It was a wild game from the start, full of trick plays and big plays, turnovers and penalties, and lots and lots of scoring. By the end of the night, the two teams had put a total of 76 points on the board. Unfortunately for the 'Pack, 45 of them were Miami's.
After last week's dominating perfomance against Maryland, the NC State defense was again ranked number one in the nation. That ranking will probably change next week. Though it forced two turnovers, NC State surrendered a season-high 416 yards of total offense in its 45-31 loss to the Canes.
Miami quarterback Brock Berlin and his cast of Hurricane receivers had their way with the NC State secondary, and the Pack's vaunted defensive line was unable to put pressure on Berlin.
We tried to put pressure on Brock [Berlin] but his offensive line did a great job of keeping us off him," defensive end Manny Lawson said. "When we blitzed, they made us pay too."
In addition to totaling 265 passing yards and completing 15 of 30 passes on the night, Berlin threw five touchdowns, one fewer than the most passing touchdowns ever given up by an NC State team.
"It feels good," said Berlin of his performance. "That was a great defense we played tonight"
But if the Pack defense was unable to contain the potent Hurricane offense, the NC State offense had little trouble moving the ball against the 11th-ranked Miami defense. The Wolfpack compiled 440 yards of total offense, more yardage than it totaled in its 42-0 win against Division I-AA Richmond. T.A. McLendon led the way with 164 yards of total offense and one touchdown.
Quarterback Jay Davis made several big plays, completing 20 of 38 passes for 260 yards, throwing 8 passes for 15 yards or longer, and totaling a career-best four touchdowns on the night. But State's offense didn't do the defense any favors, losing four turnovers in the first half while the special teams unit struggled to slow star kick returner Devin Hester, giving Miami excellent starting field position throughout the game. Davis threw an interception and lost a fumble, and McLendon lost a fumble as well.
"We gotta hold on to the ball, it's that simple," said NC State coach Chuck Amato.
It was a wild game from the start, with both teams scoring in the first two minutes of the game. Hurricane Devin Hester deflated the Wolfpack crowd at the onset by returning the opening kickoff 106 yards for a touchdown and setting Miami record in the process. After NC State was forced to punt on its first possession, things suddenly see-sawed the Pack's way.
Miami quarterback Brock Berlin would fumble his second snap, giving up the ball to Pack lineman John McCargo at the Miami 19-yard line. Three plays later, junior Richard Washington was sprinting to the end zone for a 17-yard touchdown reception, knotting the score at 7-7.
With momentum on its side, NC State surprised the Hurricanes with an onside kick. Kicker John Deraney dribbled the ball ten yards, then fought off the Miami front line to recover the kick at the 50-yard line.
The trickery would continue, as after an apparent three-and-out NC State managed to force the Canes into a penalty to get the first down. Facing 4th-and-1 from the 42-yard line, NC State lined up with three receivers on each side, and a seventh between the punter and center. Miami tried to change its lineup to adjust, but State kicked the ball, and Miami was whistled for too many men on the field, yielding a first down with the penalty. That play would lead to a 40-yard Deraney field goal to give State a 10-7 lead.
Then the momentum would swing back to the Canes.
Getting its first opportunity to shine on offense, Miami marched up the field with ease, connecting on three passes of 15 yards or greater. Berlin hit Roscoe Parrish for 3-yard score on the end of a 71-yard drive to give the Canes the lead back, 14-10.
NC State would commit two successive turnovers on its next possessions: an acrobatic interception by nickel back Anthony Reddick of a 30-yard Jay Davis bomb into double coverage, and an untimely T.A. McLendon fumble on the end of a 29-yard carry at the Miami 5-yard line. Canes safety Brandon Merriweather saved a touchdown when he pulled McLendon down, but went one further by knocking the ball loose. The ball rolled out of bounds in the end zone, giving the Canes the ball at their 20-yard line. The fumble negated great field position won by a blocked punt that had given State the ball at the Miami 47.
Fortunately for State, neither turnover resulted in a score. That's when the the pendulum would swing back toward the Wolfpack.
After giving up a 37-yard pass down the sideline to Roscoe Parrish, NC State would force another turnover, the fourth combined turnover of the first quarter. Free safety Marcus Hudson tipped a seven-yard pass attempt high into the air, and free safety Troy Graham outfought the Miami receiver and fell to the ground with the ball.
Then the Pack showed it had some players who could stretch the field as well. After a 47-yard completion to Washington, McLendon burst through a big hole for a 25-yard gain. Then, with a Canes defender draped around him, Jay Davis unloaded a 19-yard completion to Tramain Hall, forgotten by the Canes defense and standing alone in the bottom corner of the end zone.
But the Pack's 17-14 lead would not last. The Canes showed that they also had some tricks up their sleeve, fooling the Pack with a punt fake on fourt down from the NC State forty yard line. Quadrine Hill took the direct snap 28 yards, giving the Hurricanes first down at the 12-yard line. Soon another touchdown was on the board, a Berlin pass to receiver Sinorice Moss, who outfought two State defenders from the three-yard line to get into the end zone.
NC State would continue to reel, and gave up its third turnover of the game on the ensuing kickoff. Former Hurricane recruit Bobby Washington lost the ball at the Miami 27-yard line, a play that was certainly not the kind he wanted to make against a team that he almost played for. The cost was instant, as Berlin found Roscoe Parrish streaking five yards past Lamont Reid for a 27-yard touchdown.
NC State's woes then started to build up. Davis fumbled the ball with 22 seconds left in the half when he was pulled down by Kareem Brown as he scrambled and tried to make a play. A touchdown was saved when Lamart Barrett flew 20 yards up the field to tackle Brown at the 18-yard line. State then dodged a bullet when Peattie missed the 36-yard field goal to close the half, but the Pack's luck was running out.
In the third quarter, the NC State defense was clearly tired, and unable to force Miami to punt, giving up another touchdown drive and a field goal drive. The Canes passing game was firing on all cylinders, as Berlin threw for 163 yards in the quarter to help his team pull away from the Wolfpack.
After another Berlin touchdown toss to start the 4th quarter, the Pack was staring at a 45-17 deficit. But NC State would not give up. Lamont Reid ran a kickoff 70 yards, the longest return for the Pack this year, and on the next play Jay Davis found Richard Washington again for a 30-yard touchdown. Washington, a former star at Fort Myers high school in Florida, broke out for a career best 6 receptions, 112 yards and 2 touchdowns.
But then the Pack's bad luck returned. Troy Graham forced a fumble from Devin Hester on a punt return at the 5-yard line that NC State recovered in the end zone for an apparent touchdown. But officials ruled Graham yanked Hester's facemask and threw a penalty instead. Replays showed that Graham actually grabbed his shoulder pad, and that's the kind of night it turned out to be for the Wolfpack.
On the night, State forced enough turnovers and controlled the Canes' punting enough to start its field position in Miami territory six times but on three drives they failed to score from inside Miami's 35-yard line.
The Wolfpack played well enough to win, minus the turnovers and penalties, but those are a part of football. The effort wasn't enough to beat the Hurricanes and like many Miami opponents who found themselves making costly mistakes this season, NC State was left asking "What if?"