The stakes couldn't have been higher for NC State on Saturday. A win over Maryland would qualify the Pack for a bowl game and guarantee State a winning season. Lose and an up and down season would have ended with a thud. State did a little of both but no one could have predicted what would transpire over the final 25 minutes of this game. Pack Pride takes a look back at State's improbable 56-41 win over the Terps.
In A Nutshell
There is no way that Saturday's game could be summed up in a few paragraphs. The swings in emotion for NC State went from the lowest depths to the highest highs all in the span of 30 minutes. During 2011 the Pack has been bad at times but at no time were they any worse than during the first 35 minutes of this game. State failed in every conceivable fashion from turnovers to blown assignments to simply looking emotionally dead. But a 21 yard pass completion to Jay Smith with the Pack facing a third and 10 started the most incredible comeback in Wolfpack history and ended with a C.J. Wilson 59 yard interception return for a touchdown. In between State scored a staggering 42 points in roughly 23 minutes of football. Sum it up any way you like- heart, perseverance, desire- all of it fits. Down 41-14 six minutes into the third quarter, NC State was dead and buried. But they found a way to dig themselves out of a hole yet again. This team clearly doesn't like doing things the easy way but they got it done nonetheless.
Something that worked
Responding to adversity....let's be real, down 41-14 with eight minutes to go in the third quarter there was about a 99.9% chance that State was going to lose this game. However, the coaches and players to a man said they never felt that they were out of the game. That sounds good on TV but did anyone on the NC State sidelines or Carter-Finley Stadium for that matter really believe that State could rally from 27 down and actually end up winning by 15? State got it done, first with a trickle of success and then a flow that steadily picked up steam and ended in a tidal wave of momentum that left Maryland crushed (for a change). The Pack converted on nine third downs. The one time they didn't convert, they got it done on fourth down. State also got some help along the way. There were critical roughing the passer and pass interference penalties along with a Davin Meggett fumble that contributed to the Pack's comeback. Whether State believed it or not, they chipped and chipped their way back into this game and you have to give them credit for achieving the virtually impossible.
Something that didn't
Taking control early....Maryland is a bad team and if you don't believe that then just look at their record. The last time they won a game was against Towson nine weeks ago. But give the Terps credit. They've been a thorn in the side of NC State for years and none of the fans I saw were surprised at the way the first half of this game went. In fact, most seemed to expect it. Despite some off the field rumblings during the week, Maryland rallied together and played a very solid first half.
For State's part, they came into the game with everything to play for. Perhaps that played a part in State's early struggles. Instead of making plays they appeared more intent to not make mistakes, instead. And of course that resulted in nothing but mistakes- and a ton of them. Headed forward the Pack will hope to play in bigger games with much more at stake. Hopefully they can use Saturday as a learning experience and avoid coming out flat when they're clearly the team to beat.
Player of the game
When you have to rally from 27 down it takes an army of players to make it happen. Sure, Mike Glennon, George Bryan, Terrell Manning and others played huge roles in the Pack's comeback. But we're going with Tom O'Brien as our pick. There's no one that State fans want to succeed more than O'Brien. He represents everything that's right with college football. O'Brien runs a squeaky clean program, he does things the right way and he's a tremendous ambassador for NC State. He said he believed the Wolfpack could come back and beat Maryland. Whether you believe him or not is irrelevant. The fact is, he and his coaches pushed all the right buttons, pulled all the right levers and got some help along the way. No one has suffered through more attrition or injuries over the last five years so Saturday's win seemed like poetic justice for everything that's gone wrong. So, a tip of the cap to O'Brien for rallying the troops and finding a way to pull a rabbit out of a hat on Saturday.
Five plays that mattered
Forget everything that happened in the first half. Here's five plays that were crucial for NC State in their comeback.
1. 21 yard pass completion to Jay Smith facing third and 10. It didn't seem like much at the time but this was just the first in a string of big plays that brought State back from 27 down.
2. 16 yard pass completion to George Bryan on fourth and 12 and Pack down by 20. If State doesn't convert on this play then it's hard to imagine the Pack having any shot.
3. After State trims Maryland's lead to 13, Terrell Manning forces a fumble on Maryland's ensuing possession and the Pack takes control. State scores four plays later and now down by six, is officially back in the game.
4. Up by six, Maryland drives to the NC State 33 knowing that any points will likely be too much for State to overcome. The Terps have a false start penalty that takes them from third and seven to third and 12. On the next play, Earl Wolff intercepts C.J. Brown and sets State up for the go ahead score.
5. Holding a tenuous one point lead, QB Mike Glennon throws an incompletion on third and six and it appears State will have to give Maryland the ball back with roughly three minutes left in the game. However, the Terps commit a roughing the passer penalty that sets State up on the Maryland 28 yard line. State would go up by eight a few plays later when Mike Glennon hit George Bryan on third and goal from the seven.
Out of whack stat
NC State ran 96 offensive plays. That number was a whole 15 plays better than the Pack's previous best effort of 81 plays against Central Michigan
Seniors come up big for the Pack
When facing adversity you need your seniors to step up and the Pack got good contributions from this group on Saturday. George Bryan, T.J. Graham, Jay Smith and Steven Howard combined for 19 catches, 195 yards receiving and two touchdowns. On defense, Audie Cole, Markus Kuhn and J.R. Sweezy tallied 15 tackles, three QB hurries, two tackles for loss and a forced fumble.
Creecy is becoming Mr Dependable
Tony Creecy isn't flashy but he is quietly growing into a very solid player for NC State. Creecy's best attribute is the fact that you know exactly what you're going to get from him. He hasn't fumbled the ball or dropped a pass all year. He has done a tremendous job of making himself a target out of the backfield and you can count on him to always fall forward to get that extra yard. Once Creecy gains more experience and confidence we think you'll see him find that extra gear which is really the only thing missing from his game at this point. Saturday proved to be just another solid day's work- 14 carries for 49 yards and eight catches for 52 yards and two touchdowns.
Glennon was simply amazing
20 of 30 for 183 yards and four touchdowns in the second half and six touchdowns total. No one has ever been better in an NC State uniform and Glennon now holds the distinction as the QB that led his team to the greatest comeback in NC State history.
Where to go from here
When at its best, NC State showed in the second half of the season that they could beat anyone in the conference. Unfortunately they also proved they could lose to anyone. It's almost a safe bet to say that any issues the Wolfpack has are between the ears. How else can you explain State's complete domination of Clemson but then a follow up performance a week later that yields 34 points in the first half to the worst team in the league?
The good news is State has about a month to figure it all out and get ready for a bowl game. Tom O'Brien will be leading State to its third bowl game in four years which is what had Pack fans excited when he was hired.
State will be able to spend quite a bit of time getting the young players plenty of reps in preparation for 2012. The Wolfpack is as healthy as it's been all year. Recruiting has gone well and the State coaches can focus on filling out just a couple of remaining slots. Things are looking up for the Pack and a bowl win would go a long ways toward spring boarding State into next year with a team that will be loaded with depth and experience.
Observations From the Game: Maryland
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