In the final analysis, it was a disappointing season for NC State. Picked early on as a contender to play in the ACC championship game, the Wolfpack was struck yet again with catastrophic injuries and limped to it’s fourth straight losing season. However, despite facing a mountain of adversity and one of the conference’s hottest teams of late, the Pack was able to gut out an emotional 28-27 win over arch rival UNC on Saturday. Pack Pride takes a look back at the game.
Carolina is good medicine
Beginning with Nate Irving’s horrific car crash and ending with the announcement that offensive coordinator Dana Bible had been diagnosed with leukemia, 2009 turned into a nightmare-filled season. However, at least on Saturday, much of that disappointment was soothed- at least temporarily- by a win over Carolina.
While the Pack did their best to make UNC’s woeful offense look like a juggernaut in the first half, State rebounded in the second half- holding the Heels to just a field goal. At times it appeared Carolina was just as interested in mouthing and demonstrating after each play as it was in actually making the play to begin with. All of which made Saturday’s win even sweeter for a team and fan base that has had very little to cheer this season.
After three seasons it’s become clear that coach O’Brien has figured out exactly which buttons to push when it comes to facing the Tar Heels.
Defense turns it around
NC State entered Saturday’s game with defensive contributors Nate Irving, Rashard Smith, Audi Augustin, Jeff Reiskamp, Javon Walker and DeAndre Morgan all watching from the sidelines. There was freshman Brian Slay at defensive end and some guy named Jordan Monk playing cornerback. Yet, despite it all, the Pack saved it’s best for last. They weren’t dominant by any stretch but for the first time in roughly eight weeks, the Wolfpack rose up and made plays when it needed to. Terrell Manning and Sterling Lucas made key tackles that helped stymy drives in the third quarter. Willie Young dropped Jay Boyd for a 12 yard loss on an end around- forcing UNC to attempt a longer field goal which was later blocked by Alan-Michael Cash. There was Clem Johnson’s interception to end the game.
Perhaps the biggest stat of all was NC State holding UNC to just 2 of 10 third down conversions. This has been the knife in the back of the Wolfpack defense all season but on Saturday, when able to force UNC QB T.J. Yates to make plays, State was finally able to get off the field.
The three points yielded by the NC State defense in the second half was easily it’s best showing since shutting out South Carolina back on opening day.
We’ve noticed subtle improvements in State’s defense over the last three weeks. Admittedly, UNC was one of the weaker offensive attacks the Pack has faced this year but again, it was a step in the right direction. This unit won’t become dominant over night but at least with so many players gaining valuable experience, albeit much earlier than they should have, the results should improve in 2010.
Quick scores cost UNC in the end?
During the course of the game one couldn’t help but wonder if UNC’s quick scores in the first half may come back to haunt them later in the game. The Heels scored three touchdowns while running just five plays.
Conversely, NC State ran a total of 30 plays on their four scoring drives. In essence the Pack was able to grind out the UNC defense and as the game wore on, they lost some of their quickness- particularly up front- and effectiveness. In the end, the Wolfpack ran 68 plays compared to UNC’s 54 snaps. State’s ability to sustain drives appeared to play to their advantage, especially in the second half.
On NC State’s roster, Jordan Monk is listed as a 6-0, 180 pound defensive back out of Seekonk, Mass. I must admit that I knew about as much about Monk as I did Seekonk, Mass. But once the game was over on Saturday, most diehard NC State fans knew exactly who he was.
Virtually the last healthy cornerback left on the roster, Monk was forced into action after Jarvis Byrd went down in the second half. Monk made a solid one on one tackle of Greg Little and finished the game with three total stops.
Perhaps most impressive was the fact Monk was conspicuous by his absence. He didn’t make any glaring mistakes and either by design or inability, UNC never went after him. In the end, Monk made the most of his opportunity and like the rest of his defensive counterparts, did his part to help the Pack come away with a huge win.
Woeful special teams
Josh Czajkowski is a very reliable field goal kicker. When healthy, James Washington and T.J. Graham give State two home run threats on kickoff returns. Beyond those two facets, the entire special teams unit will need close scrutiny and over hauling during the off season.
By all accounts, Chris Ward should be a dramatic improvement in the punting game. On kickoffs, State has simply been horrid. At this point it doesn’t appear the Pack is going to offer a kicker but in our opinion they should. If State can find a no-brainer kid that can kick the ball to the goal line then they have to seriously consider an offer. A good kicker can gain you 20 yards of field position on every kick and that couldn’t be more evident than with NC State.
On Saturday, the deepest Czajkowski ever kicked the ball was the 10 yard line. More often than not the ball routinely landed between the 15 and 25 yard line. UNC started eight drives outside their 35 yard line and four drives outside their 40. As a team, you’re already at a severe disadvantage when you allow teams this kind of field position and this was nothing new. This problem has plagued the Pack all year and been a significant contributor to State’s issues on defense.
Offense catches on
Off and on during the season NC State has been plagued by dropped passes but that wasn’t the case on Saturday. We didn’t notice a single dropped ball all day and Wilson’s 20 of 27 passing was one of his most efficient of the year.
Give the Pack credit for making some subtle adjustments in the second quarter after being virtually shut out in the first. State went to a short, quick passing game out in the flats which neutralized UNC’s pass rush but also helped set up some of the Wolfpack’s deeper strikes later in the game. The key was making the catch on those quick throws and then holding on after contact.
From simply a pass-catching standpoint, it may have been this group’s finest outing of the year.
There are five major questions facing the NC State team headed into next season. Will Russell Wilso forego professional baseball and return for his junior season? Does Toney Baker stay for a sixth year? How effective can the Pack’s leader on defense, Nate Irving, be after missing the entire 2009 season? Can State avoid the catastrophic season-ending injuries that have dogged the team for three consecutive seasons? Will the NC State defense be able to improve enough between this season and next to give itself an opportunity to become bowl eligible.
Nothing has been easy for head coach Tom O’Brien since he took over the reins in Raleigh and it doesn’t appear 2010 will be much different. The Wolfpack nation will look for improvement next year but a daunting schedule will make it tough. State needs a lot of things to fall just right but positive results to the five big questions could go a long way in securing the Pack’s first winning season in several years.