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October 14, 2013
Monday morning quarterbacking
A banged up Wolfpack squad fell short in a physical contest with Syracuse Saturday afternoon at Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh, losing 24-10. Now it's time for some Monday Morning Quarterbacking.
Key moment of the game:
A couple of dropped passes in the second half could have altered the outcome of this game. NC State trailed Syracuse 10-7 but were driving in the fourth quarter when they faced a third and three at the Syracuse 10. NCSU appeared to have a first down play developing when freshman receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling was open inside the 10, but Valdes-Scantling slipped on the turf and the pass from redshirt junior quarterback Pete Thomas bounced off his shoulder. The Pack was forced to settle for a 27-yard field goal from junior Niklas Sade.
State forced a three-and-out by Syracuse's offense and got the ball back on its own 41 with 9:20 to go. Redshirt freshman tight end David J. Grinnage made an impressive 9-yard catch on first down off a deflection. Then sophomore tailback Shadrach Thornton ran for seven yards to the Syracuse 43, giving NCSU a first down.
Thornton was stuffed for a two-yard loss, setting up a second and 12. Thomas found an open freshman Bra'Lon Cherry over the middle of the field, but Cherry could not cleanly catch the pass and was separated from the ball by the Syracuse defense. NCSU could not convert third and 12 and was forced to punt. Two plays after the punt, Syracuse's Jerome Smith rumbled 57 yards to the NCSU 18 and set up Prince-Tyson Gulley's 18-yard score a snap later.
Three things that worked:
1. Reshuffled secondary
Syracuse did not hurt NC State with its passing game. They completed just 10 of 21 passes for 74 yards with two picks. Freshman corner Jack Tocho in particular was strong in his first career start. He was responsible for both of NC State's interceptions, broke up another pass and had three tackles before getting hurt.
2. Speedy receivers
Bryan Underwood, a redshirt junior, caught six passes for 89 yards and ran twice for 11 yards, totaling 100 yards of offense. Redshirt sophomore Travares Copeland added four receptions for 45 yards and ran for a 6-yard gain. When counting his kickoff returns, Copeland had 83 total all-purpose yards. Once (if) NCSU gets its offense healthy, including fifth-year seniors Brandon Mitchell at quarterback and Rashard Smith at receiver, the offense should finally have a nice stable of weapons at the skill positions.
3. Fighting through adversity
The number of injuries to key players, guys who would not only be starting but playing significant roles at major positions, would limit any team much less NC State. By the start of the second half, NCSU had become almost ridiculously short-handed, yet they battled past that and had opportunities in the third and fourth quarter to go ahead of a physical Syracuse squad.
Three things that did not work:
1. Rush defense
The stats do not lie. NC State gave up a whopping 362 rushing yards, and all three of Syracuse's touchdowns came on the ground. The duo of Smith and Gulley ran 28 times and only twice were tackled for losses, and both were a mere yard loss.
2. Finding offensive rhythm
NC State ran a whopping 95 plays compared to 61 for Syracuse. Yet Syracuse outgained NCSU 436-355. The Pack averaged just 3.7 yards per play. It just seemed that the offense was "off" most of the game, unable to connect on big plays downfield, struggling to get consistency running the ball and perhaps going to the well one time too many on formations or plays that were gaining yards.
The fact is that it's easy to judge gambles with the benefit of hindsight. We're not talking about the decisions themselves, but instead the execution. After choosing to go for it on fourth and two at the Syracuse 8 trailing 7-0, State tried to fool Syracuse by having freshman quarterback Bryant Shirreffs, who exclusively runs read option plays, throwing to fullback Tyler Purvis out of the backfield. The play did not work however, and State turned it over on downs. Then Sade's fake field goal pass to Grinnage late in the third quarter when the Pack was down 10-7 was incomplete.
Breaking down the position battles:
NC State's OL vs. Syracuse's front seven
Syracuse finished with four sacks and 13 tackles for losses. Thornton had to work very hard to get 60 yards on 20 carries, but truth be told when an already shaky line without its best player in senior left tackle Rob Crisp loses arguably its second best lineman in redshirt sophomore Joe Thuney, who was taking Crisp's place at left tackle, it's hard to expect much from NCSU's line.
NC State's front seven vs. Syracuse's OL
This is probably where NC State was most disappointed. We already noted how ineffective they were stopping Syracuse' ground game, and it's also worth noting that NC State had just one sack and four tackles for loss.
NC State's WR vs. Syracuse's DB
The Pack's receivers played a solid game outside a couple of drops. That's not surprising though as Syracuse's defensive backfield has been one of the weaker points of the Orange's defense this season.
NC State's DB vs. Syracuse's WR
Ashton Broyld had a 39-yard catch-and-run, but the other nine receptions went for a combined 35 yards, an average of less than four yards a reception. It was a good effort from NC State's secondary.
Neither quarterback played well Saturday. Thomas was off, and his miss on a wide open freshman receiver Jumichael Ramos deep downfield counts as one of the biggest missed opportunities of the contest for NCSU. Syracuse's Terrel Hunt was even less effective throwing the ball, but Hunt did hurt NCSU with his legs, scrambling 11 times for 92 yards, and thus he won the matchup for the Orange.
The duo of Smith and Gulley were the difference in this game. They did what good running backs do, as well, getting stronger as the game progressed. They did their best running in the fourth quarter when the game was on the line.
This was the most active use of the tight ends for NC State this year, and Grinnage caught a couple of passes for 30 yards and a score in a performance that leaves you excited about his future. He was the best tight on the field Saturday.
Overall, it was probably close to a draw. Junior Wil Baumann punted well, averaging 41.4 yards on seven kicks, and Sade had good kickoffs. Neither team returned well with the exception of a 24-yard runback by Cherry on one punt. The Pack did fail to convert a fake field goal, and Sade's 51-yard attempt never had a chance, sailing well left, so those two miscues could give an advantage to Syracuse if you are going to give anyone an edge. However, it's worth noting that a delay of game took a field goal off the board for Syracuse.
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