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September 19, 2013
The what if's were abundant in NC State's bid to upset No. 3-ranked Clemson on Thursday at Carter-Finley Stadium.
NC State hung tough for a little over three quarters, but got some unlucky breaks and couldn't get over the hump in falling 26-14 to Clemson. The Wolfpack fell to 2-1 overall and host Central Michigan on Sept. 28.
NC State's biggest lingering question surrounded wide receiver Bryan Underwood's apparent 83-yard touchdown run was shortened to a 36-yard scamper and ruled out of bounds at the Clemson 47-yard line. The drive ended three plays later when Clemson defensive end Vic Beasley got one of his three sacks and forced a fumble, which linebacker Spencer Shuey recovered with 6:52 left in the third quarter.
Clemson took advantage of another bad break for the NC State defense. Redshirt sophomore cornerback Juston Burris went down with an injury on the ensuing drive and within two plays, quarterback Tajh Boyd went to wide receiver Martavis Bryant for a 30-yard touchdown to building a 20-7 lead with 5:25 left in the third quarter.
Bryant later added a 15-yard touchdown reception to stretch the Tigers lead to 26-7 with 11:27 left in the game, and the Wolfpack's hopes for an upset were dashed.
Doeren said he had a perfect view of Underwood's potential touchdown run.
"There were a couple of big momentum plays that got called back and that hurt us in the second half," Doeren said. "I felt we had a touchdown there with Bryan.
"It was right in front of me. He didn't go out of bounds. Unfortunately, they blew it dead and couldn't review it. It's an unfortunate deal and the guy [referee] felt bad about it. You can't do anything about it, just the way it is."
Underwood said he was focused on the end zone when he tight roped the sideline.
"I didn't really know until I actually got all the way back," Underwood said. "I wasn't able to see the replay.
"It hurts, but things happen in games, so you have to bounce back from them, good or bad."
Underwood also had another play where he did step out of bounds earlier in the contest. Junior kicker Niklas Sade missed his first field goal of the season from 48 yards. A timely Clemson timeout took away Burris' apparent interception, and they were the kind of plays that NC State desperately needed to achieve its goals.
"It was a hard fought game and I thought our players competed hard," Doeren said. "I was proud of them for that. It's not a moral victory by any means. We do not accept losing here. I am proud of the way we competed."
NC State took a 7-6 lead after seldom-used sophomore running back Shadrach Thornton sparked the offense with a 21-yard run up the middle with 11:03 left in the first half.
Clemson eventually regained the lead with Boyd's first of three touchdown passes. The Heisman candidate found junior tight end Sam Cooper for an 11-yard score to give the Tigers a 13-7 lead with 2:23 left in the second quarter. The Boyd-to-Bryant combination opened the game up from there. Boyd finished going 24-of-37 passing for 244 yards and three touchdowns, and rushed for 38 yards on 13 carries.
NC State played without starting senior left tackle Rob Crisp, who missed the game with an "upper extremity" injury. Redshirt sophomore Joe Thuney took over at left tackle, and redshirt sophomore Alex Barr played right guard.
Beasley hurt the unit with his three sacks for minus-20 yards and forced fumble. He also had three sacks last year against NC State.
"We did all right, but we would have liked to move the ball a little better," said Thuney, who has started at three different offensive line positions and played a fourth his first two years at NCSU. "It's just frustrating with a couple of those pass plays.
"I got a little off-balanced on a couple of them [against Beasley], and that is definitely something that I can learn from."
The revamped offensive line allowed five sacks, but between the various running formations and reverses to wide receivers, paved the way for 165 yards on 36 carries. NC State's trio of running backs did find it tough sledding running the ball and combined for 13 carries for 41 yards.
"We didn't do enough on offense, and it starts with me because I didn't make enough plays on offense," said NCSU redshirt junior quarterback Pete Thomas, who passed for 213 yards and rushed for 30 and a four-yard score in the fourth quarter. "Plays were there to be made, and I didn't make them and we didn't make them."
NC State lost fifth-year senior defensive end Darryl Cato-Bishop in the first half, while Burris was hurt in the second half. The Wolfpack defense couldn't force any turnovers, and the Tigers went 10 of 19 on third downs, plus 1 of 2 on fourth downs.
"We don't have a lot of depth and we played a lot of young guys," Doeren said. "Rob Crisp was out of the lineup, so that was our third O-Line set. We were playing with our backup quarterback and our third different offensive line, and we battled against a very good defense."
Clemson, which scored 62 points against NC State last year in a victory, racked up 415 yards — 244 passing and 171 rushing.
"We had to secure Tajh Boyd because he's a big part of their offense, if not the biggest," said redshirt sophomore defensive end Mike Rose, who had five tackles, one sack and a batted down pass. "If you stop him, you can really have a better chance to win the game.
"We definitely learned we can hang with anybody. They are the No. 3 team in the nation, and we are supposed to be little 'Ol NC State and we definitely kept up."
The Wolfpack's defensive game plan proved solid and the players "played their butts off."
"I thought we prepared well and had a good plan," Doeren said. "I'm disappointed in the penalties we had tonight. We played a very good team tonight. I thought we were very physical with them.
"We didn't get any takeaways, and they did a nice job of taking care of the football tonight offensively."
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