With a spot in the ACC championship game on the line and bragging rights in the state of North Carolina, NC State found a way to pull out a 29-25 win over UNC on Saturday. Pack Pride takes a look back at the Wolfpack's win over the Heels.
One could objectively argue that there were at least a half dozen plays that were critical for NC State in their comeback over Carolina. However, none were bigger than Russell Wilson's scramble on a third and 18 with roughly two minutes left in the third quarter and the Pack down by nine.
On the play, Wilson was flushed to his right and his body language immediately signaled that somehow, someway he was going to get the first down. There have been certain occasions this year where Wilson has taken off and you can just sense that he's going to make something special happen and this was one of those times.
After Wilson's 34 yard scramble and a late hit personal foul tacked on, the Pack had first and goal from the UNC four yard line. A couple of plays later Wilson hit Owen Spencer with a miracle rebound catch to draw the Pack within two of the Tar Heels.
CHANGE IN STRATEGY
Despite the running game being stoned by the UNC defense for much of the game, NC State didn't give up on the run and it proved critical late in the game.
On the drive that cut UNC's lead to two at 19-17, State rushed for 48 yards with the lion's share of that coming on Russell Wilson's 34 yard scramble.
After a T.J. Graham punt return for score gave the Wolfpack the lead, State turned almost exclusively to the ground on their next drive.
The Pack rushed the ball on eight straight plays and it was obvious the UNC defense was worn out. During that stretch NC State picked up 50 yards before setting up at the Carolina three yard line. A false start by OL Duran Christophe derailed the drive to some degree and the Pack had to settle for a field goal but the eight point difference would prove crucial given UNC's failure to convert on a two point attempt later in the game.
T.J. MAKES AMENDS
After quite possibly his worst special team's game a week earlier, WR T.J. Graham more than made up for it against UNC. He appeared much more decisive on his kickoff returns, picking up 100 yards on five returns and keeping the Pack out of a deep hole.
However, it was his 87 yard punt return for score that was the difference maker in this game and finally, NC State fans got to see Graham's track speed in action. Give his blockers some credit. UNC did a poor job of staying in their lanes which gave the Pack a chance to wall off the sideline. With nothing but green grass in front of him, Graham was able to turn on the jets and outrun the Heels' coverage.
When all was said and done, Graham amassed 187 special team's yards which proved important in a nip and tuck game.
GIVE PETERCUSKIE AND SPECIAL TEAMS A BIG, FAT A+
In three losses this year, special team's breakdowns proved critical in each. On Saturday the Pack put together it's most complete special teams game of the year.
Long field goal of 47 yards- check. Short field goal of 24 yards- check. Punt return for score- check. Huge 57 yard punt by Jeff Ruiz to pin the Heels deep late in the game- check. Held the Heels under 20 yards per kickoff return and just eight yards per punt return-check.
While Pack fans have bemoaned special team's play at times this year, this unit deserves a ton of kudos for their effort on Saturday.
SWEEZY EMERGING AS A FORCE
DL J.R. Sweezy has established himself as one of the ACC's premier defensive linemen and his play Saturday was crucial. He did a tremendous job of penetrating and disrupting UNC, even on plays when he didn't record a tackle.
For the game, Sweezy finished with four tackles and 1.5 sacks. Over the last four games he has totaled 17 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks which is an impressive number for a defensive tackle playing in the Wolfpack's scheme.
Sweezy's play has been instrumental for the Pack and they'll clearly need more of the same in College Park next weekend.
Much of NC State's success on defense has been predicated on the Pack's ability to make plays in the opposition's backfield. Saturday may have been State's best effort yet.
The Wolfpack tallied an impressive nine tackles for loss including seven sacks on UNC QB T.J. Yates. Those nine plays resulted in Carolina losing 61 yards and was the main culprit behind the Heel's -7 yard rushing total.
NC State now ranks fourth in the nation in tackles for loss, averaging nearly eight stops behind the line of scrimmage per game.
TIP OF THE HAT TO CAROLINA
Having watched many of UNC's games this year, you can't help but be impressed with the effort of this team. Admittedly most of their wounds have been self inflicted but the players left behind have clearly rallied around each other and this year's squad has played as a team. Perhaps losing some of the personalities actually helped the team play more together as a whole. The Heels played a great game on Saturday and have to be commended for their effort.
TIME TO MOVE ON
Who would've thought NC State would be playing their final game of the season for a shot at the ACC championship game? Certainly very few outside of the Wolfpack nation. But here the Pack stands, one game away from Charlotte.
There are some major questions to be answered headed into next weekend's game. How will Maryland respond after being eliminated from the conference race by Florida State? Did NC State leave it all on the field during an emotionally draining win over Carolina? Can State find a way to slow down an emerging Terp's offense or exploit holes in a very good Maryland defense? It's been a very long time since the Pack played a game of such significance. The stakes couldn't be higher for the Wolfpack next weekend.
Observations From the Game: UNC
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