After a 3-1 start in non-conference action, NC State opened conference play on Saturday with a road game against Miami. The Pack had its best offensive showing of the year but couldn't overcome a plethora of mistakes and ultimately found itself on the short end of a 44-37 loss to the Canes. Pack Pride takes a look back at the Wolfpack's loss to Miami.
The Bottom Line
Mistakes. If NC State plays a game with just an average amount of penalties and turnovers they likely win by two touchdowns. Explaining the Wolfpack's loss really boils down to that one sad fact. Under head coach Tom O'Brien the Pack has typically played fundamentally sound football but for whatever reason, they were at their absolute worst against Miami. Making matters worse, you really couldn't say they struggled in just one aspect of the game. There were penalties, many that were inexplicably committed over and over, several times by the same player. There were turnovers by a host of different players and in a variety of ways- fumbles, snap over the quarterback's head (which is a real feat considering Glennon is 6-7) and a costly interception. All of that on top of the Wolfpack defensive back's penchant for getting beat all game long on deep passes. Put it all together and you get a big pile of crap which is about the best way we can think of to sum up what transpired in Coral Gables.
By our count there were seven offsides penalties called against NC State. Only three were accepted while four were declined. The four that were declined resulted in huge plays oftentimes when the Wolfpack defenders just gave up on the play after jumping offsides. At the FBS level this is simply unacceptable. Perhaps it happens once. Maybe it happens twice. But to have seven offsides and at least three occasions where the players just stop- that's inexusable.
Deja vu All Over Again
The first quarter of the Miami game was eerily similar to the Tennessee game. Everything started off okay. The Pack held a 7-6 lead against the Vols and was tied with Miami at 7. Then all hell broke loose and State was helpless to stem the tide in either game. Two touchdowns and a safety in the span of about 50 seconds helped Tennessee to a 22-7 lead. Two touchdowns and a safety in roughly four minutes propelled Miami to a 23-7 lead. Interestingly, State avoided falling behind even further in both games by forcing a Tyler Bray fumble while Sterling Lucas' interception in the end zone prevented the Canes from going up 30-7.
When NC State was at its absolute pass-defense best in the second half of last year it all started with production by the front four combined with timely blitzes by the linebackers. Their play forced teams to throw the ball out of rhythm and often resulted in incompletions and interceptions. That pass rush was virtually non-existent against both Tennessee and Miami. State sacked Hurricane QB Stephen Morris just one time and had only six hurries on 49 pass attempts.
The group that paid for the lack of success up front were the NC State defensive backs. Collectively they were terrible. Individually, some were even worse. Specifically, the play of David Amerson has been unfathomable. He was the primary defender on five touchdown passes which accounted for 189 passing yards. Amerson's offsides penalty also resulted in a Miami first down that led to a rushing touchdown. Combine that with the two huge touchdowns given up against Tennessee and you can't help but wonder exactly what the heck is going on. Teams aren't avoiding the Wolfpack's all-american. They're specifically targeting him. Headed forward the NC State coaches have a tough decision to make. You have to put the guys on the field that give you the best opportunity to win a game. Based on his play against teams with legitimate passing quarterbacks you have to wonder if Amerson gives the Pack the best chance of winning. One thing is for sure, you can expect Florida State to go after Amerson early and often or until he makes them pay for doing it.
There Were Some Positives
It's easy to forget about the things you did right when so much went wrong on Saturday. One of the players that really performed well was K Niklas Sade. He did miss an extra point although O'Brien indicated that may not have been on Sade. The sophomore nailed a huge 50 yard field goal and on eight kickoffs, had a touchback on six of those with several flying out the back of the end zone. It was probably Sade's best day of kicking in a Wolfpack uniform.
Defensively, Rodman Noel continues to improve and each week appears to take another step forward. On Saturday he totaled 10 tackles, two tackles for loss and a pass breakup. He is currently tied for fourth in team tackles with 29 and is second in tackles for loss with six. Noel is one of those players that has the potential to be a star at some point during his career.
The quartet of Tobais Palmer, Quinton Payton, Bryan Underwood and Rashard Smith is quietly forming into a pretty formidable group of receivers. Each has shown the ability to stretch the field and make big plays in the passing game. They accounted for 313 receiving yards and three touchdowns against Miami. This is certainly a good sign for State headed forward.
Creecy Toughed it Out
A tip of the hat to RB Tony Creecy for putting together the best rushing effort of his short Wolfpack career by running for 120 yards on 19 carries and one touchdown including a hard-nosed 43 yard run where he pulled out of a grabbed facemask and then bowled over a Miami defender before being knocked out of bounds at the one yard line. He also added three catches for 16 yards and another score. Other than a dropped pass on a short swing pass, Creecy was one of the few skill players on offense that didn't record a penalty or turnover. While not flashy, Creecy is dependable and you know what you're going to get game-in and game-out. It's also worth noting that he appeared to play through quite a bit of pain before coming out during the fourth quarter.
Turning the Page
At least State had some success offensively to hang its hat on Saturday but the fact of the matter is they may not face a more porous defense for the rest of the year. One thing is for sure, the talent level will take a huge step forward next weekend when Florida State comes to town.
However, before State can even begin to worry about the Noles they need to first worry about themselves. They will have zero chance for victory if they come anywhere close to repeating the mistake-filled debacles of Tennessee and Miami. In fact, if that happens FSU will likely be able to pick their score.
We've seen State turn it around before. Can they turn it around enough to become a legitimate threat to Florida State? Based on the results of the first five games that appears unlikely.
However, Carter-Finley will be electric. State can move the ball and the athletes appear to be in place on defense that can get the job done when they're not making mental miscues and coverage breakdowns. If State can keep the fans in it, play a mistake-free game and hang around until the fourth quarter with a chance to win then maybe, just maybe they'll have a shot to pull back even in the conference.