After a week off, NC State went into Charlottesville on Saturday seeking its first conference win of the season. While it wasn't pretty at times, the Wolfpack was able to combine several big plays on offense with a stingy defense to improve its record to 4-3. Pack Pride takes a look back at the highs and lows from State's win over the Cavaliers.
In a nutshell
If you're an NC State fan, you've learned by now to hold your breath during pre-game warmups. After losing starting punter Wil Baumann during warmups earlier this year, Wolfpack WR Tobais Palmer suffered a concussion during Saturday's warmups and was lost for the game. Add to that the fact that senior WR T/J. Graham was held out of the first half and a dangerous receiving corps was down two of its most explosive players.
Give the Pack credit, however. There was nothing fancy about what State did against Virginia. They established the run just enough to keep the Virginia defense honest and then hit a couple of deep balls that ended up being the difference in the game.
Defensively, State was as solid as they've been all year. Virginia is a one dimensional team offensively so stopping the run was priority one and the Pack was stout. The Cavs were held to just 124 yards on the ground after punishing Georgia Tech a week earlier in the run game. Add in three interceptions, including a pick six by David Amerson and ait all boiled down to a victory for NC State.
Something that worked
The Wolfpack defense...you really couldn't point out just one player that stood out defensively when it came to shutting down the UVA rushing attack. Instead, it was simply a team effort with solid play from guys like Markus Kuhn (4 tackles and 1 sack), Terrell Manning (team best 9 tackles), Dwayne Maddox (8 tackles, 1 tackle for loss) and Brandan Bishop (7 tackles).
The Pack limited missed tackles and by stuffing Virginia on first down, were able to force six three and outs during the game. Even when State's offense struggled, particularly in the third quarter, the Wolfpack defense came up huge and basically limited Virginia to just one 60 yard pass reception for a score in the second half. A huge hat's off to defensive coordinator Mike Archer and his unit for putting together their most complete effort of the season.
Something that didn't
Wide receivers catching the ball....for the most part the NC State wide receivers have done a good job catching the ball in 2011. However there were at least five drops against Virginia and had State lost, you could've easily pointed to that as a major reason.
Bryan Underwood had a pass bounce off his hands that could have gone for a score or a very long gain at the very least. Jay Smith dropped a sure touchdown in the endzone. George Bryan continued his streak of drops by clunking on an easy pass. To be fair, at least Underwood atoned for his mistake by coming up with a couple of big time catches that proved critical for the Wolfpack.
Some young guys played key roles in State's victory on Saturday. It's easy to forget that CB David Amerson is just a sophomore but is there anyone better at being in the right place at the right time? Teams don't often throw his way but when they do, he's made them pay more often than not. It would be interesting to know the ratio between the number of times he's been thrown at and the interceptions he's snagged. Redshirt freshmen Bryan Underwood and Tony Creecy both scored the first touchdowns of their short careers at NC State. Combined, these three youngsters accounted for all the Wolfpack's scoring on Saturday.
What a crazy week for senior defensive tackle and team captain J.R. Sweezy. Some reports had him out for the season due to his foot injury. Things took a turn however when he was listed only as questionable for Saturday's game against Virginia. While he didn't start, Sweezy logged some critical play and the defense just seems better as a unit when he's in the game. He was credited for just one tackle but his insertion into the lineup had to provide a mental boost for the Wolfpack defense.
Worth mentioning 2
The season that senior LB Dwayne Maddox has put together has to be mentioned. He's filled in as a starter for Terrell Manning when Manning went down with a knee injury earlier in the year and then started Saturday on the opposite side of the field for D.J. Green who was sidelined due to an abdomen injury. Maddox finished with eight tackles and a tackle for loss and always seemed to be in right spot against the Cavaliers.
Player of the game
Bryan Underwood...with Tobais Palmer out due to a concussion and T.J. Graham on the sidelines, NC State desperately needed one of its other wide receivers to step up and Underwood did just that. Recovering from an earlier drop, Underwood finished with three catches for 125 yards and two scores.
One thing is for sure and this was underscored on Saturday, with Palmer, Graham and now Underwood in the game, there isn't a faster trio of wideouts around. Each one of those players bring elite speed to the table and are a threat to take it to the house on every play. Now State just needs to find a way to get them the ball consistently.
-ranked 5th nationally in punt returns
-ranked 7th nationally in turnover margin
-David Amerson leads the nation in interceptions (8)
-T.J Graham leads the nation in all-purpose yards (185.71 yards per game)
-NC State is 5th nationally in takeaways with 22
-NC State is ranked 10th nationally in fewest punt return yards yielded
-NC State is ranked 4th nationally in fewest penalty yards per game
Where to go from here
After a week off to prepare and get healthy, beating Virginia was a must. Not to take away anything from State's victory but let's be honest, that effort likely wouldn't be near enough to beat Florida State on the road next week.
The Seminoles are fast, aggressive and have big play capability. The Pack has to find three more wins to become bowl eligible so each week is a huge game for State. To beat the Noles State has to play their best game of the season, they have to eliminate turnovers and they must tackle.
The Virginia win gave the Wolfpack's post season chances a pulse and a victory over FSU would be a monster step in the right direction. There's no doubt that the Seminoles will talk all week about their loss in Carter-Finley a year ago so there's little chance of them overlooking the Wolfpack.
If you're looking for one ray of hope, State seems to be good for at least one win a year that no one expects. If the planets and stars align just right and assuming no one suffers a broken bone running out of the tunnel, perhaps that victory comes next Saturday.
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