O-Line Gives Time: The highlight of the game for NC State may have been the play of the Wolfpack's offensive line.
A unit that was considered a question mark entering the season, NC State did a good job of opening running holes and providing pass protection against a Wake defense that has been stout all year.
The Wolfpack rushed for 134 yards on 28 carries, an average of 4.8 yards per carry. That also includes a -21 yard run credited to Andre Brown late in the first half. State also passed for 200 yards and didn't allow a sack to Wake Forest, a team that entered the game with the most sacks in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
State hits the road next week to face off against Maryland, and the Wolfpack will need another strong game from the offensive line, as Evans will be making his first start on the road.
Converting: After struggling all season converting on third down, the Wolfpack did a great job. The league leader, Clemson, has been converting 48% of the time on third down, and State converted 6-of-12 chances. That type of efficiency led to increased offensive production and would have been even higher but two dropped passes and a penalty contributed to three attempts not being converted.
Second-Half Clamps: Wake came out and scored on the game's opening possession, and it put the Wolfpack behind right away.
Trailing 22-14 at halftime, NC State's defense had to step up and they did just that. Wake tallied 266 yards of total offense for the game but only 61 yards was earned in the second half.
61 yards and three points on 21 plays. That's solid defense from State, but now they must start playing with that type of aggression over the entire game.
Penalties Limited: Fans and critics are quick to point to penalties and turnovers showing a lack of discipline, and a lot of times they are right. However, over the last three games NC State has done a great job of limiting penalties. Saturday the Pack tallied just five penalties for 35 yards. There was one turnover, but five penalties and one turnover isn't bad in for a complete ball game.
B&B Boys Remain Efficient: Andre Brown and Toney Baker continue to do a great job of churning up yards when they get the chance to make plays.
The duo combined for 108 yards on 21 carries, and that includes the safety that was credited to Brown, a 21-yard loss. Most coaches will take five yards a pop from their running backs, and NC State is getting it consistently from the sophomores.
21 carries seems a bit low, but the game dictated more passing, and NC State was successful through the air.
Wake has been allowing just 3.0 yards per carry, and the Wolfpack hit 4.8 a run.
Stuffing The Ground Game: Wake's offense is centered around being able to run the football, and State did a solid job of preventing the Deacons from having success between the tackles.
Wake's best running play was the reverse, and they had success with it, mainly a huge 37-yard run by Kenny Moore. The Deacs finished the day with 142 yards on 37 plays (3.8 yards per carry).
New Linebackers Emerge:
LeRue Rumph and Ernest Jones were strong as they replaced James Martin (wrist injury) and Reggie Davis (neck strain). Jones finished with nine tackles to lead the team, and Rumph added eight tackles, two tackles for a loss, and a quarterback pressure.
Rumph and Jones are smaller and more explosive than Davis and Martin, and both do a great job of tackling in open space. In the first few games of the season, NC State didn't receive this type of production from the outside linebackers.
The Wolfpack coaches have to be pleased with the emergence of these two, as they join with Pat Lowery to give State a very good group of linebackers.
Big Plays Go Wake's Way: Going into the game NC State had to limit Wake's big plays and make a few of their own, and they did neither.
Literally seconds later, Andre Brown's fumble resulted in a safety that gave Wake two more points and another possession prior to halftime. On the possession, quarterback Riley Skinner found Nate Morton wide open on a busted play and the 57-yard touchdown gave Wake a 22-14 lead and a huge momentum shift.
Those three plays were the difference in the ballgame. Outside of them, NC State really controlled the game. State played a good game, but Wake played a perfect game. Tip your hat to the Deacs, they have a good football team that plays mistake-free and to its strengths.
Opening Drive Blues: For the fourth straight game, the NC State defense allowed the opponent to score on its opening drive (Wake- touchdown, FSU- field goal, BC- TD, Southern Miss- field goal). The Wolfpack can't continue to force the offense to play from behind, and the defense has to come out and start getting some stops to begin the game.
Where's The Pressure? Wake's quarterback Riley Skinner had all day to throw, and he was highly effective.
NC State recorded just one sack on the day, Ted Larsen's in the first half, and Skinner often had all day for a receiver to get open. A team often max protects with seven blockers, and if a defense sends just four defenders (as NC State did much of the day) even three receivers can find a space to get open when a quarterback has as much time as Skinner was getting.
Look for NC State to mix it up even more next week. Maryland doesn't max protect much as they often sends multiple wideouts and backs out in patterns, but the Wolfpack will probably try and apply even more pressure after watching the Wake Forest game film.
No 12th Man: For as much of an advantage the Carter-Finley crowd was against FSU, it wasn't a factor in Saturday's game. The fair traffic and early time of the game likely had an impact, but the fans appeared to arrive late for the game and back from halftime, and clearly the electricity was missing. Regardless, the game is played on the football field, but it didn't seem like too much of a home field advantage for NC State.
Unforced Errors: Three really stick out, and the first two came on back-to-back plays on State's opening drive.
On third-and-five from Wake's 27-yard line, Evans found Anthony Hill coming across the middle on a route that would have easily picked up the first down, but Hill dropped the pass that hit him squarely in the hands. On the next play, Evans, who is also the Wolfpack's holder, bobbled a good snap on John Deraney's 44-yard field goal attempt. He was able to get the ball back up, but the hold was bad and Deraney shanked the try, resulting in his first miss of the season.
The biggest play of the game came in the final two minutes. On first-and-ten from its own 21-yard line with a 14-13 lead, Andre Brown fumbled the ball while trying to switch it to his left hand, and the play resulted in a safety when left tackle James Newby recovered it in the endzone. The fumble was the first of Brown's career, and it proved costly. The Deacons took a 15-14 lead and seconds later scored on its big pass play to take a 22-14 advantage after scoring 12 points in the final 2 minutes of the second quarter.
NC State couldn't overcome those three plays and each contributed to the narrow 25-23 defeat.
Win The Kicking Game: NC State head coach Chuck Amato always stresses it, but it takes games like the one against Wake Forest for some to realize just how important it is to be sound in the kicking game.
Wake Forest received three field goals of 50+ yards from kicker Sam Swank. He also added a booming 54-yard punt prior to the Wolfpack's final drive that pinned them deep in their own territory. Don't forget, Following Deraney's second-half field goal, the Deacs received a huge kickoff return from Kevin Marion that put them at midfield and just yards away from Swank's range. He would boom one of his long kick's on this drive and provide Wake's only points of the second half.
Conversely, NC State started the game by kicking the opening kickoff out of bounds, giving Wake the ball at the 35-yard line. They mishandled a snap on the first field goal try, resulting in a miss, and generated no pressure up the middle on Swank's long field goal attempts.
Wake won this game by winning the special teams. It's that simple.