What did we learn about NC State from the Clemson loss? We review the game by answering several critical questions about the Wolfpack.
What stood out to you the most about NC State's offense against Clemson?
James Henderson: The offensive line play. They weren't perfect, but NC State was able to move the ball all game and I thought the offensive line dominated in the fourth quarter. When you can close out the 4th quarter with a six-minute drive in Death Valley by primarily running the football, that's getting it done.
Steve Williams: I just think the overall success they had moving the ball consistently really surprised me. Early on, the only thing slowing State down was State and a plethora of penalties. I didn't expect State to go on the road and have that kind of success.
Rob McLamb: The offensive line took it to Clemson's defensive front all afternoon. It was a situation where administering blows the entire game took their toll. NC State won the fourth quarter, and should of won the game, because they were swinging hard on each play.
Bryant Carson: Outside of the false starts the OL was far and away better than I ever expected them to be against an extremely formidable DL. The OL has been very good all season but I wondered about the level of competition they had faced—even after ND—they put those questions to rest though with a great overall performance Saturday.
What did you think of the gameplan?
James Henderson: I thought it was good. Early on State looked to exploit some matchups through the passing game; taking advantage of one-on-one man situations, but I did think there were times they could have ran the ball more in the first three quarters.
With that being said, there were several extended drives, despite penalties, and the aggression through the air probably aided the running game.
Steve Williams: Loved it. I thought Drinkwitz really had the guys prepared and I felt like there was a good balance of run/pass. No complaints from me whatsoever.
Rob McLamb: The game plan NC State used provided Clemson's remaining opposition a blueprint on how to beat the Tigers.
Bryant Carson: It worked. Penalties and blunders have never been a part of anyone’s gameplan and ultimately it was the combination of those things that cost State the game Saturday. I think State did what they should do—they played their game and didn’t let fear of Clemson dictate what they wanted to do. Of course a gameplan is a mere blue print—it was tremendous execution that kept the Pack in the game all afternoon.
What was the biggest concern on that side of the ball?
James Henderson: It has to be the penalties. It's hard winning when you commit that many penalties against a team like Clemson.
Steve Williams: It would have to be the penalties. I think State probably scores 7-10 more points were it not for the penalties. I have to give them credit for cleaning a lot of it up in the second half- especially the false start penalties.
Rob McLamb: Inefficiency in the red zone, not simply one missed field goal, is the reason NC State lost.
Bryant Carson: Everyone knew Death Valley would be an intimidating environment and it didn’t disappoint. The False Start penalties, especially early on in the game, were very costly for State once they got down to the CLEM 25-35 yard lines.
Who was the player of the game offensively for NC State?
James Henderson: Matt Dayes really stood out to me. He showed a physical running style late that was impressive. He now has five 100+yard rushing games in six contests.
Steve Williams: I would have to go with Matt Dayes. His numbers weren't eye-popping but he was so impressive that final drive. Like we've become accustomed to, Dayes just seems to have a different gear.
Rob McLamb: The offensive line, Matt Dayes and Jaylen Samuels all deserve praise. Take your pick as to which was the most valuable.
Bryant Carson: In a game like this it took a great group effort. The OL, as a whole was outstanding, Ryan Finley played in Death Valley with as much patience and poise as he’s played with all season, Jaylen Samuels was all over the place as a receiver but…it was Matt Dayes that was the offensive player of the game. Dayes had the only offensive TD for the Pack but more than that when State needed a play or tough yardage Dayes was there.
What concerned you the most about NC State's defense against Clemson?
James Henderson: I think Clemson's total yards, but really that was part of State's gameplan. State wanted to keep everything in front of them and hit a Clemson player on every single play. So while they gave up plenty of yards, NC State forced turnovers and limited the Tigers to just 17 regular-season points.
Steve Williams: I was most concerned about what DeShaun Watson could do to NC State if plays broke down and he began to improvise. I thought the Pack did a great job of containing and corralling him.
Rob McLamb: Typically a "bend but don't break" approach can lead to allowing points in a way that's akin to a prevent defense. Clemson scored late in the first half in that way. The Wolfpack gave up a ton of passing yards.
Bryant Carson: There really wasn’t a whole lot about State’s D Saturday that really had me concerned. State’s D held a very explosive offensive to 17 regulation points and 24 total. Obviously they allowed the dink and dunk underneath stuff between the 20s but once Clemson got in the redzone everything clamped down. State’s physicality bothered Clemson all afternoon and caused 4 crucial turnovers. Like any loss there are a few plays you can look back on and see a missed tackle or missed opportunity but holding Clemson to 17 regulation points is a tremendous accomplishment for any D.
How do you think the pass defense fared against Deshaun Watson?
James Henderson: Solid. State gave up a lot of completions underneath but was able to pick off a pass and return it for a touchdown.
Steve Williams: I thought they played well enough to win and that's saying a lot. Clemson won their share of individual battles but that's to be expected. They have some great athletes. However, the pass defense as a whole was better than I was expecting.
Rob McLamb: The objective was to limit Watson's explosive plays and NC State did just that. Clemson finished with 17 points on its home field.
Bryant Carson: They did their job—they did not allow many explosive plays way down the field and didn’t give up any explosive plays for points. That was the plan, they executed and as a result State had an opportunity to win at the end.
Who was the player of the game defensively for NC State?
James Henderson: Dravious Wright set the tone early when he knocked Clemson star tailback Wayne Gallman out of the game on the first possession, also creating a fumble. He forced another fumble and seemed to be all over the field.
That might have been his best game in a Wolfpack uniform.
Steve Williams: For me it was Dravious Wright. He had one of the more vicious (legal) hits that I've seen in a while and he was much more aggressive than what we've seen in the first five games. His two forced fumbles really played a huge part in keeping State in the game.
Rob McLamb: Mike Stevens will get the nod simply because of his interception return for a touchdown. Clemson led 10-3 and a score on the first drive of the second half would have put NC State is serious jeopardy. Instead it was a tie game.
Bryant Carson: Like the offense, to have a result like State got Saturday it took most everyone playing very well. However, it was Dravious Wright’s bone-crushing hits that caused 2-turnovers and will ultimately make end-of-season highlight reels.
Overall, did you learn anything new about the Wolfpack?
James Henderson: I'm not sure I learned it, but it really confirmed to me how strong and physical NC State is in the trenches. The Wolfpack should have won that game, and they should have won it because of the play from the offensive and defensive lines.
Steve Williams: They showed heart and that they could play at an extremely high level physically. The question is whether it was a one hit wonder or something they can continue to produce week in and week out.
Rob McLamb: It will be considered a breakout performance if NC State's goes on to have a great season. The Wolfpack has been methodically improving since the loss at East Carolina.
The real knowledge will come in the following weeks. NC State responded after the loss to the Pirates. This will be as big of a challenge. If they can stay focused and in positive spirits mentally, the Wolfpack can win eight-to-10 games this season.
Bryant Carson: Yes, when the Wolfpack play at their best they can play with almost any team. I’m not sure that they can play at that level for an entire season yet but it’s nice to know they’ve got it in them. I think this is a glimpse at the program Doeren has been working to build since day one and he’s closing in.
We’ll see how this week goes with another tall-order on the road but if Doeren can have his guys ready to play another 60 minutes at full throttle then ACC coaches had better start paying attention. This is a tough, tough team that has seen some hard breaks this season but if State can catch a couple of breaks and remain healthy this team could be really fun to watch through the end of the season.