BUILDING ON BIG PLAYS
Last week we mentioned explosion plays as being a key for the Wolfpack offensively and they were finally able to execute them on a couple of occasions.
Perhaps for the first time this year State was able to execute a passing play off of a running play when Rashard Smith threw a perfect strike to a wide open Quintin Payton for a touchdown.
Earlier in the game Pete Thomas hit RB Matt Dayes on a wheel route that nearly went for a score. On those two plays, the Pack finally showed the ability to make a big play. Unfortunately, we felt like State would need some help from their defense and special teams and that just didn't materialize.
If NC State hopes to keep pace with East Carolina they'll have to hit on more big plays this Saturday. The Pack has the play makers to do it. They just have to execute when they get the chance.
Brandon Mitchell is slated to return as the starter at quarterback this weekend which means the run game will likely take front and center. Perhaps the player that suffered most last week during Mitchell's absence was RB Shadrach Thornton who was held to just 56 yards on 11 carries.
This will definitely be a huge test for NC State because ECU has been one of the nation's best at run defense. They've held six opponents under 100 yards and they are 8th nationally against the run. They ran 15th in total defense.
One reason the Pirates have been so successful with rush defense has been because of their ability to get teams behind early, forcing them to abandon the run. ECU has outscored their opponents 94-36 in the first quarter and 111-47 in the second.
State has to be able to run the football, extend drives and keep the Pirates off the field. If they fall behind early they're simply not built to make up big deficits.
The advantage State may have is they should be a little more physical than some of the teams East Carolina has faced and they'll certainly be more dedicated to making the run work. A best case scenario is to keep the Pirates on the field defensively, limit ECU's offensive possessions and give themselves a chance to win it late.
If State can't run the football then realistically they have very little chance of beating the Pirates. With that said, Brandon Mitchell has to find a way to execute in the passing game. Boston College did it a week ago against NC State, hitting on just enough passes to extend drives.
There's going to be several occasions where Mitchell will have to connect in the passing game to keep the chains moving. He hasn't been able to do it consistently at any time this year but if the Pack hopes to end their losing streak, Mitchell must do it Saturday.