NC State entered Saturday's game against Maryland with a shot at winning the Atlantic division title and earning a berth in the ACC championship game. After an impressive start, the Wolfpack stalled offensively while Maryland wide receiver Torrey Smith had a career day in leading the Terps to a 38-31 victory. Pack Pride takes a look back at the game.
State of mind?
Everything started off well enough. The Pack jumped out to a 14-0 lead, seemingly moving the ball at will. Defensively, State was effective at slowing down the Maryland attack, taking away the run and forcing the Terps to beat them through the air.
However, after scoring the first 14 points of the game, NC State all but froze offensively. It almost had the appearance of a Maryland team playing with nothing to lose and a Wolfpack squad playing not to lose.
State could get absolutely nothing going consistently and wouldn't score again until they added a field goal in the third quarter. On defense, the Pack accomplished their primary goal- stopping the run. Maryland was held to -9 yards rushing which is a crazy number when you think about it. With the Terps a one dimensional team, State simply couldn't find a way to slow down QB Danny O'Brien or WR Torrey Smith.
Pass rush ineffective
One of the keys to the game was to shut down the run and force O'Brien to beat you. In obvious passing downs NC State had to bring pressure and they did, but you have to give credit to the patchwork Maryland offensive line for holding up and neutralizing the Pack's rush. In fact, the Terps may have had the best effort State has seen all year when it came to slowing down their pass rush. When all was said and done, the Pack registered just three sacks and had no additional QB hurries.
With time to sit in the pocket, O'Brien was able to find Torrey Smith early and often to the tune of 224 yards receiving and four touchdowns.
Pack's go to guys don't get it done
When you play championship caliber football you have to have major contributions from your go-to guys. State simply didn't get the level of play from these guys that they needed to win a spot in the ACC championship game.
TE George Bryan dropped a sure touchdown in the end zone. LB Nate Irving was a non factor for much of the game, finishing with just three tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss and a sack. WR Owen Spencer had multiple drops and mishandled passes that cost the Pack dearly on at least a couple of drives. OL Jake Vermiglio was beaten consistently off the edge which forced Russell Wilson to bail out of the pocket way too often. LB Audie Cole lost outside contain on QB Danny O'Brien and gave up a critical first down.
When you're playing for something special, your best players have to rise to the occasion. Unfortunately for State, they didn't get that against Maryland.
Rankings prove to be a curse
I'm sure I wasn't the only one who groaned when NC State was ranked in last weekend's polls. After being ranked twice previously and then following that up with a loss, it would've been just fine if the Pack had been left out of the rankings.
So State made it three for three with the loss to Maryland and all but ensured that the Pack will not finish the 2010 season in the top 25.
Shout out to at least one Wolfpack player
We mentioned the players that didn't get it done on Saturday but there was at least one that played his heart out and had one of his best games of the year. WR Jarvis Williams had an outstanding game. There were no dropped balls that I remember and despite being from Florida, didn't give the appearance that the cold affected his game at all.
Williams not only made the most of his opportunities but fought for every inch he could gain on each reception. He would finish the day with eight catches for 78 yards.
Sense of urgency
With the Pack down 31-17 in the third quarter, one couldn't help but wonder why State didn't go to it's hurry up offense if for no other reason than to change the tempo of the game and give Maryland a different look.
It wasn't until the Pack was down 38-17 with roughly six minutes left in the game that State really sped it up. After scoring two touchdowns in five minutes, there simply wasn't enough time for a third.
As far as what you could ascertain from watching the game on TV, the spot of Maryland's fourth down run was horrible. There didn't appear to be any forward progress and with the Terps needing about a yard, I didn't even think it would need a measurement. Clearly, the refs saw it differently.
But make no mistake, just like the decision to punt on fourth down against Clemson, that final play didn't lose the game for NC State.
There were simply too many dropped passes, blown blocking assignments and a way-too-porous defensive backfield. As has been the norm in every State loss, the Pack had another special team's breakdown, poor punts and very little yardage from the return game. Add it all up and you get State's fourth loss of the year.
The big picture
Had you presented the option of an eight win season with two Thursday night victories and road wins over Georgia Tech and UNC, most Wolfpack fans would have jumped on it in a heartbeat.
The problem is, all of that gets lost in the noise of the season and the fact that State held a lead in every single game they played this year. However, with that success comes expectations and State fans can be forgiven for feeling a little hollow this past Sunday morning. The season was good but great was tantalizingly close.
A possible nine win season and a good bowl are on the horizon but the ending of this season's story won't be written for a while. Was this the year that NC State turned the corner and laid the foundation for future success? Will 2010 prove to be a one hit wonder?
For the first time in a while, this year gave Wolfpack fans something to cheer about and a little hope for what may lie down the road. If NC State is able to build off of this season and establish the winning consistency that has defined Tom O'Brien's coaching resume, then 2010 will take on special meaning.
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