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November 25, 2013

Monday morning quarterbacking

For just the second time this year NC State failed to put up a competitive fight, falling to ECU 42-28 at home. Now it's time for some Monday Morning Quarterbacking.

Key moment of the game:

With the way the game unfolded, one sequence may not have mattered much in the grand scheme of things. However, NCSU responded to ECU's game-opening score with a touchdown of its own to tie the contest 7-7 in the first quarter. They then had its best defensive stand of the contest, forcing the Pirates into a third and 15 and an eventual three and out. The Pirates' Trent Tignor then had a mishit on his punt that went just 30 yards to the NCSU 41.

That could have been an opening for NC State to take early momentum in the game. However, the Pack had a pair of two-yard runs forcing a third and six. Fifth-year senior quarterback Brandon Mitchell was sacked for a one-yard loss on the final play of the first quarter, forcing a punt. ECU would drive the field to take a 14-7 lead that they never came close to relinquishing.

Three things that worked:

1. Opening drive

The Pack's first possession was a thing of beauty for NC State. NCSU did not have a negative play on the drive, and they converted all four third down plays. That was because all the third downs were from the manageable distances of 1, 1, 4 and 5 yards respectively. The Wolfpack also had a rare touchdown in the red zone when on second and goal Mitchell found redshirt junior tailback Tony Creecy out of the backfield for a four-yard score. The final numbers for the drive: 14 plays, 76 yards and 7:52 off the clock in the longest possession since 2008.

2. Offensive line maturation

This may surprise some readers, but at the end of the third quarter NC State had rushed 35 times for 127 yards on a good rush defense. That total alone was the third most the Pirates have given up in a game all year. NCSU only rushed four times in the fourth quarter so the number ended up being a modest 129 yards in the end. Mitchell was only sacked once, just the second time this year the Pirates had only gotten to the quarterback once (Tulsa was the other). Entering Saturday, ECU ranked fourth in the country in sacks and eighth in rush defense.

3. Late success

Trailing 35-7 entering the fourth quarter does not feel good. The Pack though was able to get a few feel-good moments in the fourth quarter. Mitchell was able to connect on some big passes, State successfully converted an onside kick and the Pack got 21 fourth quarter points, albeit 14 of them in the final minute.

Three things that did not work:

1. Defense

ECU is a veteran offense that has played together a lot and has enjoyed good fortune with injuries. That continuity showed as they were a well-oiled machine Saturday and carved up the Pack through three quarters with 378 yards of total offense, 166 of its rushing and 212 passing. That had the Pirates on pace to have over 500 yards of total offense.

2. Offense after opening drive

The Pack had just one first down on its next three possessions after they started the game with a touchdown. State's final drive of the first half ended with a field goal try that missed wide left. Bottom line is that when you play ECU, you go into the game knowing you have to score points to keep up, and NCSU had just seven points entering the fourth.

3. Answering the blows

ECU scored 28 unanswered points in the second and third quarters. Time after time NCSU either needed a points-scoring, sustained drive on offense or a defensive stop, and time after time they did not get it.

Breaking down the position battles:

NC State's OL vs. East Carolina's front seven

We mentioned that the offensive line deserves credit for a relatively solid effort against a good ECU defensive front seven. The Pirates matched a season-low on sacks (one) and had NCSU been in a situation where they could have run the football more often State would have challenged for the most rushing yards that ECU has allowed this year. ECU only had four tackles for loss in the game, but the Pirates still was able to hold NCSU to just 3.3 yards a rush.

NC State's front seven vs. East Carolina's OL

Not a great effort from the front seven. The Pack had just one sack, ECU junior quarterback Shane Carden was comfortable in the pocket and Pirate running back Vintavius Cooper torched State with 148 yards rushing on 22 carries. Clear win for ECU.

NC State's WR vs. East Carolina's DB

Numbers can be a little misleading. NCSU receivers ended the game with an impressive 20 catches for 280 yards and three touchdowns. However, all three of those scores and the huge vast majority of those yards came in the fourth quarter.

NC State's DB vs. East Carolina's WR

When NCSU gave ECU some cushion, the Pirates took it. When NC State pressed closer, they had trouble covering the slants, crossing patterns and downfield routes. Bottom line was that State simply had trouble covering the Pirates' passing attack, but also you have to give East Carolina credit for making some tough throws and catches that were difficult to defend.


Carden played about as well as any quarterback NC State has faced this season. He completed 23 of 30 passes for 255 yards and three touchdowns and ran six times for six yards and a pair of scores. More importantly he not only did not make a mistake, he really did not come close to making one.

Mitchell's fourth quarter led to big numbers (28-of-44 passing for 312 yards and four scores to go with 10 rushes for 30 yards), but again the numbers are somewhat misleading. Carden was the best QB on the field Saturday.

Running backs

Cooper makes a big difference in East Carolina's offense, and although the Pirates will return quite a bit of their other playmakers on offense from this season next year, they may miss Cooper more than people believe. He may have been the best player in the game Saturday and tilts the edge to East Carolina on this one.

Tight Ends

Sophomore Bryce Williams is as close to a tight end as ECU is going to get, and he caught three passes for 36 yards and a touchdown. Comparatively speaking, NCSU redshirt freshman David J. Grinnage had a pair of receptions but for just eight yards, and he also had some rare drops. Once against ECU won the battle here.

Special teams

The one mishap on special teams was Sade's missed 38-yard field goal. Otherwise not much to write about on special teams, but given the miss ECU wins the battle on this unit.

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