NC State played perhaps its most impressive game thus far this year, knocking off The Citadel 52-14 Saturday evening at Carter-Finley Stadium. Now it's time for a final look at the contest with some Monday Morning Quarterbacking.
Key moment of the game:
NC State impressively marched down the field for a touchdown on its opening drive, but The Citadel answered when fullback Darien Robinson burst through a blown assignment for a 65-yard touchdown run.
That put the pressure back on the Pack's offense, and they responded. On third and 10 at their own 35, fifth-year senior quarterback Mike Glennon connected with redshirt junior receiver Quintin Payton for a 43-yard catch-and-run to The Citadel 22. Three plays later, true freshman running back Shadrach Thornton ran for a 7-yard touchdown and the Pack began to roll.
State would force turnovers on The Citadel's next two possessions and turn both into touchdowns, giving the Wolfpack an insurmountable 28-7 lead in the second quarter.
Three things that worked:
1. Debuting Thornton
No doubt that the talk after the game was about Thornton, who made a splashy debut. Thornton finished with 21 carries for 145 yards and two touchdowns. He also caught four passes for 26 yards. Part of his success certainly came from the mismatch along the lines, but Thornton's vision and running abilities were impressive.
2. Overall offense
Thornton though was not the only impressive aspect of the offense. The unit shined with 515 total yards. Glennon completed 19 of 24 passes for 233 yards and a touchdown, and most importantly did not turn the ball over. The offensive line protected Glennon and opened holes for the running backs. State was an impressive 11 of 14 converting third downs.
3. Holding The Citadel in check
Wolfpack head coach Tom O'Brien seemed most impressed with the defense after the game, and for good reason. The Pack held the Bulldogs option attack to just 226 total yards, and only 199 on the ground. If you take out the 65-yard touchdown run, The Citadel rushed 40 times for just 134 yards.
Three things that did not work:
1. Allowing a big play
We have to be nitpicky because there really were not a whole of negatives from Saturday's performance. The 65-yard touchdown run by Robinson though was a big play that was probably preventable if the defense had executed properly. State has had an issue giving up a big play or two in the early games, something to watch for against Miami and their dynamic freshman running back Duke Johnson.
2. Staying sharp in the third quarter
The offense moved the ball at will to start the third quarter, but fifth-year senior receiver Tobais Palmer fumbled the ball going into the end zone. On the Pack's next possession, a lateral to redshirt sophomore Bryan Underwood was mishandled, leading to another Wolfpack turnover. That one The Citadel converted into points with a touchdown run.
3. Getting out of the game completely healthy
That's always a worry playing against an option team. Entering ACC play State has injuries at running back, offensive line and defensive line that need to heal up in a hurry. Several Wolfpackers, including redshirt sophomore defensive tackle Thomas Teal and fifth-year senior right tackle Andrew Wallace, left Saturday's game early with injuries.
Breaking down the position battles:
NC State's OL vs. The Citadel's front seven
The Citadel had three sacks, but otherwise this was a totally dominating effort by the Wolfpack. State averaged 5.5 yards a carry en route to 282 rushing yards, and Glennon had plenty of time to throw on most of his pass attempts. Of the 38 times State handed it off to a running back, they were tackled for a loss just once, and that was for only one yard.
NC State's front seven vs. The Citadel's OL
Defending the option is always a challenge, and thus you are probably better measured by how many plays you give up rather than how many tackles you are making in the backfield. NCSU allowed just one run longer than 15 yards all game, and that's a pretty good night against the option.
NC State's WR vs. The Citadel's DB
State's play calling was much more run-focused than normal, so they did not challenge the defensive backs as much. But when they did, they found success. It was another big game for Payton, who caught five passes for 100 yards. Underwood made it four straight games with a touchdown catch.
NC State's DB vs. The Citadel's WR
The Citadel only tried seven passes, completing four. Junior corner David Amerson baited Aaron Miller into an interception though, giving Amerson three for the year and 16 for his career.
Glennon was sharp Saturday, and the Wolfpack defense prevented The Citadel's Ben Dupree from taking over the game. Dupree had just one rushing yard on eight carries.
Thornton had a special night, but fifth-year senior Brandon Barnes and walk-ons Jonathan Fisher and Milton Hall all also had success running the football. State's running backs were far more productive and successful.
Option attacks do not feature the tight end, but State was able to get the combination of fifth-year senior Mario Carter and redshirt junior Asa Watson involved. Carter caught two passes for 21 yards, and Watson hauled in a 7-yard pass.
Sophomore Niklas Sade made a 23-yard field goal and four of his eight kickoffs went for touchbacks, and of course redshirt junior receiver Rashard Smith electrified the crowd with a 73-yard punt return for a score. It was another good night for State's special teams, which is quietly having a pretty good year thus far.