What did we learn about NC State from the Vanderbilt win? We review the final game of the season by answering several critical questions about the Wolfpack.
What stood out to you the most about NC State's offense against Vanderbilt?
James Henderson: The lack of a reliance on Matt Dayes. Going in, most expected him to be the featured guy in the offense, and maybe that would have been the case if he didn't have a couple of fumbles and disappear for much of the game, but State came out looking to distribute the ball to multiple playmakers.
That's what I think has to be the plan going forward, especially with Dayes graduating. Open up the offense, increase your upside by looking for more explosive plays through the air.
Steve Williams: The thing that really jumped out at me was how well State protected Ryan Finley. He wasn't sacked and really wasn't pressured all night. I think the offensive line definitely showed improvement over the last third of the season and collectively, may have played their best game of the season against Vanderbilt.
Bryant Carson: Probably the most interesting thing to me was how well the offense continued to move the ball without Matt Dayes. I feel like we got a pretty good preview of what this team, offensively will look like next season. Obviously Joe Scelfo and Cherry will leave as well but my primary concern for next season (and probably for a lot of folks) is what will State do to fill the huge void vacated by Dayes.
Gallaspy and Nichols did reasonably well carrying the ball, Finely did a nice job distributing the ball and past that Samuels and Hines each had a very good afternoon.
In some ways not having Dayes to lean on next year may well force Eli Drintwitz to open it up a little more and take more shots through the air—which may not be the worst thing.
Rob McLamb: There seemed to be an emphasis to get Jaylen Samuels involved early. Perhaps Matt Dayes' fumble and subsequent removal from the game after being stopped on a fourth and goal meant NC State had to focus more on passing but whether it was planned or an adjustment, the Wolfpack knew exactly what it wanted to do.
What did you think of the gameplan?
James Henderson: I think that's how State should play. Move the ball through the air and work in the run
Steve Williams: To be completely honest, the Vandy game plan was kind of what I had expected to see all along when Eliah Drinkwitz was hired. We saw trick plays, some running between the tackles but primarily State attacked the edges with quick swing passes, tunnel screens and toss plays.
This put State's skill players out in space and clearly Vanderbilt didn't have the athletes to cover it.
Bryant Carson: I thought State controlled the game from start to finish on offense. The first quarter left me wondering if this would be yet another game that would leave me writing about all the lost opportunities due to the turnover and the failed goal line series.
At the end of the day though I thought Drinkwitz called a tremendous game and for the most part it was well executed by the players.
Rob McLamb: The game plan accentuated the skillsets of a player, Samuels, that is unique. His touchdown total over the past two seasons Is remarkable. He is a weapon that can be utilized in many ways. When you have a player like that, the only way he can go without touching the ball is if other weapons of that ilk. With Dayes out, NC State did not.
What was the biggest concern on that side of the ball?
James Henderson: Going in it had to be how State would fare against Vanderbilt's No. 1 ranked red zone defense. State had one series where they didn't convert, but the Wolfpack scored 41 points and never had to attempt a field goal. That's getting it done.
Steve Williams: I thought State would be able to move the ball so my biggest fear was NC State. I was afraid they'd make just enough mistakes to keep Vandy in it with a chance to win. Ironically that's exactly how the first quarter played out but hat's off to the offense for overcoming the early adversity.
Bryant Carson: The combination of State’s inefficient red zone offense and Vandy’s #1 rated red zone defense was a concern and that was felt in the first quarter but ultimately State found a way to overcome it and score a bunch of points.
Rob McLamb: Any concern would be centered on the past. NC State struggled in the red zone and often was its own worse enemy. If the Wolfpack could finish drives and not commit costly turnovers or penalties the possibility of a blowout was always real.
Who was the player of the game offensively for NC State?
James Henderson: Jaylen Samuels was getting it done out of the slot. Three touchdowns... he looked very explosive. That's an obvious choice.
Steve Williams: Ryan Finley great game. Jaylen Samuels great game. However, I'm giving it to the offensive line. I thought they were phenomenal as a group.
Bryant Carson: I’d be floored if Jaylen Samuels weren’t the unanimous choice here. Samuels is such a weapon for State and he really finished his junior campaign off right against Vandy.
Rob McLamb: Jaylen Samuels: The guy set Independence Bowl records and it is not a bowl game that has been around for only a few seasons.
What concerned you the most about Vanderbilt's offense coming into the game?
