NC State-Akron: The Good and Bad

Pack Pride talks about the positives and negatives in NC State's 20-17 Saturday's loss to Akron.

GOOD

Blackman's Back: Darrell Blackman's move to wide receiver is complete, and he is flourishing at his new position.

Blackman recorded three catches for 46 yards and a 20-yard touchdown and added another 17 yards on two runs. He has been sure-handed and elusive after the catch, and you can see his comfort level at the position. Blackman gives NC State another playmaker on the field, and the Wolfpack would be smart to keep him involved on offense.

Second Half Stone: We'll get into NC State's first-half offensive problems later, but Marcus Stone played a heckuva game after intermission. After completing just 5-of-16 passes for 49 yards and an interception in the first half, Stone came back in the final thirty minutes to complete 11-of-15 passes for 160 yards and two touchdowns. Frankly, he looked like a different guy, and that is certainly a positive NC State should take into next week's contest.

Marcus Stone

Stone was particularly effective in the fourth quarter, when he directed both touchdown drives by connecting on 9-of-10 passes and showing poise in the pocket and the ability to check down to his safety valves. He used his tight ends and running backs extremely well, and exuded confidence while playing in a high-pressure situation.

Stone showed he could get the job done on Saturday. He made a few plays that looked similar to what NC State fans are used to seeing from their quarterback, and they should be hopeful that the light "clicked" for Stone. If he can play the rest of the season like he did the final two quarters against Akron, NC State WILL have a successful season.

Pocket Protection: After struggling at times with Applachian State's defensive front, the Wolfpack's offensive line did an outstanding job of giving Stone time to throw.

The Wolfpack yielded just one sack for a loss of two yards, and the protection was the biggest key to NC State's late-game success. Because the five linemen were effective at picking up Akron's blitzing schemes, it allowed Hill to work the middle of the field instead of staying back as an extra blocker, and it also made Baker and Eugene options in the passing game.

Southern Miss. will run a similiar scheme, so the offensive line has to be just as strong in protection. Thus far, the unit has performed admirably in this area.

Mr. Hill Gets His Touches: It's official... Anthony Hill is still a member of the NC State Wolfpack.

Anthony Hill
After having zero passes thrown his way against Appalachian State, Hill was Stone's top target on Saturday, and the redshirt junior responded with a big game.

Hill struggled a bit in the first half, and had a crucial fumble on a questionable ruling, but he was huge down the stretch. Hill finished with seven catches for 82 yards, and at 6-foot-7 he is a large target for Stone across the middle.

When a quarterback is in trouble, he will often look to his tight end, and Stone did that often against the Zips. Facing a defense that mirrors Akron this Saturday, Hill could have ample opportunites to make some more big plays.

Deraney Still Strong: As expected, senior kicker John Deraney was solid again for NC State.

Deraney connected on his first field goal of the season, a 42-yarder that put NC State on the board in the third quarter, and booted two of his four kickoffs for touchbacks. He was also efficient in the punting game, as Deraney averaged just 37.3 yards per punt but had three downed inside the 20-yard line with no touchbacks.

NC State hits the road for the first time this season, and the Wolfpack will be looking for Deraney to continue his strong play this weekend.

Getting After Getsy: Akron quarterback Luke Getsy came up big for the Zips, but he won't forget the pressure he felt in Raleigh as NC State pressured and harrassed him all game long.

The Wolfpack notched four sacks and forced five holding calls on Akron's offensive line... and had another five holding penalties DECLINED. Now that is getting after the quarterback, and the Wolfpack did it in a variety of ways. Linebackers Pat Lowery and James Martin picked up sacks, defensive end Martrel Brown recorded his second sack of the season and tackle Tank Tyler registered his first. Ends Littleton Wright and Willie Young added three and two quarterback pressures respectively.

Against an offensive line that returned five starters from last season, NC State was in Getsy's face all game long. The only negative could be that at times they got to Getsy too easily, as late in the game the pressure left holes for the quarterback to scramble for extra yardage. However, if NC State can record four sacks and yield a 38.7% completion rate every game, Chuck Amato likely won't be too upset.

Blocking Game: NC State's special teams had two big plays on Saturday, as the Wolfpack blocked two Akron punts during the game.

Safety DaJuan Morgan blocked the first kick and his was followed by a fourth-quarter block by fellow safety J.C. Neal. Oddly, neither kick was "smothered" or blocked backwards and didn't result in points for the Wolfpack, but NC State has shown that the special teams effort is there to make a game-changing play.

Patrick Lowery
Lowery Leads: NC State's leader on defense is Patrick Lowery, and the middle linebacker had another big game.

Lowery tallied a game-high 10 tackles, two tackles for loss, and a quarterback sack. He did a good job of plugging holes in the middle of Akron's offensive line and often forced Kennedy to the outside where he had most of his success.

Because the Wolfpack's other linebackers are inexperienced, Lowery must continue his high-level of play, and thus far he has shown no signs of letting up.

BAD

Third-Down Troubles... Again: 3-of-15... Ouch. NC State's third-down conversion rate has been horrendous and that needs to be corrected. Nothing else needs to be said or explained here.

Big Plays, Bad Days: It was a weird game for NC State's defense.

Luke Getsy

At times it appeared dominant, as the defensive linemen were unblockable and the secondary made its fair share of solid pass breakups. However, Akron killed the Wolfpack with the big play. The Zips finished the day with 15 double-digit offensive gains, a number NC State coaches have to be disappointed in.

