NC State improved it's record to 2-0 with a 28-21 win over Central Florida on Saturday night. The Wolfpack rode a play-making defense to hold on for the win and now prepare for Cincinnati on Thursday night. Pack Pride takes a look back at State's win over the Knights.
D gets it done
When was the last time an NC State fan could say the Wolfpack won a game against a quality opponent because of the defense? Under Tom O'Brien, way more often than not, if State was victorious it was because Russell Wilson and the offense were able to put up huge numbers. That definitely wasn't the case Saturday night. The fact of the matter is State likely would have lost the game were it not for the performance of the Wolfpack "D".
One of our keys to the game was getting off to a fast start and limiting Central Florida's rushing average. NC State began the game by holding the Knights to 67 yards on their first six possessions while forcing them into two turnovers.
Taking control of the run game was crucial for the Pack and they were able to limit UCF to -1 yards rushing on their first nine carries which effectively took them out of their game plan and what their offense is predicated on.
The insertion of J.R. Sweezy at defensive tackle definitely helped the front four and the defensive line as a whole, played a great game. The linebackers were turned loose often and collectively, played an outstanding game. The defensive backs gave up some plays but also came up big in crucial situations. All in all, it was a very impressive performance for a unit that has taken the brunt of the criticism for the Wolfpack's struggles over the last four seasons.
Speaking of things that haven't happened in a while, when was the last time an NC State linebacker had a game like Audie Cole had this weekend.
After whiffing on the stat sheet last week, Cole more than made up for that against Central Florida. He made plays at the line of scrimmage, he made plays out in space and he made plays in the offensive backfield. Four plays that really come to mind were tackles of UCF QB Jeff Godfrey on an option read and out on the perimeter which was a nice one on one stop. Cole also made a nice stop on a wide receiver screen which actually looked like a forced fumble at the time. Finally, it's unusual to see a player with Cole's size go almost completely across the field and make a spectacular interception.
When all was said and done, Cole's stat sheet was eye popping- 12 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, one interception and one sack. He certainly should be in line for some type of conference player of the week award this week.
Defense makes plays
If you could put your finger on one aspect of the Wolfpack defense that has suffered the most over the last three years it would have to be State's inability to get defensive stops on third down. All too often in the past, the Pack would play solid defense on first and second down only to give up too many plays on third down.
That wasn't the case Saturday night. Tom O'Brien stated before the season that the return of Nate Irving should help in that area and it has. But on Saturday night the Wolfpack defense got a ton of game changing plays from a variety of players. There were tipped balls by J.R Sweezy, opportunistic interceptions by Earl Wolff and C.J. Wilson, big hits by Brandan Bishop and amazing plays by Audie Cole.
Forcing five turnovers while holding UCF to 1 for 11 on third downs was a shock to be honest and will win a bunch of games for the Wolfpack headed forward.
Punting game much improved
I know some fans may not think much about a team that finishes a game by averaging a little over 33 yards per punt. However, other than a shank job on a rugby style punt (14 yards), Jeff Ruiz and the punt cover team did a fantastic job Saturday night. The unit forced five fair catches and Ruiz was able to put two of his punts inside the 20. In all, Central Florida had 10 opportunities to return punts with a dangerous returner. In the end, A.J. Guyton finished with just one return for zero yards. If you think back to last year, there's been some definite improvement in this facet of the game and that's the main thing you want to see.
Offense grinds to a halt
Thank goodness State was able to put two scores on the board before UCF defensive coordinator Dave Huxtable figured out how to scheme Wolfpack's zone read running attack. Because after they shut that particular running play down, the Wolfpack offense was all but stagnant for the rest of the game.
While you could argue everything that NC State did wrong, I think the fact of the matter is Central Florida was just that good. Not since last year's opening game against South Carolina has Russell Wilson looked as out of synch as he did Saturday night. Russell Wilson is a guy that likes to run only when he has to so when he's bailing out of the pocket consistently and taking off up field, it's typically because he's struggling with the defense.
It's hard to know just how good Central Florida really is on defense but I suspect you'll see them rated as one of the nation's better defenses when the season concludes. As for NC State, I wouldn't get too concerned as this unit will get better as the offensive line sorts itself out.
Offensive line in flux
I don't know the exact numbers pre-Mikel Overgaard injury and then afterwards but I do know the Wolfpack offense wasn't very good when the junior college transfer went out with a shoulder injury.
The Pack tried a variety of offensive line combinations. They inserted Sam Jones in Overgaard's spot but he clearly struggled. Then came Gary Gregory who did only marginally better. Jake Vermiglio moved to right tackle with Rob Crisp at left tackle and the freshman promptly got schooled on the very first play.
The extent of Overgaard's injury is unknown at this point but it's clear just how important he is to the offensive line. R.J. Mattes should be cleared to play and it can't come soon enough. However, a best case scenario would be to get Overgaard back so Mattes wouldn't have to shoulder the entire burden at right tackle from the start. Clearly this a position that State has to figure out and in a hurry.
NC State National Stat Rankings of Note
Scoring Offense...No. 26 in the nation
Rushing Defense...No. 25 in the nation
Total Defense...No. 18 in the nation
Scoring Defense...No. 26 in the nation
Turnover Margin...No. 2 in the nation
Sacks...No. 17 in the nation
Observations From the Game: UCF
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