James Henderson: To be honest, nothing much really. I thought State matched up very well because Vanderbilt likes to pound you with the run and is very limited through the air. Because of State's rush defense, I didn't expect Vanderbilt to have a lot of success.
Steve Williams: My biggest fear was they'd establish the run and then catch the Pack cheating on play action and go over the top for big plays.
Bryant Carson: Not a lot. I felt like Vandy was a team that wanted to run and that just didn’t work well for most of State’s opponents for most of the season. Probably the biggest concern was how much better the Vandy QB finished the season than how he started it. In the back of my mind I wondered if Vandy would come out and find some early success throwing the ball around—obviously that didn’t happen as they more or less struggled through the air most of the afternoon.
Rob McLamb: The Vanderbilt offense seemed limited going into the game. Therefore of the running game of Webb was stopped or controlled, the Commodores were always going to struggle. The SEC school had a solid season but at quarterback and the receiver corps there did not seem to be much of a challenge for the Wolfpack.
What was the biggest key to the Wolfpack's success defensively?
James Henderson: Pressure. NC State was all over quarterback Kyle Shurmur, and in obvious passing situations he didn't really have a shot. Five sacks and three interceptions, that's getting it done defensively.
Steve Williams: I thought winning first down was the biggest thing and that meant stuffing the run. Once Vanderbilt fell behind the chains they just didn't have the talent at quarterback or receiver to overcome it. The one constant all year has been State's defensive front and they were stellar.
Bryant Carson: The only concern going in to the game for me was whether or not the defense would be a little rusty after 4 weeks off. They weren’t so it was just business as usual for this group.
Rob McLamb: It looked like NC State channeled its inner George Patton. The famous general defeated Erwin Rommel in the North African campaign of World War II and proclaimed "I read your book!"
The Wolfpack read Vanderbilt's playbook thoroughly. Nothing the Commodores did seemed to surprise NC State. The result could have been worse for Vandy, the late-game interception return for a touchdown notwithstanding.
Who was the player of the game defensively for NC State?
James Henderson: Justin Jones flashed all game for me. He finished with four tackles, a sack, a pass breakup, and a quarterback hit that led to the Josh Jones interception.
No one ever talks about him, but he quietly had a terrific junior year.
Steve Williams: It was Airius Moore and man am I glad to pick him. He's a great person and representative for NC State and it was great to see him have so much success against an SEC team. That hurdle of the Commodore running back en route to a sack will be a Wolfpack highlight for decades.
Bryant Carson: I’ve been a big fan of Justin Jones all season. I’ve felt like the ‘dirty work’ that he’s done in the trenches has gone overlooked because of the play of Hill, Chubb, Roseboro, etc but against Vanderbilt I thought Jones absolutely unleashed hell on the OL and came up with some big plays.
Of course Airius Moore had a heck of game as well.
Rob McLamb: The Pack Pride vote in the press box went to Airius Moore. He led the team in tackles, made a perfect read on the safety valve to help create Josh Jones' interception and leaped over blockers to make a sack. Moore did it all.
Overall, how big is this win, to end the season, for NC State?
James Henderson: It's really big because you get another winning season, you win a bowl, and you knock off a solid SEC opponent. Vanderbilt had wins this year against Georgia, Ole Miss, and Tennessee, and NC State gave them one of their worst losses of the year.
Now you have some momentum heading into spring practice with another SEC opponent, South Carolina, up next in 2017.
Steve Williams: I really felt it was a must win for NC State. The win over UNC helped lessen the sting of the regular season but I think most people know what the fan's reaction would've been and the implications headed forward had State lost. This gives State a ton of momentum headed into 2017 both on the field and in recruiting- particularly with the class of 2018.
Bryant Carson: Going into the bowl I really didn’t think very much was on the line for State win or lose. However, I do feel like the way that State won was important. Again to dominate a SEC team for 4-quarters on both sides of the ball was, no doubt, good for this team. After the way the middle part of this season had gone it would have been easy to let some doubt creep in but this crew held it together and played very well down the stretch to finish the season in a positive way that should give them a needed pep-in-the-step headed into winter conditioning and spring practice.
Rob McLamb: Time will tell. It will stave off some pressure for Dave Doeren and the team. It will also end a lengthy skid against SEC foes and eliminate those questions being asked in the 2017 opener versus South Carolina. Doeren now has three straight winning seasons and, of course, three straight bowl berths. The program is historically where it has always been, so the next step is to try move the Pack to a higher level.
The bowl win gives NC State a higher base to start from but ultimately there is still plenty of work to do.null