NC State-Miami: The Good and Bad

N.C. State's 45-31 loss to Miami drops their record to 4-3 overall and 3-2 in the ACC. It sets the stage for a huge game this weekend against the Clemson Tigers. <P> Here is a look at the good and bad in the Wolfpack's tough loss to Miami.


Offensive Fireworks: Going into the Miami game, most analysts didn't give NC State's offense a chance against the Hurricanes. Well, it's time people start realizing that this is a very good offense. The Wolfpack racked up 440 yards of total offense against Miami and put 31 points on the scoreboard. The offense was balanced, explosive, and managed superbly by offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone. If NC State can match this effort against Clemson, they should leave Death Valley with their fourth conference win.

T.A's the Best: T.A. McLendon would probably want that fumble late in the first quarter back because it was a huge play, but outside of that he was amazing against the Hurricanes. McLendon finished with 145 yards on 22 carries for a hefty 6.6 yards per carry average. He added another 19 yards through the air and one touchdown. He bounced off, ran through, and ran around Miami defenders all night long. McLendon was probably the most consistent player on the football field and is always the focal point of opposing defenses. When he stays healthy and hangs on to the football, there's probably not a better back in the conference... maybe the country.

Davis Starting to Roll: Junior quarterback Jay Davis had probably his best performance of the year against Miami. Heading into the game it seemed a lot of people thought Miami's defense would make a statement against the Wolfpack after being ripped apart by Louisville a week earlier. However, Davis and the Wolfpack offense were prepared for what Miami showed them and performed great. He completed 20 of 38 passes for four touchdowns and just one interception. Davis is gaining confidence and starting to find his stride. Nothing proves this more than the increasing confidence being shown in him by Mazzone, who is now opening up the playbook and allowing Davis to take chances and make plays. If they continue to do this, NC State has a chance to win the remainder of their games.

Washington's Emerging: It seems like every week you can say this about Richard Washington, but he played his best game in a Wolfpack uniform against Miami. Washington's speed gave Miami's secondary problems, as they struggled to stay with him on crossing routes and in motion. He finished with six receptions for 111 yards and two touchdowns, all career-highs. Washington is becoming the top target for Jay Davis, and look for him to have another big game against Clemson, a team he played well against last season.

Troy Graham intercepts a Brock Berlin pass

Finally Some Forced Turnovers: It took three games, but NC State's defense finally forced some turnovers. Miami quarterback Brock Berlin tossed one interception and also fumbled on the opening drive of the game, setting up NC State's first score. The Wolfpack had a few other chances to recover fumbles or pick off Berlin but failed to do so. Next week they face Clemson and quarterback Charlie Whitehurst, a player that's been plagued by turnovers this season. If they can get three or four turnovers against Clemson, NC State should be in great shape.

Touchdowns Not Field Goals: Wolfpack fans have been complaining the past few weeks about NC State's inability to get touchdowns in the redzone, instead settling for field goal attempts. Against Miami, the Wolfpack converted four of five chances in the redzone for touchdowns, with the lone miss coming on T.A. McLendon's fumble inside the 10-yard line. NC State's Jay Davis tossed four scoring passes in the redzone, and that was the difference from previous games... his ability to convert scoring passes when given the opportunity.

'Ollie Pop Puts in Work: He came up huge against Ohio State, and he was dominant against Virginia Tech. Junior middle linebacker Oliver Hoyte was all over the field on Saturday night, registering fifteen tackles and five tackles for loss. He plugged the middle and was a big reason for NC State's success against Miami's rushing game. Hoyte's emergence has allowed NC State to move playmaker Stephen Tulloch to the outside, and both players are doing great this season.

'Cane Ground Game Grounded: With running backs like Frank Gore and Tyrone Moss, the Hurricanes wanted to establish a ground game early but they were unable to do so. Miami finished with just 134 yards on 29 rushes, but that's including the 27-yard fake punt run by Quad Hill. Offensively, they rushed for just 107 yards on 28 carries, not the type of production Miami's used to, and NC State's defense had a lot to do with that.


