NC State had a maddening 44-37 last-second loss at Miami Saturday afternoon. Now it's time for a final look at the contest with some Monday Morning Quarterbacking.
Key moment of the game:
It will be a painful memory for NCSU fans. Somehow, someway NC State was in a position to win the game. With the score tied 37-37, the Pack started a drive at their own 4-yard line with 1:03 remaining and a pair of timeouts. After freshman running back Shadrach Thornton ran for 17 yards on first down, State decided to get aggressive.
On the next play, fifth-year senior quarterback Mike Glennon and his classmate Tobais Palmer had a miscommunication that resulted in an interception by sophomore cornerback Thomas Finnie at the Miami 39-yard line with 48 seconds left.
UM's final drive started out harmless. Junior quarterback Stephen Morris threw an incomplete pass to sophomore Phillip Dorsett, and senior running back Mike James was stopped by NC State sophomore linebacker Rodman Noel for a one-yard loss, forcing third and 11 with 32 seconds left.
Then it happened. Dorsett somehow got behind three NC State defensive backs, and Morris eluded Wolfpack redshirt junior outside linebacker Rickey Dowdy on his sack attempt. The combination led to an improbable game-winning 62-yard touchdown pass with just 19 seconds left.
Three things that worked:
1. Offense (when disciplined)
NC State gained a school record 664 yards of total offense, and did it with a balanced attack. They ran for 224 yards on the ground and threw for 440 more. Glennon was only sacked twice, and the running backs were hit in the backfield just once.
2. Run defense
Miami's backfield duo of James and freshman Duke Johnson is one of the most respected in the country, but they got very little going Saturday. Johnson ran 12 times for just 39 yards, far below his conference-leading 8.0 yards per carry entering the game. James ran for only 31 yards on 13 carries.
3. Never quitting
For all the errors (which will be detailed below), give NC State credit. They should have lost the game by a couple of touchdowns at least, but NCSU had the talent and fighting attitude to stay in the game and have a chance to win it. That's not a small feat or accomplishment either. It is something substantive to take away from the game.
Three things that did not work:
1. Defensive discipline
The defense was flagged for being offside six times Saturday, a simply inexcusable number of times. Three were declined because the play resulted in a touchdown (twice) and a long 41-yard gain. Junior corner David Amerson in particular was guilty of stopping on one offside penalty, allowing sophomore receiver Rashawn Scott to run free for a 76-yard touchdown.
Speaking of big plays, State's defense allowed Morris to complete seven passes of 40 yards or more, helping him average a gaudy 28.3 yards per completion. That number is even more upsetting when you consider Morris had 26 completions (resulting in 566 yards). Then there were missed tackles and a dropped interception by senior safety Brandan Bishop at the goal line that bounced into the hands of Scott for a touchdown.
2. Offensive discipline
The Pack turned it over six times, although to be fair the last came on a desperate Hail Mary heave by Glennon. The Pack fumbled it four times, none of them more crucial than when Palmer was fighting for yards near the goal line and had the ball ripped out of his hands with 5:32 left in the second quarter. If Palmer holds onto the ball, State probably gets a touchdown to close the gap to 23-21 at halftime. He fumbled the previous game against The Citadel in similar fashion.
Glennon's late interception on a miscommunication with Palmer also set up the winning score. Then there was redshirt junior guard Duran Christophe's costly holding penalty with the Pack down 23-21 in the third quarter. His flag wiped out a seven-yard first down run at midfield by redshirt sophomore Tony Creecy and essentially killed the drive.
Glennon also let a semi-high snap go through his hands in the first quarter for a safety.
3. Special teams discipline
Amerson jumped offside on a field goal attempt in the third quarter, giving Miami a first down at the NCSU 4-yard line and setting up a touchdown to give the Canes a 30-21 lead. In the first quarter, freshman running back Shadrach Thornton had a block in the back that negated a 20-yard punt return by junior receiver Rashard Smith. Sophomore kicker Niklas Sade missed an extra point, and Palmer twice mishandled kickoffs to put State's field position at inside its five-yard line.
Breaking down the position battles:
NC State's OL vs. Miami's front seven
By far, the Wolfpack offensive line was one of the brightest spots on the afternoon. Aside from a holding penalty, State dominated Miami's front seven, and you had the feeling the Pack would score every time if they simply could hold on to the football. The line's effort was even more impressive when considering they were missing both starting tackles and lost starting fifth-year senior right guard Zach Allen during the game. Kudos to Jim Bridge and his unit for their play.
NC State's front seven vs. Miami's OL
State did a masterful job of shutting down Miami's run game, but the pressure on the quarterback was a different story. State had just one sack, and the overall inability to consistently get pressure on Morris help set up the long plays.
NC State's WR vs. Miami's DB
The receivers did their part as well. Palmer had five catches for 94 yards, Smith three catches for 86 yards and a score, redshirt junior Quintin Payton had a pair of receptions for 83 yards and redshirt sophomore Bryan Underwood caught three passes for 50 yards and two scores. They won their battle as well.
NC State's DB vs. Miami's WR
Dorsett finished the game with seven catches for 191 yards and two touchdowns, and Scott had six receptions for 180 yards and two scores. Those two alone won the day for the Hurricanes.
Both quarterbacks were great Saturday, but Morris gets the edge because he did not make mistakes. Glennon had two interceptions and a fumble, whereas Morris had just one pick and threw for a school-record 566 yards and five touchdowns.
NCSU running backs were clearly more effective. Creecy ran 19 times for 120 yards and a touchdown, and Thornton added 17 carries for 87 yards. Even fifth-year senior Brandon Barnes was effective, rushing seven times for 44 yards. The only issue were the fumbles, with Barnes and Thornton having one apiece.
Redshirt junior Asa Watson dropped a couple of passes, but overall State's tight ends were a weapon Saturday. Watson and Carter both caught two passes, Watson for 29 yards and Carter for 28. Redshirt junior Anthony Talbert made his first career catch as well, a 19-yard gain.
Miscues aside, State's special teams were better. Palmer did have a 50-yard kickoff return, and Sade impressively nailed a 50-yard field goal with 1:58 left in the game to tie the score at 37-37. Six of Sade's seven kickoffs easily went for touchbacks, and the one that did not was returned out of the end zone. Sophomore Wil Baumann punted well, averaging 40.8 yards on four kicks and getting two inside the 20.
Compare that to Miami senior Jake Wieclaw who missed all three of his field goal attempts. State's cover units also were able to effectively nullify Miami's return game.