Summing It Up
Let's face it, 30 points should have been enough to beat a Virginia Tech squad that has been lethargic at times on offense this season. There's no denying that the Wolfpack left points on the field and could have easily built a larger first half lead. However, had you said before the game that VT would have seven points at half and State would score 30 by the end of the game, most Wolfpack fans would've jumped on it. The Pack has been able to build early leads and then hold on for the win in the last three games. On Saturday they went to the well once too often and found themselves on the losing end because of an inability to stop the Hokie's offense.
Disturbing Fourth Quarter Trend
NC State has been light's out through the first three quarters this season. Combined, they've outscored the opposition 56-7 in the first quarter, 50-28 in the second and 51-21 in the third.
The fourth quarter has been a completely different story, however. The Wolfpack has scored just 24 points while yielding 60 points. The Pack gave up 20 points to Virginia Tech in the fourth quarter on Saturday while scoring just a field goal.
State has to figure out and correct this headed forward. Whether because of scheme or tired legs, the Pack's margin for error is thin and they can't afford to get outplayed in the fourth quarter. Perhaps the Pack needs to be more aggressive on defense. Or perhaps they need to substitute earlier in the game but the bottom line is, teams are going to believe they can beat the Pack- particularly if the game is close headed into the fourth quarter.
Key Play In The Game
With the Pack up 30-28 after a Josh Czajkowski field goal and just 4:35 remaining in the game, State needed a defensive stop to possibly win the game. Facing third and three from their own 47, Tyrod Taylor took off with LB Audie Cole in his path. Taylor made a quick shift and went for 12 yards on the play. Three plays later the Hokies would score and take the lead for good.
Shoddy Tackling Rears Its Ugly Head Again
There's no doubt that the NC State defense as a whole is light years ahead of the 2009 squad. However, there were times during the game- particularly in the secondary- where the Pack simply couldn't make a tackle. For whatever reason, there are certain plays where the opposition runs around the field like a greased pig with Wolfpack defenders sliding off left and right. The frequency of these types of plays is down but State still has work to do.
Special Teams Are Exceptional And Then Boom
NC State's punt and kickoff coverage has been exceptional this year, minus two plays. Unfortunately for the Pack, the 92 yard touchdown return they yielded to Virginia Tech was a huge game-changer for the Hokies. Taylor Gentry got double teamed and taken out of the play which opened up a huge lane for Tech's David Wilson. With a full head of steam, Wilson had a clear path to the end zone and a comfortable Wolfpack lead was erased in 12 seconds.
Third Down Kills Wolfpack Offense
Three interceptions were downright un-Russell Wilson like but the real Achilles heel for the Wolfpack offense was third down. The Pack converted just 6 of 18 third downs but faced third and long way too often. A third-and-11 from the VT 17 resulted in a field goal attempt. A third-and-9 led to a punt and subsequent score from VT which gave them their first lead of the game. On the next Wolfpack drive, a third-and-11 led to another punt. A third-and-19 killed the next State opportunity although a Czjakowski field goal gave State a temporary lead.
The Wolfpack has been effective at avoiding third and long this season but an aggressive Virginia Tech defense put the Pack in a hole way too often on Saturday.
Moose Still Emerging
Although he has yet to crack the starting lineup, freshman RB Mustafa Greene continues to emerge as one of the Pack's top offensive threats. While he doesn't have breakaway speed, Greene has great vision and is able to make the first defender miss. He has also become a very reliable option out of the backfield on passing downs.
On Saturday Greene accounted for 91 yards on the ground while adding 30 yards in receiving yards on three catches. His 9.1 yards per carry average was impressive against a stout Virginia Tech defense.
His emergence as another weapon for offensive coordinator Dana Bible is a definite bright spot for the Wolfpack headed forward.
Time To Pick Up The Pieces
This was a heart breaking loss for NC State without question. With a packed house, dozens of recruits on hand and a national TV audience, it was State's opportunity to prove they were for real. While the Pack may have shown they belong, they're clearly not there yet.
The Wolfpack has improved by leaps and bounds over last year. Taking a quick glance at the schedule and there's not a team left that State can't beat. However, if the Pack repeats Saturday's fourth quarter effort then a loss is possible in every game as well.
The good news is State is still relatively healthy and the mistakes made this weekend are correctable. The Wolfpack coaches can tweak some things here and there versus having to stare down complete overhauls of entire position groups. 4-1 hurts but it's also a pretty darn good start for a team picked last in the division. Games that looked like definite L's early in the season now appear winnable. It all starts with Boston College next weekend and coach O'Brien probably doesn't need anyone to remind him that he's 0-3 against the Eagles.