Wolfpack Defense: Once again, NC State's defense played an outstanding game and dominated the competition. Limiting the Virginia Tech offense, which had been averaging 410 yards of total offense, to just 192 total yards, the Wolfpack made a statement that their defense is for real. Registering an astounding 10 sacks, defensive coordinator Reggie Herring had his personnel flying in from all directions and confused Hokie quarterback Bryan Randall throughout the contest. The domination didn't just stop with sacks though. The ‘Pack finished with 18 tackles for loss and limited Virginia Tech to just 36 yards rushing on 43 carries. With a defense this relentless, physical, and aggressive, expect NC State to be in every game this season, regardless of what type of offense they can muster.
Manny Lawson: ‘The Freak' was at it again on Saturday. After registering ten tackles and two sacks in his first two games, Lawson exploded for three sacks, five tackles, and a pass break up against the Hokies. After beginning his career at outside linebacker, he's found a home at defensive end. His athleticism and relentless aggression fits exactly what Coach Herring wants out of his defensive ends. Through three games, Lawson now has fourteen tackles, eight tackles for loss, five sacks, a pass break up, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery. Simply put, he's too fast for any left tackle to contain and is well on his way to challenging for All-ACC honors. He'll probably get a vote from Coach Beamer at Virginia Tech.
Freddie Aughtry-Lindsay: Aughtry-Lindsay could have held his head down the past two weeks after sophomore Stephen Tulloch won the starting job at weakside linebacker, but he never did and has been in on several big plays already this season. Against Virginia Tech, Aughtry-Lindsay registered four tackles and 2.5 sacks in limited action. He also recorded the lone fumble recovery against Ohio State last week that led to NC State's second touchdown. Aughtry-Lindsay's a playmaker and will be key for the Wolfpack this season.
Pat Thomas: Thomas, who entered the year as NC State's top returning linebacker, totaled eight tackles, three tackles for loss, a forced fumble, and a sack against the Hokies. His lone glaring mistake of the day was a missed assignment on Virginia Tech's only scoring touchdown, as he bit on a play-action fake allowing fullback John Kinzer to score. However, Thomas did a great job of leading the young Wolfpack defense and recorded several big plays throughout the day.
T.A. McLendon: When he's on the field, McLendon's one of the best in the country. He finished with 93 yards on 24 carries and a catch for another 23 yards. McLendon broke two long runs and was simply a workhorse who was THE offense on Saturday. His touchdown run brought the Wolfpack back equal late in the first half, and he did a terrific job of carrying the load in the fourth quarter when everyone in the stadium knew he would be getting the football. McLendon has to stay healthy and play every game for NC State this season; he's a vital component to the offense and the team's future success.
John Deraney: Well, NC State appears to have found a legitimate kicker/punter. Deraney, a sophomore who handles all kicking duties, booted a 53-yard field goal in the first quarter that set the tone for the Wolfpack. Also, he was outstanding punting the football. Deraney finished with a 43.4 yard average on eight punts, including his final kick, a 47-yarder that pinned Virginia Tech at the five-yard line on their final possession. He did a great job fielding snaps and was quick with his kicks in a hostile environment. Clearly, Deraney was a critical factor to NC State's victory in Blacksburg, Virginia.
Offensive Line Play: With two starters out the majority of the game, NC State's offensive line stepped up and was ‘solid' against the Hokies. Reserves James Newby and Jon Holt performed admirably for injured starters Chris Colmer and Derek Morris. They didn't allow a sack on the day and opened several huge holes for McLendon to rush through early in the game. NC State rushed for 145 yards, without much threat of a passing game and the Hokies allowing just 106 yards per game on the ground prior to the contest.
William Lee: A general rule of thumb for long snappers is they are doing their job when announcers don't have to mention their name. In a hostile environment and his first start on the road, Lee was outstanding for the Wolfpack. Long snapper was a concern for fans going into the season, but after the first three games, Lee has put those concerns to rest.
Pass Offense: Everyone knows it; eventually NC State's pass offense MUST come around. Quarterbacks Jay Davis and Marcus Stone completed just 6 of 17 passes for 78 yards against the Hokies and several throws were not even close to being on target. Stone did a solid job of managing the game late, but Davis may be the better option passing the football. Either way, look for NC State to continue rotating quarterbacks until one can emerge as a viable threat passing because they have to start utilizing the talents around them in the passing game.
Punt Coverage: Early on, Virginia Tech punt returner Eddie Royal had to be licking his chops. He had two long punt returns against the Wolfpack, including a 58-yard return that set up Virginia Tech's first field goal of the game. Late in the game the punt coverage unit settled down, but with dangerous returner Willie Idlette up next (who returned a punt for a score against NC State last season) from Wake Forest, they'll have to be ready to go next weekend.
Forced Turnovers: Granted, NC State's defense played great, and they have in all three games, but they need to start forcing turnovers on that side of the ball. Against Ohio State and Virginia Tech they forced just one turnover on defense, despite creating so much havoc against the Buckeyes and Hokies. If the offense is going to continue to struggle, the defense must start forcing turnovers and giving the offense a short field to work with.
Penalties: Penalties were again an issue for NC State on Saturday. The biggest differences though from the Ohio State game was none of the penalties allowed Virginia Tech to keep possession of the football and the yardage was much less. The ‘Pack was called for 10 penalties for 65 yards, down from last weekend's 14 penalties for 121 yards. Even though the yardage and numbers were less, they have to keep decreasing the overall penalties. However, Coach Amato definitely got the ‘aggression' he's been calling for.
Turnovers: Early in the game, it looked like a repeat of the Ohio State battle. After a strong opening drive capped by a John Deraney 53-yard field goal, the Wolfpack had two turnovers on their next two possessions. Jay Davis's interception was clearly a forced pass into nearly triple coverage. NC State was already in field goal range again, with Davis throwing the interception from Virginia Tech's 34-yard line. He has to limit those mistakes. Marcus Stone's fumble on the next possession was even more critical, as it occurred deep in Wolfpack territory and yielded Virginia Tech's only touchdown of the game. The quarterbacks did bounce back to value the football the rest of the game, and they will need to do the same against a tough Wake Forest squad.