Strong Start... Doesn't Matter
NC State did exactly what you want to do on the road, they jumped out early to a two-score lead... taking a 10-0 lead at the start of the second quarter.
Lane Stadium was dead, and it felt like Virginia Tech was in really big trouble.
However, NC State stopped making plays the remaining 13 minutes of the quarter and as a result they went from leading 10-0 to trailing 21-10 at halftime. The Wolfpack could have maybe ended the game there with a couple more stops and another score, but instead things went downhill, and fast.
Brissett's Struggles Continue
NC State senior quarterback Jacoby Brissett entered ACC play as statistically one of the top quarterbacks in the country, but he's struggled through two league games, and for a variety of reasons.
First of all, his unwillingness to get rid of the ball and avoid sacks has killed his, and the team's, rushing production. He has just 13 total rushing yards on 21 carries in the two losses, a number he has to improve on. He did end up with 39 rushing yards at Virginia Tech, but that number could have been lar.ger if he wasn't sacked four times.
Also, Brissett seems unwilling to take risks in the passing game. NC State attempted just one deep pass all game prior to falling behind two scores midway through the fourth quarter. In a tightly-officiated game, that's just not enough. The routes are there and wideouts are getting some separation. It's up to Brissett to trust them to make a play, and even if they don't, maybe you draw a pass interference call and you certainly put Virginia Tech's defense on alert, perhaps backing them off the line of scrimmage.
The main thing is he has to trust his wide receivers to make plays. He did that on the touchdown pass in the second quarter. He threw a 50-50 ball to wideout Jumichael Ramos, who came down with a great catch in traffic. Brissett gave Ramos a chance to make a play. He has to do that more often.
Brissett finished the game 12-of-25 for 113 yards with one touchdown and one interception. That's not going to get it done on the road in the ACC.
Brissett's interception streak came to an end on the Wolfpack's final possession, and that just might be a positive for the Wolfpack offense.
He needs to play with more aggression in the passing game. He has to take more chances and give the offense more upside than it currently has. It's a lot to ask an offense to grind out drives consistently against ACC defenses, clearly the strength of the conference this season. NC State has to become more aggressive, and that starts with Brissett.
He can't hold the ball until a wideout is completely uncovered. He needs to start putting passes in tight windows and simply play with more aggression.
Was he not doing it because he feared turning the ball over? At this point, that shouldn't matter. NC State's not scoring points when they rarely turn the ball over... it's time to take more chances, open up the offense and be aggressive.
Speedsters like Nyheim Hines and Maurice Trowell shouldn't go an entire game without a deep pass attempted to them, especially against teams like Virginia Tech who press up their corners and play a lot of man coverage.
Flags And More Flags
NC State certainly didn't help themselves on Friday night. The Wolfpack finished with nine penalties for 81 yards, and five of those gave Virginia Tech automatic first downs.
In that critical second quarter, two of Virginia Tech's three scoring drives were extended due to penalties on third down by NC State. You can't do that. You have to get off the field on third down, and you must make the opposition earn first downs.
Some Wolfpack fans may be upset with a few of the calls and probably felt NC State deserved a couple of more calls, and they may be right, but Virginia Tech was the more aggressive team, on both sides of the ball, and that likely contributed to them receiving a few calls.
Brendan Motley has been struggling at quarterback, but the Tech coaching staff didn't limit him. They operated an open offense with several deep throws against State's offense. They were applying the pressure and putting State's defense in a position to commit penalties.
Increasing The Usage Of Samuels
Credit to the NC State coaching staff for working to get Jaylen Samuels more involved. He managed nine touches and probably could have received more, but State moved him around and it was obvious they were looking to get him involved.
He even received a few carries in the backfield as a tailback, which Doeren said after the game was specifically to try and get the ball in his hands more.
Samuels didn't have his normal production, as he totaled two catches for 29 yards and seven carries for 33 yards, but moving forward it looks like he's going to be used as a power-running option and that should be a positive for NC State.
Big Plays Still Plague Pack Defense
Virginia Tech didn't have a lot of big plays, but two of them went for touchdowns, and that may have been the difference in the game.
