GRADES: No Moral Victories

RALEIGH, N.C. -- Pack Pride grades NC State's performance in the 26-14 loss to No. 3 Clemson.

NC State battled and competed for much of the night, but it wasn't enough as No. 3 Clemson defeated the Wolfpack 26-14 in Carter-Finley Stadium.

"I thought our players definitely competed hard," said Dave Doeren following the game. "I was proud of them for that. It's not a moral victory by any means. We do not accept losing here, but I'm proud of the way we competed.

"I appreciate our fans and students for coming out the way they did and supported us. It was a special evening that way. My first Thursday night game here and it was everything as advertised. I'm very thankful of the fanbase, and it meant a lot."

How did the Pack fare in the loss?

OFFENSE: C. Sure, NC State totaled 378 yards against Clemson's defense and some will argue that they had more yards, and points, taken off the field on a blown call, but it was just an average night offensively for the Wolfpack.

14 points isn't going to cut it vs. Clemson, and there were untimely penalties and/or missed blocking assignments that stalled out drives much too frequently.

"I'm disappointed in the penalties that we had tonight," said Doeren after the game. "It's something we have to clean up and we'll continue to work on it."

The biggest issue for the Wolfpack's offense came on third down where they were just 3-of-16 (compared to 10-of-19 for the Tigers). That's just not good enough.

However, there were some positives. The Pack averaged 4.6 yards per rush, Shadrach Thornton made his presence felt and should add a burst to the backfield, and the offense didn't fold. Down 26-7, the unit mounted a 21-play drive midway through the fourth quarter, converting multiple fourth downs before Pete Thomas ran in a score.

Overall, it was an average night offensively, but ultimately not enough points were put on the scoreboard.

DEFENSE: A-. The Pack has to be proud of their defensive unit today. Facing one of the most feared offenses in college football, NC State was aggressive, relentless, and extremely physical up front.

They harassed Tajh Boyd much of the night and did, for the most part, what they wanted to do: limit explosive plays and force Clemson into third-and-long situations.

The Pack had 13 tackles for a loss with linebacker Robert Caldwell leading the way with four. State had four quarterback pressures, three pass breakups, and two sacks. State force multiple three-and-outs.

Yes, Clemson totaled 415 yards, but to hold that group to just 26 points is extremely impressive. Also, 13 of those points came after starting cornerback Juston Burris went down to injury. Burris spent a lot of time on Martavis Bryant, who had both touchdown catches for the Tigers.

"Our guys were locked in," said Doeren. "Coach Huxtable and the defensive staff had a nice gameplan and the kids executed. We tackled well in space. We kept the ball inside for the most part."

SPECIAL TEAMS: B-. Solid night for the Wolfpack special teams, but they could have been better.

They had no explosive gains in the return game, as freshman Johnathan Alston took over as the primary kick returner, totaling 81 yards on five returns. Punt return specialist Rashard Smith was a non-factor, finishing with zero return yards.

Punter Wil Baumann had six kicks with a long of 52 yards and two downed inside the 20-yard line. Kicker Nik Sade missed a big field goal at the start of the fourth quarter, a 48-yarder that was his only miss of the night, while Clemson's Chandler Cantanzaro drilled two 40+ yard attempts.

The Wolfpack certainly would have liked to have an explosive play, or two, in the return game to aid their chances in pulling off the upset.

"Special teams were probably a big factor in field position, which hurt us in the football game," said Doeren.

OVERALL: B. A loss is a loss, but NC State can take a lot of positives away from the defeat.

They competed with Clemson. They showed that they have some playmakers defensively and are going to be a problem for opposing offenses each week. Also, it was impressive how physical State played... that stood out.

The Pack also showed composure and fight down the stretch, another positive sign moving forward. There was a toughness that Dave Doeren loved seeing from his team when most knew what the ultimate outcome would be.

"I think our kids are tough," he said. "They are very tough. We just can't beat ourselves."

Regardless of the bright spots, you just can't get an A after a loss.

Next up for the Wolfpack: Central Michigan.

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