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September 23, 2013

Monday morning quarterbacking



The Pack defied the expectations of many and kept it a close game against No. 3 Clemson for most of the contest, but ultimately State fell 26-14. Now it's time for some Monday Morning Quarterbacking.

Key moment of the game:

This really does not need a whole lot of discussion. State thought they had just tied the game 13-13 with an extra point coming midway through the third quarter on an 83-yard touchdown run by redshirt junior receiver Bryan Underwood.

Instead, he was controversially ruled out of bounds at the Clemson 47, and two plays later Clemson defensive end Vic Beasley sacked NCSU redshirt junior quarterback Pete Thomas, forcing a fumble that Tiger linebacker Spencer Shuey recovered at the NCSU 48.

Five plays later, Tiger signal caller Tajh Boyd connected with receiver Martavis Bryant for a 30-yard touchdown pass, putting CU up 20-7 with 5:25 left in the third quarter.



Three things that worked:

1. Defensive effort

Clemson is one of the most potent offenses in the country led by Boyd, a Heisman Trophy candidate, star receiver Sammy Watkins, a capable running back in Roderick McDowell and other talented supporting cast. Not many teams this season will hold Clemson to 26 total points and 415 yards of total offense. That would have been CU's third lowest yardage output last year.

2. Winning time of possession

Aiding the defensive effort was an offensive game plan that won the time of possession battle in the final three quarters, including in lopsided fashion in the second and third periods. State finished with an overall 32:49-27:11 edge and held Clemson to just 77 total offensive plays. Last year in ACC play only Virginia Tech (66) and Maryland (76) limited the Tigers to fewer snaps.

3. Running by the non-running backs

Twice Underwood "stepped" out of bounds, nullifying big runs and prevented him from getting over 100 yards rushing. Still, Underwood gained 54 yards on two big-play carries. Freshman quarterback Bryant Shirreffs was effective in the wildcat, rushing for 23 yards on four carries. Thomas had some moments as well and ended with 30 yards on 14 carries, including the game's last touchdown. Fifth-year senior Rashard Smith had a 17-yard run once as well.


Three things that did not work:

1. Third downs

On both sides of the ball, third downs were a problem for NC State. The Pack went 3-of-16 converting third downs on offense, or a paltry 18.6 percent. Meanwhile, the Tigers went 10 of 19, or a much-more-impressive 52.6 percent. On Clemson's five scoring drives, the Tigers faced a third down on each of the possessions and overall went 9 of 12 on them.

2. Catching a break

The bottom line is that lady luck may have been on Clemson's side a little bit Thursday night. Twice Clemson coach Dabo Swinney avoided bad plays by calling a late timeout before the snap, one of which looked like a potential pick-six by NCSU redshirt sophomore corner Juston Burris. Then of course there was the ill-fated Underwood run.

3. Overcoming the bad breaks

You also have to give Clemson credit for doing what a good team does, and that's make their breaks. Instead of getting sacked on third and 16, they got the timeout and came back with a 17-yard pass from Boyd to Watkins for a first down on the game's first drive, setting up a field goal. Instead of a pick six, they came back and converted a third down to sustain another field goal-drive. Then we all know what happened after the Underwood ruling. State had chances to overcome those bad breaks, but instead it was Clemson that made the most of their second chances.


Breaking down the position battles:

NC State's OL vs. Clemson's front seven

It was a struggle for the Pack but that was maybe to be expected when senior left tackle Rob Crisp could not go, forcing a reshuffling of the line that led to State's third different starting combination in as many games. Defensive end Vic Beasley in particular was a load, getting three sacks.

NC State's front seven vs. Clemson's OL

This was a great game from NC State's front seven. They got pressure on Boyd, rattled him some in the first half, and overall State finished with 13 tackles for losses, all of them coming from its front seven. The Pack won this battle here.

NC State's WR vs. Clemson's DB

For Clemson fans, aside from the offensive line woes, this has to be a concern for the Tigers going forward in their national title hopes. State wide outs caught 18 passes for 183 yards in the game and also had the big plays running the ball.

NC State's DB vs. Clemson's WR

State gets credit for holding the big-play threat Watkins in check. He had 10 catches, but they went for just 96 yards. Starters versus starters, State did well. However, Clemson's depth at receiver was better than State's depth in the secondary. The Tigers picked on the nickel backs, especially after Burris left the game in the third quarter with an injury. That helped Bryant in particular have a big second half en route to six catches for 73 yards and two scores.

Quarterbacks

Thomas is not the playmaker that Boyd is at the position, but Thomas did his role well enough, completing 20 of 36 passes for 213 yards and adding 30 yards rushing and a score. He did throw a meaningless interception to end the game. Boyd though overcame a sluggish first half and was sharper after halftime. He finished completing 24 of 37 passes for 244 yards and three scores and added 38 yards rushing.

Running backs

A big concern for NC State was the fact that the combination of redshirt junior Tony Creecy and freshman Matt Dayes rushed for a combine 12 times for 20 yards. NCSU may look to get sophomore Shadrach Thornton more involved after he made two big plays on his two big touches, a 21-yard touchdown run and a 32-yard catch-and-run. McDowell was the best back on the field Thursday, rushing 14 times for 68 yards.

Tight Ends

Neither team used the tight end really. Clemson's Stanton Seckinger did have one four-yard reception.

Special teams

State punted the ball better, with Wil Baumann averaging 40.2 yards on six punts and twice punning the Tigers inside the 20. Clemson's Chandler Catanzaro though was sharp kicking, making field goals of 49 and 45 yards, compared to State junior Niklas Sade who missed a 48-yarder in the fourth quarter that would have put State to within 20-10 at that point.



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