Observations From the Game: ECU

NC State traveled to Greenville for a Saturday showdown with East Carolina. For the Wolfpack, the defense ultimately took too long to adjust to the ECU offense, and the Pack's offense couldn't get out of it's own way for much of the game. Mix it all together and NC State suffered its second loss of the season, 33-27.

NC State traveled to Greenville for a Saturday showdown with East Carolina. Both teams boasted prolific offenses but it was mistakes and missed opportunities that defined the game. For the Wolfpack, the defense ultimately took too long to adjust to the ECU offense, and the Pack's offense couldn't get out of it's own way for much of the game. Mix it all together and NC State suffered its second loss of the season, 33-27.

Wolfpack Offense Was Offensive
It should be noted that NC State was not playing Virginia Tech on Saturday. Or Boston College. Or Georgia Tech. The Wolfpack was facing East Carolina and one of the nation's worst defenses. Throw on top of that the loss of a defensive lineman prior to the game and the suspension of starter Derek Blacknall and it should have been business as usual for the NC State offense. Uh, not so much.
            
The Pirates didn't do anything fancy. They rushed four and dropped seven in to coverage for much of the game, a strategy not so different than the one Boston College used just a week prior.

However, State decided to attack it in a completely different way. Instead of a steady diet of swing passes to the running backs and quick hits to the wide receivers, the Pack decided to attack down their field, over and over again. Even when it became painfully obvious in the second half that ECU had taken away everything beyond ten yards, State continued to attack down the field. When it didn't work, Wilson began to force throws and with that came the interceptions.

State briefly tried to run the ball late in the game but never really committed to it and that's understandable because of where State has been successful in the past. However, the Pack's game plan, lack of execution and untimely turnovers were easily the worst of the year for NC State. There were many times where the wide receivers appeared to be running towards the defensive backs instead of running away from them. That this group, touted by many as one of the best in the ACC, could never get separation from the ECU defensive backs was surprising and disappointing.

Headed into the game, the Pirates were giving up better than 42 points per contest. After scoring 21 in the second quarter. The Pack could only muster two field goals in the second half. That stat alone is almost mind boggling.

Wilson's Decision Making And Game Awareness
Russell Wilson's belief that his wide receivers can make plays on any given throw may be one of his greatest strengths but at times, can also be a terrible weakness.

Wilson has now thrown nine picks in four games and the Pack is 2-2 in those contests. Perhaps more than just the turnovers has been exactly when and where Wilson has thrown the interceptions and the impact those plays had on the game.

On Saturday, his first pick came after converting on a fourth and one. This was thrown on first down with Wilson forcing the ball into double coverage. There simply was need to force the issue on first down.

Wilson's second interception came after the Pack had called timeout with 18 seconds left to go in the game with the score tied. Realistically, State needed about 30 yards to get into position for a field goal. Instead, Wilson heaved it deep and the ball was picked at the ECU six yard line. Again, there simply didn't appear to be any need to go deep at that particular point in the game unless a player was open.

Finally in overtime, State faced third and 12 after two runs that were stuffed for one yard losses. Again the Pack attacked down the field instead of just getting six or seven yards and setting up a fourth and manageable situation. The NC State receiver had virtually no chance at making a play on the ball and the interception sealed the Pack's fate.

Wilson is NC State's best player and many that follow him have been spoiled by his ability to avoid turnovers in the past. One would have to believe that he has the maturity and ability to learn from the mistakes of the past few weeks and be a better quarterback for it in the weeks to come. For the Wolfpack to be successful, he has to.

Conference USA Has Offense's Number
It's ironic that NC State's lowest point efforts of the year have come during road games against conference USA opponents. The Pack managed just 28 points against Central Florida on 10 of 30 passing from Russell Wilson. Against East Carolina, Wilson completed just 50% of his passes and threw three interceptions while the offense managed just 27 points. In the Pack's other five games this year, State has averaged just under 40 points per game. One has to wonder if UCF didn't share a scouting report of Wolfpack tendencies with East Carolina prior to the game.

Defense Adjustments: Too Little, Too Late
Give the Wolfpack coaches credit for adjusting out of their traditional 4-3 look into a 3-3-5 alignment that had either Audie Cole or Nate Irving lined up as a defensive end. Unfortunately, East Carolina had already scored 21 points before the change was made.

The bottom line is the Wolfpack defense didn't have their best outing of the year but their effort was good enough for State to win this game. They forced four turnovers although that would only lead to seven points for the Pack. State's defense also forced four, three and outs in the second half. Those two stats alone should have been enough to help State to a win but they weren't.


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