Berlin Strikes: Miami quarterback Brock Berlin made plays when he needed to against NC State on Saturday night. The Hurricanes entered with a terrific gameplan, choosing to max protect for Berlin and only send two or three receivers out on routes. This gave Berlin more time facing NC State's tough pass rush as Miami gambled that their receivers would be able to get open against the Wolfpack's secondary. They were right, and the end result was a five touchdown performance by Berlin that tied the Miami single-game record. He finished the day completing just 15 of 30 passes, but his ability to make the big play in the clutch was critical for the Hurricanes. Berlin won the game for Miami with his strong play.

Turnovers Get Tiring: Another game passes and once again NC State loses the turnover battle. The Wolfpack had four turnovers on Saturday, with all four coming in the first half. Only one of the turnovers resulted in points for Miami, as Bobby Washington's fumble led to a Berlin 27-yard touchdown pass to Roscoe Parrish. However, what the turnovers did do was take potential points away from NC State, particularly the fumble by T.A. McLendon, but that will be discussed later. There's going to be a game where NC State actually wins the turnover battle... at least I think so.

Devin Hester returns opening kick for a touchdown

Not so Special Teams: Note to future Miami opponents: avoid #4 Devin Hester, he's pretty good. Hester took the opening kickoff 106 yards for a touchdown, and basically took the air out of Carter-Finley stadium. He's a dynamic player and can impact the game in so many ways.

Perhaps an even bigger special teams play came in the first half with NC State leading 17-14. The Wolfpack held Miami and appeared to force a punt on fourth-and-five from their own 40-yard line. Lining up in punt block formation, NC State was burned by a terrific fake punt that led to a Miami first down and an eventual touchdown. That play was HUGE for Miami.

Another special teams error occured following that touchdown when freshman Bobby Washington fumbled the kickoff, and it was recovered by Miami. The Hurricanes converted just one play later for another touchdown and in the blink of an eye a 17-14 NC State lead evaporated into a 28-17 Hurricane advantage.

Special teams will be crucial next week and NC State has to win the kicking game against Clemson.

Those Three Drives Hurt: Three drives in the first half really burned NC State, as they entered Miami's 35-yard line all three times but came away with zero points. On the first drive with NC State trailing 14-10, Jay Davis was intercepted on third down from Miami's 34-yard line. Replays showed that it was a bad call, and if it had been ruled an incompletion the Wolfpack could have attempted a 51-yard field goal or chose to go for it on 4th and 5.

On their very next possession following a blocked punt, T.A. McLendon broke loose into the Hurricane secondary from the 33-yard line, rushing all the way to the three when Miami safety Brandon Merriweather stripped the ball away from McLendon. The ball rolled through the endzone, resulting in a touchback and Miami's ball at the 20-yard line. That play was critical, as McLendon was yards away from giving the Wolfpack a 17-14 lead and plenty of momentum.

Later in the half and trailing 28-17, NC State drove 49 yards to the Miami 31-yard line where they faced a huge fourth down and two. The Wolfpack chose to run a quarterback draw with Marcus Stone and came up a yard shy of the first down. They could have attempted a 48-yard field goal with John Deraney, but gambled and went for the first down.

Those three drives, deep into Miami territory, yielded zero points for NC State and played a major role in the loss.

Injuries, Injuries, and More Injuries: Another game, and another offensive lineman goes down. After losing Jed Paulsen against North Carolina and playing without Chris Colmer against Maryland, the Wolfpack may now have to play without right tackle Derek Morris for an extended period of time. Morris left the game in the third quarter with a high ankle sprain, and it's likely he'll miss an extended period of time. Center Leroy Harris also left the game with an injury, but he did return and should play against Clemson. Young players like Jon Holt, James Newby, and Luke Lathan need to be ready to go in the upcoming weeks when they are called on to perform.

Third-Downs Won It: What could be the biggest factor in Saturday's game was third-down conversions. Miami converted on 8 of 17 chances while the Wolfpack managed to pick up first downs on just 2 of 14 chances. It seemed like on every third down Berlin would make a play to keep Miami's drive alive. NC State has to do a better job on third down when they travel down to Death Valley.

More Yellow Spotted: Penalties again haunted NC State, with the Wolfpack being flagged 10 times for 95 yards on Saturday. It's been a problem all year and still is for NC State. All these penalties do is keep drives going, take away big plays, and increase the hidden yardage that NC State coach Chuck Amato stresses. Those things aren't important... are they?

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