved to be a particular problem against a Louisville offense that racked up 22 plays of 20 yards or more in its 1st 4 games.

The Cardinals recorded 5 chunk plays in the game, including a 39-yard touchdown from Plummer to Bell for their 1st points of the game midway through the 3rd quarter. Plummer and Bell later connected on a 38-yard completion – on a 3rd-and-14 play – to set up a go-ahead 53-yard field goal by Brock Travelstead with 5:32 remaining.

Payton’s place

Payton Wilson chose to forgo last year’s NFL draft and return for his sixth and final season at NC State because of questions about his durability. No one, however, has ever questioned his play or his ability to dominate a game.

The ACC’s leading tackler provided another example of why he’s considered one of the best linebackers in school history with another massive performance on Friday. Wilson recorded a team-leading 10 tackles, 2 sacks, and a quarterback hurry on a pass that was intercepted by Bishop Fitzgerald in the end zone. He also recovered a fumble.

If that wasn’t enough, the 6-foot-4, 238-pound graduate student also carried the ball for a first down on a fake punt. It was Wilson’s second career rushing attempt. He also carried the ball for a 9-yard gain against West Virginia in 2019.

Cam’Ron’s revenge

Louisville safety Cam’Ron Kelly doesn’t have pleasant memories of playing at Carter-Finley Stadium. Playing for North Carolina, Kelly was burned by the Wolfpack’s Emeka Emezie for touchdowns twice in a 26-second span during the final 2 minutes, allowing State to rally from a 9-point deficit for a 34-30 win.

Friday night, Kelly got a measure of revenge by preventing a Wolfpack touchdown with an interception off a Brennan Armstrong pass in the endzone. It was his second interception of the season. He also had 1 in a win against Indiana on Sept. 16.

Kelly then added to his redemption by jarring the ball loose from Armstrong on State’s next possession. Teammate Ramon Puryear recovered it, setting up the tying field goal late in the third quarter.