Observations From the Game: Maryland

Pack Pride takes a final look back at NC State's season-ending 41-21 loss to Maryland.

NC State ended the 2013 season last Saturday with a disappointing 41-21 loss to Maryland in Carter-Finley Stadium. The Pack ended the season on an eight game losing streak and was winless in the conference for the first time since 1959. Pack Pride takes a look back at the game.

In a Nutshell

It all started out so well with QB Brandon Mitchell driving NC State 80 yards on 10 plays on the Wolfpack's initial drive. State was up 7-0 and for a brief moment it appeared that the Pack was on track offensively.

Unfortunately it went all downhill from there. Maryland would reel off 34 straight points behind the legs of QB C.J. Brown and a defense that had answers for everything the Wolfpack threw at them.

Compounding State's issues were several special team's miscues that gave the Terps a short field. Combine that with lack of consistency on offense and an inability to adjust and make plays on defense and it all culminated in another blowout loss for NC State.

Special Teams Nightmare

NC State has struggled on both kickoff coverage and kickoff returns in 2014. Both bit the Pack on Saturday. State could get nothing of its own on kickoffs, averaging just 23 yards per return on seven opportunities. For the season State finished 100th nationally in kickoff returns.

On the flip side, the Pack gave up close to 30 yards per return to Maryland including a 37 yard return that was aided by a Niklas Sade face mask penalty that tacked on another 15 yards.

The punt game wasn't much better. There was a 24-yard shank by Wil Baumann that set the Terps up at the State 35 yard line. To make matters worse, the Pack snapped the ball over Baumann's head on another attempt that had Maryland on State's 14 yard line.

State has several issues that must be addressed during the off season and special teams has to be way up there on the list- particularly on kickoffs.

Stat That Mattered

0 and 5....After scoring on their opening drive, NC State totaled 0 yards on its next five possessions. By the time the Pack finally got back on the score board they were already down 34-7.

Sputtering Offense

There's a fine line between success and failure on offense and the Pack could never get over the hump in 2013. Saturday's game was a microcosm of the entire season. State couldn't keep Maryland out of the backfield, giving up five sacks and yielding 13 total tackles for loss.

Brandon Mitchell continued to make small mistakes that cost the Pack. There were bubble screens thrown behind the receiver that resulted in losses. Screen passes were tossed over the head of the running back. It's difficult to really blame Mitchell with such limited time at quarterback but those miscues and others hurt the Pack.

One thing is clear headed into 2014. NC State has to get more physical up front and they have to find a quarterback that can give them balance on offense. Jacoby Brissett is supposed to be that guy. There are plenty of skill players to work with but State will never realize their potential until they get better line and quarterback play.

Defense Unable to Adjust

Perhaps the only thing more disappointing than the offense on Saturday was NC State's inability to adjust to CJ Brown running the read option. Anytime Maryland needed yards, Brown would simply pull the ball down and gash the Wolfpack defense. When all was said and done he had totaled 138 yards and three touchdowns.

Brown is talented but this is one you have to lay at the feet of the NC State defense and its coaches. Yeah, he's good but he ain't that good. Maybe he's successful on his first few attempts but at some point State should've countered and forced Maryland to go in another direction. They didn't and that was a huge disappointment.

Pack Continues Clean Play

If there's one positive State can build on headed into the off season was its clean play over the last several games. The Pack had just one fumble and no interceptions over the final three games of the season. There were no turnovers during the final two games. State had just four penalties for 40 yards on Saturday and that's another area where State has improved over the last several weeks.

Tocho Brings Out Other Team's Best

We've been impressed with CB Jack Tocho and his play in 2013. Clearly he is one of State's budding stars on defense but he has been the victim of at least four perfectly thrown balls this season that resulted in big plays. You can't really fault Tocho because he was in the receiver's pocket on every throw. We suspect that, moving forward, you'll see Tocho find a way to make a play on these opportunities.

Headed Forward

The areas where NC State must improve in 2014 are obvious. As mentioned previously, the offensive line and quarterback play must improve. If Duke can win a divisional title with offensive linemen that weren't good enough to be offered by State's former coaching staff then certainly the Pack can turn it around with what they have on hand and the talent that will arrive next season. State has to get tougher, bigger and stronger during the off season. That is a must.

Defensively, the Pack is good enough up front to compete and we feel the potential is there for them to be dominant at times.

State has young talent at corner and they should only be better in 2014. However, linebacker is a huge concern although this may be a situation where wholesale replacements may not be a bad thing considering the results of 2013.

We've heard very positive things about Jerod Fernandez and Artemis Robinson and we suspect Coult Culler will figure into the mix as well.

Beyond that, State has to get better at safety and there will be an immediate hole to fill with Dontae Johnson graduating.

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