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October 28, 2013

Monday morning quarterbacking

An overmatched up Wolfpack squad found out what some of their ACC counterparts had already learned: FSU is really good. Now it's time for some Monday Morning Quarterbacking.

Key moment of the game:

All week leading up to the game there was a common theme among NCSU players and coaches: Don't beat yourselves. While acknowledging FSU's greatness, after reviewing the FSU-Clemson film it was also clear to NC State that the Tigers were not ready to play, turning the ball over on the first play of the game, for instance. NCSU did not want to repeat that mistake against such a good team like FSU.

Well, NCSU ended up doing a tad better than Clemson, but not consequently much. Instead of turning it over on the first play, NC State gave it to Florida State on the second snap. Fifth-year senior quarterback Brandon Mitchell went deep but was intercepted. That was the first of two first quarter turnovers that contributed greatly to a FSU tsunami in the first 15 minutes that resulted in the Noles leading 35-0 when the second quarter started.

Three things that worked:

1. Sophomore running back Shadrach Thornton

Thornton was one NC State player that showed up focused and ready to play. He was not intimidated by the game and rushed 23 times for 173 yards and two touchdowns, one of them a 72-yarder. On his 23 carries, he was only dropped for a loss once, and that was just for one yard. Thornton was also NCSU's leading receiver with five receptions for 32 yards, giving him 205 total yards against a very good defense.

2. Kickers

Junior punter Wil Baumann had one of his best kicking performances of the year. Baumann booted eight times for an impressive average of 46.8 yards, and three of his kicks were downed inside the 20. Junior kicker Niklas Sade also made a 36-yard field goal to improve his season-accuracy to 13 of 15 on field goals.

3. Winning the second half

Yes, Florida State did not play its starters on defense in the second half, and yes FSU redshirt freshman quarterback Jameis Winston only played one drive after halftime. But, Winston was intercepted on that drive, and many of those backups on FSU's defense are probably good enough to start for the five remaining teams on NCSU's schedule. The good news is that NCSU outscored FSU 17-7 in the final 30 minutes. (Also worth noting that FSU needed a surprise fake punt to get a touchdown in the second quarter.)

Three things that did not work:

1. Showing up ready to play

The bottom line is that Florida State was leading 35-0 at the end of the first quarter. Mitchell clearly had some rust in him, and the defense was overwhelmed by FSU's vast array of offensive weapons. NCSU got hit hard by FSU right after the opening bell and simply did not have it in them to get off the ropes in the first quarter.

2. Winning one-on-ones

NC State had opportunities to make tackles and cut off angles that they simply did not take advantage of on defense, and on offense the Pack receivers were blanketed most of the day. NCSU wide outs ended up with just a combined total of five catches for 52 yards. Conversely, NCSU's defensive backs had trouble make the plays and covering FSU's fine set of receivers.

3. Kick returns/coverage

The Pack's kickoff return struggles continued. Freshman receiver Bra'Lon Cherry averaged just 14.7 on three kickoff returns, and there appeared to be a miscommunication on a couple of them. On coverage, NCSU gave up a 23-yard punt return to Kenny Shaw and allowed three kickoffs to be runback for an average of 26.3 yards.

Breaking down the position battles:

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

FSU had three sacks and nine tackles for losses. NCSU blocked much better in the run game than weeks prior, but pass protection was a struggle at times.

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

FSU has one of the better offensive lines in the league if not the country, and it showed Saturday against NC State. The Pack did finish with three sacks and six tackles for losses, but there were multiple times where Winston had all day to throw.

NC State's WR vs. Florida State's DB

As mentioned above, not a good week for State's receivers. They rarely got open and ending up with just five catches from the position is not what NCSU probably wanted.

NC State's DB vs. Florida State's WR

The trio of Rashad Greene, Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw is one of the best receiving trios in the country. They dominated this matchup at times, and ended the game with 14 catches for 240 yards and two touchdowns.


No question Mitchell has some rust to work through, and frankly he struggled Saturday. Not such the case for Winston, who is playing at such a high level that he did little to hurt his Heisman chances. Winston finished 16-of-26 passing for 292 yards and three touchdowns, most of that in the first quarter. He did have the one late interception.

Running backs

Thornton was the best running back on the field Saturday, but the one-two punch of Devonta Freeman and Karlos Williams trumped that advantage for NCSU. The two ran a combined 25 times for 148 yards and three touchdowns.

Tight Ends

Give NCSU credit for holding FSU star Nick O'Leary in check. O'Leary had just one catch, albeit a 14-yard touchdown, but he entered Saturday along with UNC's Eric Ebron one of the ACC's best tight ends. NCSU actually had two catches for 21 yards at the tight end position.

Special teams

NCSU did a better job kicking, FSU did a better job returning. Both teams also executed trickery well. Florida State converted a fake punt into a first down, while NCSU covered an onside kick in the second half. Overall special teams were a draw.

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