Observations From the Game: Duke

Pack Pride takes a final look back at NC State's 38-20 loss to Duke.

NC State rallied from a 10-0 halftime deficit to take a 20-17 lead in the second half only to watch it all unravel late in the fourth quarter. Duke put together an eight play, 79 yard drive to take a 24-17 lead with 3:31 left. The Blue Devils then scored on back to back pick-sixes to put the game away, 38-20. Pack Pride takes a look back at NC State's sixth loss of the season.

In a Nutshell
It's become a familiar story line for NC State. The Pack plays well enough to win in two phases of the game but the third continues to erase any chance of coming out on top.

The Wolfpack continues to struggle to put points up. When they do get opportunities there are way too many mistakes and the Pack is being held to field goals much too often.

The reality is the Pack's problems boil down to their inability to throw the football. They continue to put up decent rushing yards but the passing game has become an inept mess. State tried rotating quarterbacks throughout the game but the end result was the same. Neither Brandon Mitchell or Pete Thomas seems to see the field very well and they enjoyed nothing beyond very limited success.

It's hard to fathom that one aspect of the game could put you at such a disadvantage but that's the mountain that offensive coordinator Matt Canada and Dave Doeren must climb over the next three weeks.

Defense Gets it Done

You can't fault the effort of the NC State defense and in fact, you have to commend them because it would be easy to mail it in when you're getting limited production from your offense.

The Pack gave up one big play and one sustained drive all day. As a unit they were responsible for yielding 14 points. When you consider State lost by 18, that's almost incomprehensible.

State held Duke to just 12 first downs, 321 yards of total offense and 27 minutes time of possession.

Brandon Pittman, in particular, played quite possibly his best game in a Wolfpack uniform. He finished the day with 14 tackles, three tackles for loss and a sack.

Head Scratcher

Your team forces three interceptions, a fumble and gets a special team's touchdown. The defense forces six three and outs to go along with the turnovers on four other drives. That accounts for 10 of Duke's 16 drives. And yet one player (DeVon Edwards) outscores NC State all by himself with a 100 yard kickoff return and two interceptions returned for scores.

Stat of the Game

Usually teams throw interceptions when the offense gets into a third and long and predictable passing situation. That wasn't the case for NC State on Saturday. The Pack threw all three of their interceptions on first down. That really boils down to poor decision making on the part of the NC State quarterbacks.

Second and Third Down Weren't Much Better

NC State completed just 5 of 22 passes on second and third downs although one of those was an 80-yard touchdown strike to Quintin Payton. Three other attempts ended in sacks. On third and long State completed just 1 of 9 passes and really, most weren't even close.

Bright Spots

Again, has to be the defense. They've kept themselves in it mentally when it certainly would have been easy to fold the tents. You have to credit Dave Huxtable and the rest of the defensive coaches as they've  had their squad prepared despite numerous injuries and personnel changes. State is rated 52nd nationally in total defense which isn't bad considering the losses the Pack had to overcome during the off season.

Shadrach Thornton has definitely been a bright spot and he's solidified himself as State's top running back. He's had consistent efforts the last three weeks against Florida State, UNC and Duke and has protected the ball.

You probably have to give the offensive line some credit as well as they've played better in the run game over the last three weeks and have improved dramatically in that aspect of the game.

The Quarterback Situation

Conventional wisdom says that your QB play should improve as the season progresses, especially as you get more reps and game experience under your belt. Unfortunately for State, the exact opposite has been the case.

Clearly NC State knew they had a problem early on as they targeted no fewer than four quarterbacks during the off season to bring in to play immediately in 2013.

What State faces now is a one dimensional offense that is light years away from being effective throwing the ball. The majority of passes aren't anywhere near catchable.

At this point we have no idea what State needs to do to turn it around. They're pretty much stuck with playing the cards they were dealt. It would be nice to see if the Pack could shorten up the passing game more and maybe make the throws the QB's are being asked to make a little easier. State has some guys that are good in space but there haven't been many swing passes, slants or bubble screens. Perhaps that's something they can explore headed forward. To this point, it appears the vast majority of passes State has tried to complete are vertical and that just hasn't worked.

Headed Forward

Next up is Boston College and that's definitely been a game that hasn't played in State's favor very often.

However, the Eagles are one of the nation's worst at pass defense and pass efficiency defense so perhaps this can be a game where the Pack can manufacture some kind of success in the passing game.

The Pack just needs a win desperately. Six wins is still attainable but State needs this game for confidence as much as anything else.

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