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November 18, 2013

Monday morning quarterbacking

Once again NC State found itself in a game in the fourth quarter, and once again the game got away from them, falling 38-21 to Boston College on Saturday. Now it's time for some Monday Morning Quarterbacking.

Key moment of the game:

NC State had just scored on a 49-yard pass from fifth-year senior receiver Rashard Smith to his classmate and fellow wide out Quintin Payton on a trick play, cutting Boston College's lead to 20-14 with 9:05 left in the contest.

On Boston College's first play of the next possession, senior running back Andre Williams was stripped of the ball, and Pack senior linebacker Robert Caldwell was in perfect position to grab the loose football. Instead, the ball went through Caldwell's hands as he tried to pick it up, and Boston College got it back.

That would prove to be a fateful moment with what happened next. Williams busted loose for an apparent touchdown run, but at the NCSU one-yard line, redshirt sophomore cornerback Juston Burris swatted the ball away from him. Unfortunately for the Pack, Boston College senior receiver Alex Amidon beat NCSU sophomore safety Josh Stanley for the loose ball in the end zone and scored a touchdown.

Three things that worked:

1. Active linebacker corps

All three of NCSU's linebackers made plays. Caldwell finished with 17 tackles, including two for loss. Junior Brandon Pittman had his second straight good game, notching 10 tackles, including a sack. Senior D.J. Green added seven tackles as well.

2. Trick play

It was a well-designed trick play that almost didn't work but turned out to be a very good play. Smith took the handoff and stepped back to pass. Payton broke free behind the defense right away, but at first it looked like Smith was going to miss him. He seemed to be zeroing on redshirt junior quarterback Pete Thomas. Smith though found Payton with time to uncork a nice pass. Smith played quarterback in high school.

3. Pass defense

Granted Boston College's passing game is fairly anemic and not difficult to defend by most standards, but nevertheless whenever you hold another team to 8-of-15 passing for 53 yards — with the longest completion going 10 yards — and also recording two sacks in limited opportunities, it's a good effort.

Three things that did not work:

1. Stopping Andre Williams (and other running backs)

The numbers say it all. Williams rushed 42 times for a whopping ACC-record setting 339 yards and a pair of touchdowns. NCSU actually did a halfway decent job in the second and third quarters on Williams (19 carries for 84 yards is a decent job of containing Williams by this year's standards). Freshman Myles Willis helped pick up the slack and ran six times for 77 yards, including a score. Giving up 420 yards rushing in a game just will not work in the ACC.

2. Fundamental play

Three times NC State was flagged for false start penalties. Two of them helped kill a promising drive to the Boston College 33. Junior punter Wil Baumann let the field goal snap go through his hands right before half, blowing a scoring opportunity. Smith dropped a nice pass from Thomas that would have put NCSU in field-goal range, and freshman Marquez Valdes-Scantling dropped a third-down pass that would have given NCSU a first down. Teams with thin margins of error like NCSU cannot afford that many unforced errors.

3. Finishing the game

The bottom line is that in six of NC State's seven ACC losses, by varying degrees they were in the game going into the fourth quarter. In those six games, the Pack was outscored 72-31 in the fourth. That includes Boston College winning the final quarter 18-14 against NCSU and answering the challenge when State had cut the lead to 20-14.

Breaking down the position battles:

NC State's OL vs. Boston College's front seven

The Pack opened up some nice holes for sophomore tailback Shadrach Thornton, but overall NCSU had trouble with the exotic blitz schemes that are the trademark of Don Brown's defenses. Boston College had four sacks and nine total tackles for loss.

NC State's front seven vs. Boston College's OL

It was no contest in the run game. Although the linebackers played well and put up good numbers, NCSU still gave up a ton of running yards as we detailed above.

NC State's WR vs. Boston College's DB

The receivers were fine for NCSU, aside from a couple of drops. Freshman Jumichael Ramos got open repeatedly and finished with five receptions for 109 yards and a touchdown in easily the best game of his young career.

NC State's DB vs. Boston College's WR

As we talked about above, this was not a difficult matchup because Boston College only has one known ACC-level receiver, and that's Amidon, who was held to five catches for 34 yards.


Rettig was not asked to do much for Boston College, but the most important thing he did was not cost BC anything. Thomas threw some floaters that were off the mark, but overall he completed 22 of 33 passes for 207 yards and a touchdown and no picks. Neither quarterbacks were really a difference in this game one way or the other.

Running backs

Running backs on the other hand were huge difference makers in this game. Williams and Willis were off the charts good. Thornton ran well (11 carries for 56 yards), and freshman Matt Dayes provided a spark, especially with his 61-yard catch and run on the screen pass, but they did not have near as much a chance to make a difference like Boston College's tailbacks.

Tight Ends

NCSU redshirt freshman David J. Grinnage had a beautiful leaping catch for a 20-yard gain in the fourth quarter on the play prior to the Smith-to-Payton touchdown that was the highlight of the tight ends.

Special teams

The only noteworthy difference in special teams was the costly mishandled snap and catch exchange at the end of the first half. Thus Boston College won the matchup here, but it's worth noting that Baumann had a big effort punting, averaging 49.6 yards on eight kicks.

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