Despite opening the game with plenty of offensive fireworks, the NC State Wolfpack eventually struggled in every facet of the game as the Duke Blue Devils ended their streak of 20 straight ACC road losses on Saturday night at Carter-Finley Stadium. With the victory, Duke is now 3-3 (1-1 ACC) while the Pack falls to 3-3 and winless in the ACC (0-2).
The game opened with offense at a premium as the two teams traded touchdowns on each of the game's first six possessions but only the visiting team could keep the high-scoring pace going for the entire game. Thaddeus Lewis torched the Pack, who started its fifth different secondary combination in six games this year, for 459 yards and five scores through the air. The Blue Devils' 49 points were the most points against a Wolfpack team since they allowed 50 points in a 2003 loss to Florida State.
Duke received the ball to begin the game and immediately marched 70 yards down the field to score the game's first points, thanks to a two yard touchdown pass from Lewis to tight end Brett Huffman. The Pack quickly responded with a long drive of their own, capped by a ten yard touchdown run from Russell Wilson.
Lewis and the Devils responded with another drive of more than 70 yards and ended it with the quarterback taking the ball in himself from two yards out. The Pack's offense answered their conference rivals again, needing only one play, a 63 yard pass from Wilson to Owen Spencer, to again tie the game.
Duke countered with Lewis' second touchdown pass of the game, a seven yard connection with Re'Quan Boyette, before the Pack tied the game at 21-21 on Toney Baker's nine yard run midway through the second quarter.
The Pack appeared to finally end the see-saw exchange of touchdowns when Alan-Michael Cash forced a red zone fumble by Boyette at the nine and Clem Johnson recovered the ball at the Pack's own six yard line. However, the Pack could not convert on the turnover and neither team was able to break the 21-21 tie before going into halftime.
In the first half, the teams combined for 542 yards and 27 first downs. Duke had 233 yards of passing before the break and head coach Tom O'Brien said he is still searching for the right combination in the defensive backfield.
"Duke came out reach to throw the ball against us," he said. "They had a lot of success early. We played three-deep, two-deep, and they shredded us. We have to look at the personnel on the field to find guys that will make plays for us, but I still feel we have the right guys out there to make plays for us."
The Pack still could not get into a rhythm after the break and only picked up one first down in its first possession of the second half. The team caught a break when Jeff Ruiz's punt was downed at the three yard line, only to see Lewis direct Duke 97 yards down the field in only four and a half minutes. Duke took their fourth lead of the game when Lewis found Danny Parker on a six yard pass.
The Pack wasted no time responding to Duke's score after T.J. Graham took the kickoff 93 yards to again tie the contest. However, Lewis again led the Blue Devils on a long touchdown drive, finding Austin Kelly in the end zone from eight yards out to regain the lead for good.
After the Kelly touchdown reception, with 3:34 remaining in the third quarter, the Pack could only muster 68 yards of offense and was haunted by two special teams blunders. After forcing the Blue Devils to punt on the opening drive of the fourth quarter, the ball hit off Justin Byers before Duke recovered the ball on the 11 yard line. Three plays later, Lewis had his fifth touchdown throw of the day.
Later in the fourth, another Duke drive was stopped around midfield and the Blue Devils were forced to punt. However, the ball hit off of Spencer, who was trying to block for Graham, and the Blue Devils pounced on the ball in the end zone for their seventh and final touchdown of the day.
On the first play after the Devils' touchdown, Wilson was picked off and did not return to the game. The Pack did have one more possession after Duke took four straight knees but Mike Glennon was under center, completing his first pass for 24 yards before being intercepted in the end zone two plays later.
"We need to take more responsibility as a team," O'Brien said. "We were out-coached and out-played.
"That is something we definitely have to figure out. We had chances to make plays and we didn't. Right now, we're 3-3 and still have a lot to play for."
It was obviously a career day for Lewis, who broke the school's touchdown passes record during the game (now at 59), in addition to setting the record for completions in a game, after going 40-for-50 and finding a different receiver on each touchdown pass. The Blue Devils, despite utilizing a no-huddle offense, dominated the game clock, racking up 40:24 with the ball compared to only 19:36 for the Pack.
For the Pack, Wilson finished the day 15-of-27 for 172 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Baker led the way on the ground, despite carrying only nine times, after recording 73 rushing yards and a score. After halftime, the Pack gained only 74 yards of offense, with Glennon's lone completion as the game wound down accounting for almost one-third of those yards.
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