Evans Emerging: Facing a nasty Florida State defense, sophomore quarterback Daniel Evans came out and performed even better than he did in his first career start against Boston College, and that has Wolfpack fans pumped up about the rest of the season.
Evans is poised in the pocket, waiting until the last possible second to make the throw, and he is accurate with nearly every pass. Through three games, he has been able to put the ball in places where his gifted receivers can make plays, and that is all you can ask for out of a quarterback.
In two starts and a couple of drives against Southern Miss, Evans has completed 36-of-64 passes for 466 yards and five touchdowns. Sure, he's thrown two picks, but his ability to throw the deep ball and put points on the board has been a big lift for a Wolfpack offense that needs to be able to stretch the defense with the talent it has in the offensive backfield.
More importantly, he is now 2-0 as a starter with both wins coming against ranked teams. Entering the year, BC's Matt Ryan and FSU's Drew Weatherford were generally considered the top two quarterbacks in the ACC. Both have been outplayed by Evans, and his confidence continues to grow. The Wolfpack's offense is clicking on all cylinders now that No. 7 is leading the way.
Geron Who? Where has Geron James been? Last season and this fall Wolfpack coaches have talked about just how talented the redshirt freshman is, but he had received limited reps prior to the FSU game.
He was a stud against the Noles, recording four catches for 91 yards, including a 10-yard scoring strike on a great route that left FSU defender Michael Ray Garvin on the ground.
At 6-foot-5, James is a huge target. What impressed the most was his ability to go up in the air and snatch the ball with his hands, as he was able to catch the ball at its highest point. With his size and that kind of ability, James is going to be a major mismatch for opposing defensive backs.
Most fans may have forgot about James, a player that had a huge senior season at Wilmington (NC) Ashley High School. Don't expect FSU defenders to forget about No. 88 soon, and he is another weapon for Evans.
Brown was dominant. He finished with 113 yards on 18 carries and exploded for much of his yardage in the second half. His ability to burst out of cuts, hit the corner, shake defenders, and stutter-step in space makes him really difficult to contain, especially when you consider he checks in at pver 230 pounds.
Baker also has great vision, but his toughness and strength makes him the ideal back to grind away at defenses between the tackles. Baker recorded 44 yards on 12 carries, but was the fresh guy late in the game and had a few big carries to sustain a couple of drives.
When you combine their play with the production of Evans, it is no surprise that the Wolfpack's offense is starting to really move the football.
Wonderful Wideouts: With top wide receiver Darrell Blackman playing mainly special teams (where he gave a huge lift), NC State needed someone to step up at the position and several guys did just that.
John Dunlap made another great catch in what Chuck Amato has labeled "Dunlap's corner." Senior Lamart Barrett tallied three grabs, true freshman Donald Bowens caught his second touchdown pass of the season, and freshman Jamelle Eugene showed what he could do in the slot, nearly scoring on an explosive 37-yard pass play.
When you add those players to James and Blackman, and mix in a very good tight end in junior Anthony Hill, NC State has plenty of firepower in the passing game.
It is also worth mentioning that Barrett is the only senior in the group, and James, Bowens, Eugene, 6'5 Jarvis Williams, and 6'6 Darrell Davis are all freshmen.
Big-Play DaJuan: Sophomore safety DaJuan Morgan is starting to come on... he's really starting to play extremely well.
Against Southern Mississippi he knocked out a running back with what Amato called possibly the hardest hit he's seen during his tenure at NC State, and Morgan tallied nine tackles and the game-clinching interception Thursday night.
At 6-foot-2 and 195 pounds, Morgan is extremely fast and a ferocious hitter. He loves to play near the line of scrimmage and had a couple of hard hits on FSU tailback Antone Smith. His best tackle may have been an open field hit on tight end Brandon Warren when Morgan was the last line of defense.
Getting Offensive: This might have been Marc Trestman's best game at NC State, as he called a brilliant game against the Seminoles.
Despite having little success early in the game, Trestman stuck with the running game and it really paid off in the second half. He ended up calling 37 rushes and 22 passes, the ratio expected given the Wolfpack's talent at tailback.
