The Bottom Line
You can bemoan a thousand different things that happened on Saturday but this game was lost in the third quarter.
After surviving a UNC onslaught in the first quarter, the Pack rebounded offensively and adjusted defensively. By half time State held a 28-25 lead and a momentum advantage.
The second half opened with a Wolfpack three and out. After a UNC turnover, State drove to midfield but had a dropped pass by Quinton Payton and an incompletion to Bryan Underwood and the drive stalled.
UNC went three and out on the next possession and State's subsequent drive was a killer. State started on Carolina's side of the field and drove to the 31 after a pass interference penalty. After Glennon was sacked on first down, Tony Creecy dropped a short pass over the middle that likely would have set the Pack up inside the 10 yard line. On the next play, Glennon threw an interception in the end zone.
Carolina was shut down once again on their next drive after gaining just nine yards. The Pack drove all the way down to the UNC 13 yard line but a false start by Mario Carter resulted in a second and 12 play where RB James Washington was dropped for a three yard loss after DT Shawn Underwood blew virtually untouched into the NC State backfield. A third down incompletion resulted in a Niklas Sade 38 yard field goal attempt that was missed.
State would finally score a touchdown at the end of the third quarter to go up by 10 but the Pack had squandered too many chances. They could've potentially put this game out of reach but instead, allowed UNC to hang around and stay within striking distance.
Wolfpack had mistakes but so did Carolina
By our count, NC State had eight dropped passes and all could have made a huge difference in the game. Most of these drops were actually unforced, players simply dropped the ball. The Pack hasn't dropped passes like this all year so the fact it happened Saturday is inexplicable.
If you talk to Carolina folks, they'd likely give you a different take on the game. UNC blew coverage on three Wolfpack touchdown passes where the Carolina defender just made very basic coverage mistakes. If the Heels don't make these mistakes they would've had a huge effect on the outcome of the game in the opposite direction.
Carter fumble was a head scratcher
Sources told Pack Pride that the explanation for Mario Carter's fumble was that no part of his body ever contacted the ground prior to the ball hitting the ground and Carter subsequently losing control of the ball. Therefore, in essence, the ground can cause a fumble. After a long review it's virtually impossible to fathom that the officials got this wrong. One thing is for sure, with the way the game played out, the seven points UNC scored off of this turnover were big.
Text from a friend
I received a text from a friend that simply stated, ‘the better team lost to the best player on the field.' Hard to argue with that and it was painfully true. You have to give credit to Larry Fedora. After being shut out in the second and third quarters he decided to simply put the ball in his best player's hands and Gio Bernard did what he usually does- make plays. He accounted for the lion's share of the yards UNC gained as they erased a 10 point deficit and his punt return won it.
Player of the game
Time management was sound, punt decision was shaky
Some folks complained about O'Brien's decision not to call a timeout prior to UNC's game-tying field goal so the Pack would've had better than two minutes on the clock for their final drive. 1:24 on the clock and three timeouts were more than enough for State to attempt to get into field goal range. It also protected State to some degree in the event they did go three and out that there wouldn't be enough time left for UNC with the worst case scenario being the game went into overtime.
The questionable decision for me was to punt to Bernard. In that scenario, the best odds for UNC to win the game with the amount of time that was left was on a Bernard punt return. If you punt out of bounds, you use up at least five or six seconds which leaves Carolina roughly 24-25 seconds and no timeouts. Of course, the danger is you shank it and give the Heels a short field. Apparently State doesn't practice kicking the ball out of bounds or wasn't prepared to do it. It would've been a nice option on Saturday.
Great game by Glennon but could've been better Mike Glennon may very well have played his finest game for NC State on Saturday. He finished by completing 29 of 52 passes for 467 yards and five touchdowns. However, the fact is, his numbers should've been 37 of 52 and close to 600 yards. Glennon does continue to struggle when he gets moved off his throwing point and that's something he has to work on as he moves on to the NFL.
Pass protection up and down
I thought one of the bigger factors in the game that didn't get a lot of mention were the five sacks generated by UNC. When you throw the ball 50+ times I suppose there's a lot more opportunity for sacks but coming in, UNC was one of the nation's worst at getting after the quarterback. Other than on one occasion, each one of those sacks hurt NC State drives.
Turning the page
And so the Pack's five year streak comes to an end. If you're a Wolfpack fan you'd like it to last forever but that's living in a fantasy world. The challenge for the State coaches is to make sure one loss doesn't turn into two.
While many State fans will disagree (and you'll get no argument from me) I liked some of the things I saw out of NC State on Saturday. I liked their resolve and ability to come back. On the road, in a hostile environment, they could've easily been blown out when down 25-7. They fought back and the defense's ability to shut the UNC offense out for two entire quarters shouldn't be forgotten. The thing the Pack has to figure out is how to take advantage of their opportunities and stop putting themselves in a position to win or lose in the final two minutes.
The Wolfpack must put this game behind them and perhaps it's a good thing that they're right back at it and at home next weekend against Virginia. While a potential double digit win season may have disappeared with Saturday's loss, there's still much to play for and that starts with a win against the Cavs.