The Wolfpack can't just play well in spurts, it has to be strong at all times.

Penalty, Turnover Problems: A week after registering just three penalties in the season opener, NC State tallied nine penalties for 82 yards against the Zips, the biggest being an excessive celebration penalty that led to Akron having great field position on its final drive. What Amato praised as a positive following the App. State game, he was equally disappointed with against Akron.

He's been upset two weeks in a row with the turnover issues. The Wolfpack lost two fumbles and threw an interception, and failed to generate any turnovers which didn't help matters. After two games, the Wolfpack is No. 114 in the country in turnover margin, and that is not going to cut it.

NC State is simply not a good enough team at this point to win ballgames with excessive amounts of turnovers and penalties.

Injury Issues: It also didn't help the Wolfpack that they had to face Getsy and Akron's pass-happy offense without top cornerback A.J. Davis.

Andre Brown

Davis missed the game with a hamstring strain, and he would have been a key factor for the Wolfpack late in the game as he is regarded as an excellent cover corner.

Davis wasn't the only injury that hurt NC State's chances to come away with the win, as sophomore tailback Andre Brown recorded just three carries after playing only two series before being shelved with a thigh bruise. Brown should be able to play in Saturday's game against Southern Miss, but there has been no word on the status of Davis.

Like with the turnover and penalty problems, NC State is not a good enough team to win ballgames with players the caliber of Andre Brown and A.J. Davis sidelined with minor injuries.

Surprise 100-Yard Rusher: Dennis Kennedy was probably the least likely tailback NC State fans would have expected to rush for 100 yards on Saturday, but the Akron tailback had a huge day as he finished with 117 yards and 3 touchdowns on 30 carries.

Sure, his 3.9 yards per carry average doesn't stand out, but Kennedy gave Akron a consistent threat in the running game and was huge in goalline situations. Of course, he's not your typical MAC running back, as Kennedy was recruited by a host of high-major programs following a stellar prep career. He ended up inking with Ohio State and playing for the Buckeyes before transferring to Akron.

Simple Exchange: Maybe it is time to give Meares Green or Kalani Heppe a look at center because for the second-straight week Leroy Harris and Marcus Stone have had problems with exchanges.

Harris plays with his hand heavily bandaged, and maybe that influences his snapping, but on one play he snapped the ball well over the head of Stone, resulting in a 2nd-and-32, and later in the game a bad exchange resulted in a turnover.

It has been said many times that Harris has more upside at guard, as the Wolfpack coaches have stated that he is an outstanding guard, so why not let Green or Heppe handle the snapping duties until Luke Lathan is healthy? Amato mentioned last week that both have been working some at center in practice and if that allows Harris to move to a position where he could be even better at, maybe it wouldn't be such a bad thing. The Wolfpack can't afford to have problems with quarterback-center exchanges.

First-Half Offensive Problems: Sure, Marcus Stone didn't have a great first half, but maybe he didn't need to be asked to do so much. After throwing his first deep ball of the game, an incompletion, the pass drew a huge roar from the crowd. That might have been the worst thing that could have happened as NC State attempted 17 first half passes with just 12 rushing attempts, a statistic much different than when the Wolfpack dominated App. State on the ground in week one.

Clearly Stone wasn't effective, connecting on just 5-of-16 first-half passes, but maybe he shouldn't have been asked to air it out so much. Toney Baker, Andre Brown, and Jamelle Eugene are pretty good, and with the defense playing strong and playing in front of a home crowd, NC State might have had more success offensively in the first half behind the running game.

Where's The Ground Game? Which leads to this question right here. Where was the running game?

Toney Baker

Did the early efforts to open up the passing game negatively affect the Wolfpack's ground game? Brown was sidelined, but Toney Baker only rushed for 58 yards on 17 carries, as the tailback trio combined for just 21 carries for 74 yards. 21 carries for those three players... that number seems much too low for NC State to play the type of football needed to win.

Akron did a great job of plugging running lanes, as the stack defense was effective. The offensive line didn't get much push all game long, and must do a better job of opening holes for the talented tailbacks.

Andre Brown should be ready to go against Southern Miss, and everybody remembers how well he played against the Golden Eagles last season. Will he get the touches this year and can the offensive line dominate USM's defensive front like they did in 2005? That could decide the outcome of the game.

To Review Or Not Review: Something needs to be done about the use of instant replay. What determines if a play is "formally" reviewed without a challenge? The rules state every play is reviewed, but what is the difference that allows certain stoppages in play for a play to be reviewed without a coaching challenge?

For instance, the referees stopped play to review Darrell Blackman's touchdown catch, and the call on the field stood. The referees also stopped play to review Akron's first-half interception, and this ruling stood as well. Both of these reviews were done without a coaching challenge.

What makes those plays different than the potential safety NC State's defense could have forced in the third quarter or the controversial spot on Marcus Stone's 4th-and-1 run that could have been reviewed? What about Anthony Hill's fumble in the first half that led to Akron's first touchdown, did he even catch the pass? How about the game's final play, where Akron's tailback could have been down, but the officials hurried off the field and were never buzzed on the play? These plays were never "reviewed" on the field and were as important as the interception and Blackman's touchdown catch.

These rules and interpretations need to get straightened out because it can be the deciding factor in a ballgame. With the technology and rules in place to take human error out of calling a football game, why would the game's final, and most important, play be "formally" reviewed when you choose to do so for other plays throughout the game. It simply makes no sense.


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