Observations From the Game: UNC

Pack Pride takes a final look back at NC State's disappointing 27-19 loss to North Carolina.

NC State got off to a great start Saturday but struggled down the stretch offensively and ultimately dropped their fifth game of the season. In an evenly contested matchup, this game boiled down to a few important plays which helped propel UNC to a 27-19 win over the Wolfpack. Pack Pride takes a look back at the game.

In a Nutshell
NC State couldn't have asked for a better start Saturday, forcing a turnover on UNC's initial drive and taking an early 10-0 lead in the first quarter. But from there the Pack could muster just three Niklas Sade field goals and it simply wasn't enough offense to keep pace with the Heels.

The Wolfpack's defense played well enough to win despite being put in a tough position several times throughout the game. However, in a game so evenly played, predictably there were several crucial plays and unfortunately for NC State, all of them went in UNC's favor.

As has been the case all year for the Wolfpack, the margin of error between success and failure has been razor thin and State hasn't been able to right the ship when things have gone wrong. One of the keys to becoming a good team is overcoming adversity and the Pack just hasn't been able to find that play maker to help overcome the negatives.

Game Really Boiled Down to a Few Key Plays

There were 153 plays Saturday but four of them really determined the outcome of this game.

Fake Punt- The easiest job around is to Monday morning quarterback but here goes anyway. A fake punt in and of itself can be a good call (obviously). However, given the down and distance situation, location on the field and the fact that you're direct snapping to Robert Caldwell- it was a bad call. There wasn't enough upside with a 10-7 lead to run that play at that time. Caldwell wasn't going to run for 40 yards even if it had been successful so best case was a first down. In hindsight, the risk-reward just didn't seem to make that play worth running.

Blown coverage- A double pass from Ryan Switzer to Quinshad Davis was a huge play in this game and gave UNC a lead that they would never relinquish. It would be easy to get down on Jack Tocho but he's a freshman and he made a freshman mistake. When you're forced to play a young guy, these things happen. The reality is that it was more of a great play by UNC and especially a perfect throw by Switzer.

Missed Opportunity- Brandon Mitchell missed FB Ryan Purvis on a wide open sideline pass in the second half that looked like it could've gone the distance. Purvis got a fingertip on the ball but State missed it by inches. These are the plays that come back to haunt you.

Missed Opportunity No. 2- Third and one at the UNC nine yard line. Mitchell gives a fake pass look and then does a QB draw and is dropped for a two yard loss. Instead of taking a 23-21 lead, State settles for a field goal and 21-19 deficit.

Stat That Mattered

Third down inefficiency...State converted just 3 of 10 third downs in the first half and 3 of 7 in the second. It's been a recurring theme this year but the Pack hasn't been able to make plays to sustain drives. Whenever State has been in obvious passing situations they've struggled and that was compounded by several penalties on first down that put the Wolfpack behind the chains.

One Dimensional Offense

If you would have told us ahead of time that State would rush for 212 yards we would have felt pretty good about the Pack's chances of winning. The problem was, the Wolfpack could not convert when it had to throw the ball. They missed on at least one wide open play that may have resulted in a score and there were a couple of drops. Beyond that, there didn't appear to be very many open seams to go with the ball. We're not sure if that's because of scheme, talent or a combination of both. However, the ultimate effect was that State became one dimensional on offense with Mitchell either running the ball up the middle or handing off to Shadrach Thornton. While effective at times, when UNC was able to stuff the run, State could never overcome it by making a play in the passing game. Running the ball is crucial but the Pack has to become more balanced to be successful.

Jack Tocho

A lot of folks will focus on the two touchdowns he gave up Saturday- one on a trick play and the other on a perfectly thrown ball by Marquise Williams. However, he continues to impress us with his play and despite the setback Saturday we think the sky is the limit for him. There's going to be the growing pains that true freshman corners usually must suffer through but he's going to be better down the road and we think he has the potential to grow into a super cornerback for State in the future.

Niklas Sade Continues Impressive Year

One of the few bright spots in 2013 has been the leg of Niklas Sade. He hit all four of his field goal attempts Saturday and is now 17 of 19 on the year. Sade is tied for second nationally in field goals made per game which is great for him but perhaps not necessarily a positive for the Wolfpack.

UNC Shows the Carolina Way in Victory

If NC State wins in Chapel Hill hopefully the Wolfpack players will show some class and not replicate the display put on by several UNC players as they danced and stomped on the Pack logo at midfield after the game.

Having said that, the easiest way to make sure that doesn't happen is to win the game. When your motto is "This is our state", it's a pretty safe bet that other teams in the state are going to take exception to that statement- especially when you haven't produced much of anything in the way of results over the last 30 years.

As for UNC, their behavior was probably the least surprising thing we saw on Saturday.

Headed Forward

Recruit, recruit and recruit some more. We've said it before and it won't change anytime soon. State is going to have to recruit their way out of this mess. The Pack doesn't have a magic bullet and Dawn Bunting won't be riding in to town to cast a spell that will turn things around.

It doesn't mean State can't win again this year as there are winnable games remaining on the schedule. But it is what it is and what we really hope to see over the next four weeks is a team that plays hard and plays smart. Perhaps if a few things break in the Pack's favor they can win some games down the stretch.

Defensively, State can compete. With special teams, State is good enough to win. What's killing the Pack is a one-sided and inconsistent offense. Maybe State can take a page out of UNC's play book and look at pursuing a two-quarterback system. Clearly Pete Thomas is the better thrower while Mitchell is the better runner. Perhaps the Wolfpack could look at utilizing a mix of both in the future and take advantage of what each player does best.

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