MISTAKES, MISTAKES, MISTAKES
NC State has to feel like this was a game the Wolfpack gave away, and a large part was due to self-inflicted problems. Eight penalties for 54 yards, including multiple fouls on third down that extended Pirate scoring drives... those really stood out to Dave Doeren after the game.
"The penalty is a focus thing," said Dave Doeren after the game. "Just lining up offside... that's total concentration."
"Defensively we had too many penalties," added Airius Moore. "We have to play better."
It was more than just penalties.
Nyheim Hines misjudging the late kickoff... missed blocks... poor throws... drops... but the most glaring was the struggles in the kicking game. We said all offseason that the biggest concern for NC State had to be the kicking game because it directly impacts how you coach a game. Do you go for it more often? Do you run fakes? Do you keep kicking? Do you stop kicking? Those questions come into play when you struggle with the kicking game and it puts a strain on the offense.
Grad transfer Connor Haskins missed two field goals of less than 45 yards in the first half, a big reason why the Pack trailed 9-0 at the end of the first quarter.
"The two field goals," said Doeren. "We've made those over and over in practice. That's... you make one of the two, it's overtime. Points off the board."
Correct... points off the board and when you lose by a field goal it hurts even more.
FAILURE TO CAPITALIZE HAUNTS PACK
Even with the missed field goals, NC State had opportunities for big plays. They hit their fair share, including an 80-yarder to Stephen Louis in the second quarter for a touchdown, but there were plenty others.
Jack Tocho dropping an interception. Jerod Fernandez dropping an interception that he likely would have returned for a touchdown. Monty Nelson dropping an interception. Ryan Finley overthrowing Matt Dayes down the sideline for what would have been a definite touchdown.
Even the trick plays weren't as explosive as they could have been. Gavin Locklear took a reverse and had Bra'lon Cherry streaking wide open down the middle of the field, and instead of taking the home run shot he took the short, contested pass (it was a great pass by Locklear) to Louis. That should have been six points.
Again, when you lose by three points, all of these plays come to mind.
"As a whole team we had missed opportunities all around," said Finley.
TO FAKE OR NOT TO FAKE
These decisions come into play when you're kicking game is a problem, and NC State ran two fakes on special teams, with neither being successful. The first was a two-point option that a lot of spread teams run in the second quarter. The normal kick team is spread out and if the numbers dictate a pass to the flat then you take the option, otherwise your motion everyone in and kick the extra point.
Well, according to Doeren, the numbers were there to run the fake but tight end Clark Eyers dropped the ball.
"It's something that coach Ledford had done at App. State, and he runs that unit," said Doeren. "We hadn't shown it, and we knew if we lined up in it quick and we had numbers... and we did. They had two guys out there and we had three. If we catch that, we walk in and get two points. I thought it was a good playcall, we just didn't execute it.
"We were trying to score points there. They are a high-scoring offense and when you're an uptempo offense, we see a lot of teams do that, who run those kind of systems to get points. If the points are there to take, we're going to try and take them."
The other came in the third quarter after State couldn't cash in on a long run by Matt Dayes. The Pack lined up for a fake field goal leading by one on 4th-and-5 from the 11, but holder A.J. Cole took the snap and ran an option with kicker Kyle Bambard. There appeared to be an opening for Cole and a late pitch to Bambard, but a Pirate defender came from the backside to take Cole down after a one-yard game.
Doeren defended the call after the game.
"They had a look, and we thought we had it," he said. "They lined up in it, and we didn't block the guy we thought we should have blocked. He made the tackle. Again, it comes down to execution on that play.
"They had one guy up we were optioning it, and one guy back and we were blocking him. Somebody from the backside made the play. He made a nice play on it. I wouldn't have called it if I didn't think it was a good play."
Judging fake calls are a lot like fourth-down decisions... it often comes down to being right or wrong if you convert or not. With that being said, NC State likely needs to be more aggressive on fourth-down until they can solidify the kicking position. The first field goal was attempted in the first quarter on 4th-and-1 from the 27. When you have Matthew Dayes and Jaylen Samuels, maybe go for that?
The second was a fourth-and-eight, again a little longer, but State likely should have played for two downs there, instead maybe running the ball on third down to get a more manageable fourth.
Personally, State should keep the offense out there until that position is more reliable.
East Carolina probably won this game on third down. The first touchdown came on a third down run by Wildcat quarterback James Summers, and the Pirates ended the game 7-of-17 on third down while the Pack was just 4-of-11.
"I think third down hurt us in the second half," Doeren said of his defense. "There were some plays early in the first quarter where we were too aggressive."
The problem for State is some of the miscues were made by experienced leaders. Bradley Chubb lined up in the neutral zone, extending a drive... Mike Stevens had a questionable pass interference that extended ECU's final scoring drive on third down.
"There were some third downs," added Doeren. "We had a 3rd-and-11 and we line up in the neutral zone. We stop them on that play and they get another third down and converted.
"Those are the kind of things I've been talking about since the season ended. We have to be a more mature team. We have to do all the things right to become a better team."
Doeren's message for his team after the game was simple.
"I told them we have ten games left and we can decide what we want to do with them right now," he said. "I'm not pointing fingers at them. I said I lost the game, you lost the game, we lost the game. We need to get back to work and go win one together."
* Wolfpack linebacker Airius Moore was all over the field, as he finished with 11 tackles and 4.5 tackles for a loss.
None of that seemed to matter to him after the game.
"We have to play better and make plays," he said. "It's a collective effort. We have to have a better pass rush and better coverage. It's a team thing."
* Sophomore wideout Stephen Louis had the best game of his career, totaling 142 yards and a touchdown on three grabs, all in the first half.
"We can't dwell on this," he stated. "We have to put our head down and keep working... we can't doubt ourselves. We have to keep playing."
* The time management could have been better on the final two drives by the Wolfpack. It seemed the first drive could have been quicker, and Bra'lon Cherry missed a chance to go out of bounds early on the final drive. Even with the last catch he could have fell down after the catch, likely setting up a spike and potential game-tying kick.
Also, there appeared to be one second left on the clock when Cherry went down and some confusion from the referees on how to handle it. Ultimately they ruled the game was over, and it was probably unlikely that NC State, with no timeouts remaining, could get lined up and snap the ball in one second.
* Ryan Finley was second on the team in carries (6), and he also had his first career rushing touchdown, a 15-yard run in the fourth quarter.
* Sophomore tailback Reggie Gallaspy came off the bench to spark the Wolfpack in the second quarter. Gallaspy stiff-armed a defender and bowled over another on the Wolfpack's first score of the game, a 37-yard scamper.
"I feel I'm a power back, but I feel like I can do some things in space too," said Gallaspy.