Observations From the Game: Wake Forest

Pack Pride takes a look back at NC State's 38-3 win over Wake Forest.

After a disappointing loss to Clemson a week ago, NC State responded with a resounding 38-3 win over Wake Forest in Carter-Finley Stadium. After a slow start offensively, the Pack put 28 points on the board in the second half to notch it's seventh win of the season. Pack Pride takes a look back at the Wolfpack victory.

Wolfpack continues to dominate in the first quarter

It's hard to imagine that there is another team in the nation that has been more dominant defensively in the first quarter than NC State.

The Wolfpack held Wake Forest scoreless in the opening period and that was just the latest example of State's ability to keep the opposition off the score board early. If you take away the East Carolina game, NC State has given up just seven points total in their other nine contests while putting up 83 points of their own.

The Pack's defensive effort has allowed State to play with a lead headed into the second half of every game this year except for games against East Carolina and Florida State.

Third down defense and three and outs

NC State has been one of the nation's best at forcing three and outs and they added three more to their total on Saturday. For a Wake Forest team that clearly wanted to grind the ball down the field and eat up clock, getting three and outs were crucial for the Pack. It also helped limit the Deacs to just 22 offensive plays in the second half.

State was also masterful with it's third down defense. The Pack forced Wake Forest into nine third and long situations which was clearly something the Deacs desperately wanted to avoid. In all, Wake Forest could convert on just three of 14 third down plays. On the season State is rated No. 13 nationally in third down defense.

Wolfpack defense on a roll

While the NC State offense and special teams have been somewhat erratic and inconsistent, the Wolfpack defense has seemingly found itself since the bye week. The Pack "D" has given up just 40 points in the last three games and that 13.3 point average per game would be good enough to rate third best in the country in scoring defense.

Nate Irving

What can you say about Nate Irving? One could argue that his performance Saturday may have been the best seen in Carter-Finley by a linebacker since the days of Dantonio Burnette. Clearly Wake Forest isn't an offensive juggernaut by any means but Irving was just on. His instincts for the position are second to none and he just has a knack for being in the right place at the right time but beyond that, when Irving gets his hand on a ball carrier, they typically go backwards.

With eight tackles for loss yesterday, Irving now has 18.5 on the season which ranks him third nationally and tops among linebackers.

Offense not spectacular but good enough

Facing a Wake Forest defense rated No 114 out of 120 teams in points allowed, NC State was expected to put up points in bunches on Saturday. However, that wasn't the case early. Wake Forest used a ball control offense to keep Russell Wilson and company off the field and the Pack struggled to find consistency moving the ball.

State could manage just 10 points in the first half and that was the result of an inability to run the football nor protect Russell Wilson.

The Pack used some bubble screens in the second half to take advantage of State's speed advantage on the perimeter and it worked perfectly. This is a good play for State because it allows Wilson to get rid of the ball quickly and gives the Pack receivers an opportunity to make plays out in space.

What the Pack has to do with a spot in the ACC championship on the line is to  find some sense of balance offensively. Wake Forest came into Saturday's game giving up better than 200 yards per game on the ground. The Wolfpack could muster just 59 yards rushing with only 38 of that coming from the running backs.

This is going to come back to haunt NC State at some point if it isn't corrected. The Pack doesn't have to run for 200 yards to be successful. However, they do need to rush in the 120-140 range. Unfortunately the Pack hasn't appeared to be anywhere near pulling that off over the last couple of weeks.

Graham taking a step back

After yielding some of his kickoff return responsibilities to James Washington, T.J Graham struggled mightily in the punt game yesterday. He dropped or mishandled at least three returns and just didn't appear comfortable fielding punts. Graham also had a drop at wide receiver so it was clearly a game he would probably just as soon forget.

Headed into two tough and evenly matched contests with UNC and Maryland, special teams can become the difference between winning and losing. The Pack needs Graham because he gives them a home run threat on special teams. It will be interesting to see how he responds in the next two games or if State decides to look in another direction for punt returns.

Chris Hawthorne gets it done

What a great day for freshman walkon K Chris Hawthorne. He probably never imagined he'd be the starting place kicker this year but there he was on Saturday, the weight of the Wolfpack special teams resting on his shoulders.

He cleanly hit a 25 yard field goal in the first quarter to start the Wolfpack scoring and nailed all five extra point opportunities.

Hawthorne averaged 63.7 yards per kickoff on seven attempts and the Pack's net of 44.7 yards per kickoff was nearly 10 yards per kick better than Wake Forest. For comparison's sake, Hawthorne's kickoff average was .2 yards better than senior Josh Czajkowski. The freshman also has to be commended for the hang time he got on his kicks.

Will the roller coaster continue?

The Pack has alternated between losses and wins for the last six weeks. Using that formula may not bode well for NC State in Chapel Hill next week. The Wolfpack has to continue to get the same consistency from it's defense that it's had for the past three weeks. If the Pack can establish some sort of offensive balance and avoid the special team's breakdowns that have dogged the team in their three losses, State will have every opportunity to come away from UNC with win number eight.

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