In A Nutshell
Thus far in 2011 NC State has been plagued by slow starts so it was nice to see the Pack come out clicking on all cylinders offensively. The Wolfpack was able to put together two sustained drives of 48 and 86 yards for touchdowns on the opening drives of the game. This was crucial because the defense struggled early to slow down Central Michigan and prevented State from playing catchup. Defensively, the first half looked like a continuation of the issues that have dogged State all year. CMU scored on three of its first four possessions and the Pack appeared helpless to stop it. To their credit, State made adjustments at half time and played their best half of football all year against an FBS opponent.
Something That Worked
NC State second half defense...whether injuries, scheme, talent or whatever, the NC State defense has struggled in 2011 and the first half did nothing to change that perception against Central Michigan.
You have to give the team credit for making adjustments at half time and playing some inspired football in the second half. The Pack forced five three and outs and held CMU to just 43 yards of total offense through the first six possessions of the second half. For the first time all year State had the look that many expected to see from the beginning.
The Chippewas did have one huge play on a 77 yard touchdown run and were able to recover an onside kick. But all in all, State's second half performance gave the Pack some success to build on headed into the bye week.
Something That Didn't
Kickoff coverage...NC State's kickoff coverage has been good this year but they struggled against Central Michigan. K Niklas Sade didn't get particularly good depth on most of his kickoffs and the Pack struggled by giving up huge running lanes to Courtney Davis and Titus Davis. CMU totaled 149 yards on five returns, averaging nearly 30 yards per return. This set the Chippewas up with very good field position on each drive and will certainly be something the Pack works on during the bye week.
With all the talk of Russell Wilson, lost has been the play of QB Mike Glennon. Many forget this is just his sixth game but you really wouldn't know it judging by his play. This was punctuated by a perfectly thrown, 47-yard completion to TJ Graham. Glennon has shown the ability to be extremely accurate on the deep ball while hitting the underneath routes consistently. He is 31st nationally in pass efficiency and has been one of the real bright spots in 2011.
Also Worth Mentioning
Some players have that knack for being in the right place at the right time and that seems to be the case for David Amerson. With six interceptions on the year, he has a two pick lead over the next closest defender for tops in the nation in that category. Equally impressive is the fact that teams don't necessarily throw to his side very often but when they have, Amerson has consistently made plays. If he continues on this pace then he's going to attract national attention at some point.
Player Of The Game
Could have gone to several guys but we're picking Terrell Manning. His insertion back into the lineup was a huge boost for a struggling defense. Although he may have been out of position on a couple of plays, Manning made a huge difference defensively and that was supported by an impressive stat-line. He finished the day with nine tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, one sack and an interception.
Smith Has His Best Game
Jay Smith...he could have very easily been named player of the game after putting together his best effort in a Wolfpack uniform. He led the Pack in receiving with five catches for 61 yards and a touchdown. Smith absorbed a huge hit on one catch but hung on and that was a play that had to impress the Wolfpack coaches. If he can continue to improve, Smith will make NC State's offense that much harder to defend.
After CB C.J. Wilson got lost and then fell on a Central Michigan touchdown reception in the first quarter, Rashard Smith entered the game in his place. Although his play wasn't flawless, it has to be pointed out that CMU didn't score another touchdown until they hit on a 77 yard touchdown run late in the game. Smith's coverage was good and he finished the game with three tackles. The battle for that starting cornerback spot should be interesting over the next two weeks.
Where To Go From Here
Let's face it, State was a decided favorite in this game. They were expected to win and to their credit, did just that. However, it really was a tale of two halves for the Wolfpack- particularly on defense.
Offensively, State was fairly consistent. For the second week in a row James Washington put up more than 100 yards and it's been a while since that happened. The Pack took care of the ball and with the run game working, were able to keep pressure off of Mike Glennon. This appeared to be another step in the right direction and the next two weeks should give State an opportunity to install a few new wrinkles headed into the Virginia game. With Andrew Wallace now available, State is almost at full strength offensively.
The defense is a little harder to figure. The first half was the same porous unit that has been way too generous in 2011. State wasn't able to generate any pressure which allowed CMU QB Ryan Radcliff to pick them apart.
The second half was almost a complete reversal. The Wolfpack was able to generate good (not great) pressure but whatever changes they made seemed to confound Radcliff. He didn't see the field nearly as well and had trouble identifying where the NC State defenders were going to be on any given play. This resulted in several turnovers which really helped turn the game in the Pack's favor. Other than a long touchdown run, State stuffed the Chippewas run game the entire second half.
Headed forward, NC State has to hope the second half unit was the real Wolfpack defense. If it is, then State will have a fighting chance to claw its way into a bowl game. If it's not, wins will be tough to come by and a 2011 season that had so much promise could turn into a huge dud.