Sophomore wide receiver Isaiah Ford, who finished with three touchdowns, had a 27-yarder where he beat sophomore safety Germaine Pratt, who had just been on the field a couple of snaps after replacing injured starter Hakim Jones, on a nice double-move. NC State was in a corner blitz, Pratt closed too hard on Ford, who ran a slant-and-go to get behind Pratt for the touchdown. To Pratt's credit, Virginia Tech ran the same play early in the fourth quarter and he defended it exactly as he should the first time, by staying over-the-top of Ford, but at that point it was too late... Tech was able to get seven points out of that formation.
Tech's other long scoring play, a 59-yard touchdown run by true freshman Travon McMillian with 6:54 remaining to put the Hokies up two scores, came with sophomore Pharoah McKever at defensive end. McKever wasn't able to get up the field and set the edge, and it allowed McMIllian to turn the corner, where he hurdled a defender and ran in for the touchdown. McKever must get up the field there and not allow Tech to get the edge so easily.
Obviously it's not all on McKever, but that's two straight weeks where he was directly involved in a long scoring play. Last week he crashed down on the running back in the read option instead of containing Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson, who scampered 58 yards for the touchdown.
Make More Plays
NC State has to find a way to do that.
In today's college football, it's hard winning 50-50 games against good competition when you can't generate big plays on offense and you can't force turnovers on defense.
It's really tough.
NC State's longest play from scrimmage was 24 yards. Virginia Tech had four plays of 26-yards or more, and two of those went for touchdowns. Advantage Virginia Tech.
Maybe more concerning, the defense continues to not force turnovers. For the second straight game State was playing a turnover-prone quarterback and didn't generate a turnover. That can't continue.
The defense needs to start forcing turnovers and giving the offense some short fields.
One really stands out in the Virginia Tech loss. With the Wolfpack trailing 21-10 early in the third quarter, Virginia Tech was backed up to their own 4-yard line. Motley tried to hit tight end Ryan Malleck in tight coverage, and Wolfpack sophomore cornerback Mike Stevens made a GREAT break on the ball. He was able to get both hands on the ball, but wasn't able to get the interception. If he makes that play, NC State is in scoring position and could maybe get some momentum. Instead, it goes down as an incompletion and on the next play Motley completes an 11-yard pass on third-and-10 for a first down.
Was it an easy play? No. But if NC State wants to go on the road and beat comparable foes, they are going to have to make plays like that.
Lone Bright Spot
Kudos to the Wolfpack special teams for showing up on Friday night. Playing in a tough environment and in rainy conditions, every team performed well.
Freshman punter A.J. Cole averaged 43.8 yards per punt with a long of 51-yards and three-of-five downed inside the 20-yard line. Freshman kicker Kyle Bambard even attempted one punt, a 49-yarder.
Bambard had easily the best game of his career, drilling both of his field goal attempts (33/36). That should really help his confidence heading into the bye week.
Nyheim Hines had a 34-yard kick return, and Bra'lon Cherry had a 14-yarder that he nearly broke for even more yardage.
The coverage units were strong as well, limiting Virginia Tech to -4 punt return yards and kickoff specialist Jackson Maples had three touchbacks on four kickoffs.
The special teams, assuming Bambard can be consistent, is shaping up to be a strength for the Wolfpack.
NC State heads into the bye week looking to regroup.
The Wolfpack is close. In both losses they were competitive and had chances to seize control. They just need to tweak some things on both sides of the ball and finish out ball games.
Offensively, State has to become more aggressive. Take more chances... open up the offense... trust the wide receivers. Also, go into the Murphy Center and find David Grinnage. Seems like he's not even playing right now and that can't be the case. He's too good of a pass-catching weapon to be non-existent in the offense.
Defensively, make more plays. Strip some balls, pressure more... Virginia Tech used a lot of max protection to try and keep Motley upright and it worked because State wasn't blitzing as much, probably due to Virginia Tech's skill position talent. However, State has to pressure the quarterback.
It's no surprise that they forced the most turnovers in the win over South Alabama because they were able to consistently get to the Jaguar quarterback.
Last year NC State headed into the bye week 4-4 and on a four-game losing streak. A lot of fans thought they may not win another game, but they responded by closing the year with wins in four of five games.
All of the remaining games on the schedule are winnable. They are also potential losses. NC State has to find a way to win those 50-50 games.