W- Regardless of what else is written or said, nothing is more important than the fact NC State simply won a football game on Saturday night. The Pack ended a miserable nine game losing streak and perhaps gained some confidence in itself with the win over Wofford. While certainly not a thing of beauty, State was looking for anything positive and there was plenty to be happy about against upset-minded Wofford. Remember, this is a team that stood toe to toe with South Carolina last year.
Early momentum- In the first two games of the season, the Pack got off to shaky starts in each but the Pack wasted no time in seizing the momentum Saturday night. State took the opening kickoff and drove 74 yards for a touchdown. The Pack faced just one third down during the drive and on that play, Beck hit Marcus Stone for a critical 11-yard pickup on third and six. After taking the 7-0 lead, the Pack would never trail throughout the contest.
Defense gets it done- Headed into the game, there was no question that Wofford would present a very unique challenge for the NC State defense. The Pack will face that style of offense just once this year and how they would respond was a huge question mark headed into the game. As a whole, the Wolfpack defense held up reasonably well. This was not going to be a game where State dominated the field, yet, after making some adjustments, were able to force Wofford into more third and long situations which forced them to do things on offense they don't want to do. One of the key stats of the game was Wofford's inability to make plays on third down. They finished the game by converting just 3 of 17 third down opportunities. On the season State's defense has been stellar as a whole, allowing teams to convert just 11 of 50 third downs (22%).
Bend but don't break- NC State's defense has done a decent job of forcing opposing teams to take field goals instead of touchdowns. Of nine red zone opportunities this year, NC State's opponents have scored five touchdowns and four field goals. The ability to force field goals instead of giving up TD's will be a big stat for the Wolfpack defense all year.
Special teams looked special- Of all the new players added to NC State's roster in 2007, the early candidate for MVP might be PK Steven Hauschka. Field goals and kickoffs were a huge question mark with the departure of do-it-all kicker John Deraney. However, Hauschka has been superb. He put two kickoffs into the endzone Saturday night forcing one touchback. He's perfect on the season with 9 of 9 extra points and nailed his longest field goal yet for the Wolfpack by connecting on a 49-yard attempt against Wofford. On the year, he's made all three of his field goal attempts.
After a couple of miserable punting efforts against Central Florida and Boston College, Bradley Pierson turned it around for NC State on Saturday. Pierson boomed several kicks, including a 50-yarder but got great elevation on nearly all of his kicks which gave State a chance to cover well. This likely played some part in Wofford muffing a deep punt in the second half which set up a score. In all, Pierson averaged nearly 36 yards per punt, forced two fair catches but most importantly, put five of his punts inside the Wofford 20. That long field put the Terriers at a disadvantage all night.
Where's he been?- An injury to Lerue Rumph resulted in true freshman Thomas Barnes seeing his first action of the season and how could you not give him defensive MVP honors for the game. He led the linebackers with eight tackles, forced a fumble and returned a fumble for a touchdown. Facing a triple option offense as a true freshman in his first game could be a daunting task but Barnes came through with flying colors. On a couple of plays he ran from the opposite side of the field to make the tackle and showed tremendous ability to make plays out in space. While he may not see quite as much time against more talented dual threat offenses down the road, his play was absolutely critical in helping State beat Wofford on Saturday. We have to throw in as well that Barnes' play, combined with his smaller stature reminded us quite a bit of a young Dantonio Burnette.
Hit of the night- Jimmie Sutton isn't known for his big hits but the blast he leveled on Wofford wideout Andy Strickland was nasty. At first it appeared he had forced a fumble but a review determined the ball had been pitched forward. Speaking of forward pitches, Wofford seemingly got away with pitching the ball forward past the line of scrimmage on a couple of plays.
Short field- After being the victim of opponents scoring on short fields in their first two games, NC State was the recipient of a couple of gifts in the second half against Wofford. The Pack needed to go just 14 and 7 yards to score their two second half touchdowns.
Crazy stat 1- The NC State defense has yielded just over 1,000 yards through three games this year. Nearly a third of those yards (300) were given up on just six plays. Suffice it to say the Wolfpack defense must eliminate the big plays.
Crazy stat 2- Who would have thought that NC State would out-rush Wofford 217-211 and the Terriers would beat the Pack through the air 142-113.
Crazy stat 3- The Big 4- NC State, Wake Forest, UNC and Duke are all 1-2 currently. However, only the Blue Devils can boast a win over a 1-A opponent thus far.
Looking ahead- As mentioned in the beginning, getting a win was the most important factor Saturday night for the Wolfpack. While the Pack did improve in certain areas (mainly rushing the football), realistically, that effort likely wouldn't have been enough to beat Clemson next week. Coach O'Brien now has his first win and the next goal will be to beat a team where he'll be a decided underdog. With gamebreakers like James Davis, CJ Spiller and Jacoby Ford, the Pack must contain the Tigers and eliminate or at least minimize Clemson's big plays. If they don't, the game could get out of hand in a hurry. They must find a way to force QB Cullen Harper to beat them and, if you do that, the Tigers pass protection hasn't been great. Offensively, first and foremost, the Pack has to protect the football. If they do this then they certainly have shot for success. The Tigers have been vulnerable on the ground, yielding 175 yards per game. However, they thrive on creating negative plays and this will be a severe test for Harrison's Beck discipline and decision making. Perhaps a factor that goes beyond x's and o's is simply the fact that it feels like State is due to have a breakout game. If the Pack does find a way to beat a talented Clemson squad, then State is back on track at 2-2 and bowl possibilities look a lot brighter. Obviously there's a long ways to go and a lot of improvements to be made between here and there.