He also made it a point to allow Evans to test Florida State deep on the perimeter, and the Wolfpack had a lot of success with the deep ball. This opened up the running game for Baker and Brown.
What was the most impressive playcall of the game? How about midway through the fourth quarter when the Wolfpack opened a drive, leading 24-20 and just under eight minutes left to play, with a bomb down the right sideline to James.
The 24-yard pass put the Wolfpack deep into FSU territory, but was a great playcall because the Seminoles had to be expecting State to pound the ball given they had the lead and the clock on their side. Instead, Trestman came out aggressive and allowed his young quarterback and receiver to make a play, and that type of confidence is what can make a good offense a great one.
No Major Mistakes: NC State had no turnovers. There were no fumbles and no interceptions. The Wolfpack had just seven penalties for 49 yards, less than FSU's 10 penalties for 81 yards.
The limited turnovers was key. When you win the turnover margin and limit penalties, you will have a chance to win a lot of ballgames. That might be the biggest change in NC State over the past two games.
Dominating The Trenches: Andre Brown and Daniel Evans wouldn't have had the success they had if NC State's offensive line didn't dominate the contest.
The offensive line played outstanding, and senior center Leroy Harris led the way. The Wolfpack allowed just one sack and continued to give Evans the time he needed to test FSU deep down the field. The run blocking out of the shotgun formation was a surprise as the Wolfpack generated much of its rushing yardage between the tackles with Harris, sophomore Curtis Crouch, and junior Kalani Heppe opening huge holes.
Offensive line coach Pat Meyer started rotating his linemen in this game, and it was a nice adjustment. He used reserve center Luke Lathan and tackle Meares Green to spell starters on various drives, and this allowed them to be fresh as FSU's defensive line wore down. It also enabled Lathan and Green to receive valuable experience should they be needed later this year.
Pack Doesn't Quit: The game ball should go to the Wolfpack coaching staff. This team has had so many chances to pack it in over the past two games, and they've done the complete opposite, and that is where quality coaching can be noticed.
The entire team could have quit after the Seminoles scored a touchdown on a 99-yard drive to take a 20-10 lead after Baker was stopped short on 4th-and-goal from the one-yard line. They didn't. The offense came right back and put a touchdown on the board, and seemed to play even more inspired than it had been earlier in the game.
Credit has to go to the NC State coaching staff. If a staff is blamed for when teams lose games they shouldn't and come out flat, they must receive praise when they can get their players to battle through adversity and not fold or quit when things don't go their way. Chuck Amato and his staff have complete control of this team and now the schedule sets up nicely for the Wolfpack, who now control their own destiny.
The key will be to make sure the team continues to play with this intensity and effort against teams they are expected to beat.
Carter-Finley Rocking: The atmosphere for this game was incredible, and NC State fed off the emotion from the crowd. Great showing by the Wolfpack fans in attendance.
Conversions: As has been the case all season, the Wolfpack struggled with converting on third down. The Wolfpack converted just 3-of-12 third downs against FSU, and it was often a direct result of being in third-and-long situations. On 27 first-down plays, NC State tallied 19 rushes and 8 passes, leaving second-and-long on 14 plays and third-and-long on seven plays. NC State has to do better on first and second down to avoid being in third-and-long.
FSU Takes Chances: FSU tallied 345 yards of total offense, but three plays resulted in 129 yards of total offense. All three plays resulted in 17 of FSU's 20 points.
On FSU's lone second-half scoring drive, quarterback Drew Weatherford connected with Greg Carr for 23 yards on a pass that kept the drive alive, and a few plays later he would find Brandon Warren open in the endzone for the touchdown. In the first half, Weatherford was nearly sacked by Littleton Wright, but escaped the pressure and found tailback Lorenzo Booker open down the sideline for a 73-yard pass play that led to a Gary Cismesia field goal. The final play was a 33-yard touchdown pass to Chris Davis that put FSU ahead 13-7.
Take away those three big plays and FSU generated 216 total yards of offense on 58 plays, an average of just 3.7 yards per play. It doesn't work that way though and big plays count just as much as sacks and turnovers, and NC State has to do a better job of limiting long gains in the passing (or running) game.