NC State entered Saturday's contest with Maryland needing a win to keep pace with league leaders Clemson and Florida State. While the Pack played poorly in stretches, they made just enough plays to come away with a 20-18 win over the Terrapins. Pack Pride takes a look back at the Wolfpack's fifth win of the season.
The Bottom Line
Ugly wins beat pretty losses every day of the week so don't expect head coach Tom O'Brien or the Wolfpack to apologize for squeaking out a win over Maryland. While it's easy to focus on the negatives, the fact is State made enough plays to put itself in position to win the game and then counted on lady luck for a little good fortune at the end.
State has a multitude of issues that need to be corrected headed towards the home stretch of the schedule but oftentimes the difference between a good season and a great one boil down to winning games you probably shouldn't.
Perhaps the best course of action for State is to focus on eliminating the mistakes that nearly cost itself any shot at winning the Atlantic Division and just be thankful for winning a game that they very easily could've lost.
Big play that may have gone unnoticed
There were several big plays that helped NC State beat the Terps- David Amerson's interception, Niklas Sade's 43-yard field goal, Bryan Underwood's 68 yard touchdown reception.
However, there was one huge play that was critical in setting NC State up for what would ultimately be the game winning field goal.
Rashard Smith had been held without a catch all day but with State facing second and six from the Maryland 45 yard line, Smith hauled in a huge 14 yard pass reception that effectively put the Pack in field goal range.
On the play Smith did a tremendous job of timing the catch but more importantly, was able to drag his toe before going out of bounds. The play was reviewed but stood and ultimately proved to be the key reception that put the Wolfpack in position to win the game.
Player of the game
Make no mistake, without WR Bryan Underwood it's hard to fathom NC State having any chance against Maryland. The 68 yard touchdown reception was huge. However, Underwood also had a big 28 yard reception with State facing third and 16 and which ultimately led to a Niklas Sade field goal. He also had several other catches that helped sustain drives and when it was all over, Underwood had put together a career day- six catches for 134 yards and a touchdown.
Hegedus and Watson Make Big Contributions
You can't forget about the contributions made by Asa Watson and true freshman WR Charlie Hegedus. Hegedus made a couple of tough catches on slant passes that helped sustain a drive. Watson had perhaps his best day catching the ball including a critical 14 yard reception with State facing third and 10 on their game winning drive.
Winkles gets in on the act
He doesn't get a lot of passes thrown his way but the Pack used a new wrinkle of sorts by lining Winkles up in a half back slot. He raced virtually untouched down the field and showed some athleticism by making a nice adjustment to the ball. With just a small defensive back between him and the end zone, Winkles broke the tackle and scored the first touchdown of his career.
Strength becomes a liability
NC State has dominated time of possession all year but that nearly cost them against the Terps. Maryland held a 35-25 minute advantage for the entire game but it was even worse in the first half. The Pack had just 12 minutes of possession compared to Maryland's 18. Four three and outs and five punts left the NC State defense on the field way too long in the first 30 minutes and it showed as the game wore on into the fourth quarter.
Defense Struggles with varying offenses
After playing its best half of football a week ago, the NC State defense struggled Saturday with some of the issues resulting from a lack of preparation for the Maryand rush attack they were forced to face after starting QB Perry Hills was knocked out of the game.
However, even before Hills' injury, State had a tough time with Maryland's passing attack. Hills finished by completing 12 of 20 passes for 159 yards which put him on pace for his best passing outing of the year.
Once Devin Burns took over in the second half, the Terps resorted to a zone read offense that the Pack simply couldn't figure out. They were never able to adjust and seemingly gave Burns the same defensive look every down.
To make matters worse, Maryland brought in their third string QB Caleb Rowe, a guy that had never taken a snap and he proceeded to drive the Terps down the field for a potential game winning score.
It certainly wasn't an effort to write home about and if State is to have a chance against the teams remaining on their schedule, they'll need to play much better.
Turning the Page
NC State boasts a 5-2 record and that's even more impressive when you consider this team hasn't had a consistent, four quarter effort all year. They have been very good at times. At others, they've looked extremely lethargic. With UNC looming, State needs to find a way to put together a 60 minute effort. The Tar Heels have had this game circled for months and after a disappointing loss to Duke, State has to expect they'll get Carolina's best effort.
State has shown the ability to be explosive on offense while chewing up time of possession. They've also been solid on special teams and shown that they can shut down opposing offenses. The issue has been their inability to do it consistently. If they're able to put it all together for four quarters then they will have every opportunity to gain their sixth win next weekend.