NC State missed an opportunity for an early statement win when they lost to Tennessee 35-21 last Friday. Now it's time for a final look at the game with some Monday morning quarterbacking.
Key moment of the game:
The most logical moment to highlight would be the 16 Tennessee points scored in a span of 38 seconds in the final minute of the first quarter that put the Wolfpack in a 22-7 hole, but the truth is State responded by going into halftime down 22-14 and having the first possession of the second half.
The opening drive of the second half started promisingly for the Wolfpack. Redshirt sophomore running back Mustafa Greene ran four times for 21 yards, fifth-year senior quarterback Mike Glennon added his own 7-yard scramble and Glennon also connected with fifth-year senior tight end Mario Carter for another five yards.
Then on second and three at the Tennessee 40, Glennon hit his classmate Tobais Palmer for a short four-yard gain to the 36, but at the end of the play fifth-year senior right tackle Andrew Wallace made a late block that drew a flag for a 15-yard late hit penalty.
That stalled State's opening drive, and Tennessee responded with a backbreaker. The Vols converted four third downs, including two from distances of 10 yards, during an 87-yard touchdown scoring drive that took 6:26 off the clock.
Three things that worked:
1. Finding some receiving targets on offense
The biggest question on the offensive side of the football for NC State was would the inexperienced receivers and tight ends step up and give Glennon some targets. There were a few dropped passes, but overall they had a very good game.
Carter and redshirt junior Asa Watson combined to catch nine passes for 96 yards from the tight end spot, and redshirt junior receiver Quintin Payton had a career game with four catches for 129 yards.
2. The Greene comeback
It's safe to say it was a successful return to the field for Greene, who missed all of last season after having a pair of surgeries to repair a foot injury and then missed most of the spring and the early part of preseason camp with academic-related issues.
Greene ran 11 times for 53 yards and seemed to be State's most effective ball carrier. It was not a perfect performance however as Greene dropped a swing pass out of the backfield on a third and six at the State 38 with the Pack down 22-7 in the second quarter. The play had the appearance of being a significant gain. But overall is looks like Greene is back.
3. Red zone efficiency
All three times NC State got into the red zone they scored touchdowns, and they did with some physicality. Both redshirt sophomore Tony Creecy and senior James Washington punched in two-yard touchdown runs with ease. The other score was a five-yard toss from Glennon to redshirt sophomore Bryan Underwood.
Three things that did not work:
1. Stopping/making the big plays
Tennessee had four plays that went more than 40 yards and accounted for 222 of the Vols' 524 total yards. That means almost 43 percent of UT's offense came on four plays. The other 75 plays netted 302 yards, or 4.0 yards a play.
State had just one play over 40 yards, a 49-yard first quarter pass from Glennon to Payton. Unlike each of Tennessee's plays, NC State's big play did not even result in points much less touchdowns. Three of the Vols' long gains were touchdowns, the other set up a short score.
2. Pressuring Tennessee junior quarterback Tyler Bray
No one denies that NC State's ineffectiveness in hurrying Bray or getting him on the run played a role in Tennessee picking apart the Pack's secondary at times. State finished with just one meaningless late sack. Contrary to some belief, the Pack did blitz, but ran into a mountain in Tennessee's offensive line.
The bigger question: was it an indictment on State's front seven or a credit to Tennessee's offensive line. The Vols returned four starters from a unit that gave up just 18 sacks last year with a schedule that included all of the SEC's best teams.
3. Playing up to potential
Again, some of that may be a credit to Tennessee, but State fans know that Glennon and junior cornerback David Amerson can both play much better than they did. They also know that it's not likely one of the most experienced secondaries in the country will have many communication breakdowns like the one that led to a 72-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter. Tom O'Brien teams also don't usually get costly 15-yard penalties, much less two, like they did in the third quarter.
Breaking down the position battles:
NC State's OL vs. Tennessee's front seven
It was a good game for the offensive line. Glennon got hit some, but he was only sacked once and had a pocket to work with most of the game. The running backs only got hit once behind the line of scrimmage in 26 carries.
On the sack, when Glennon fumbled in the end zone and resulted in a safety, sophomore linebacker Cory Maggitt was blitzing and was blocked by redshirt sophomore fullback Logan Winkles. Glennon may have also been guilty of holding onto the ball too long.
NC State's front seven vs. Tennessee's OL
It's a tale of two stories here. The Pack got almost zero pass rush all night on Bray. We detailed that earlier. However, it's rush defense was not that bad except for when UT sophomore back Marlin Lane was in the game. Junior Rajion Neal was ineffective, rushing 22 times for 53 yards with a long of just eight yards.
Lane opened up the running game, rushing nine times for 75 yards, but it's telling that on Tennessee's three third down and one fourth down play of less than four yards, they converted only two of six, and both of them were on short passes.
NC State's WR vs. Tennessee's DB
This was one of State's better matchups of the game. Five different receivers caught passes, and whether it was through individual efforts or breakdowns in coverage, the Pack got open.
NC State's DB vs. Tennessee's WR
The huge bombs in the first quarter may have skewed the perception of this battle. Amerson was beat badly by junior Cordarrelle Patterson on his 41-yard catch, but senior Zach Rogers' 72-yard score looked to have been the result of a miscommunication.
The Pack got better as the game went along. Patterson did not catch a pass in the second half, and star junior Justin Hunter did catch nine passes but only for 73 yards. Hunter's most effective plays were crossing patterns where linebackers should have been covering as well. NCSU redshirt freshman corner Juston Burris had a nice first game.
Bray was not always accurate, and some of his misfires were way off the mark, but he only had one pass that was close to being intercepted, completed 27 of 41 passes for 333 yards and two scores, and his quick release and arm strength gave State problems.
Glennon on the other hand threw a career-high four picks, two of which were difficult to swallow, and his fumble resulting in a safety had some questionable decision-making as well.
The best running backs on the field were Lane and Greene, both of whom started third on their respective teams' depth charts. State though got better production from its other backs. Creecy ran 10 times for 48 yards and a score.
Carter and Watson had some drops, but overall were effective, while Tennessee did not involve their tight ends near as much.
Aside from a missed field goal and a botched opening kickoff by sophomore NIklas Sade, it was a good performance from State's special teams. Sophomore Wil Baumann punted four times for 41.5 yards, and Palmer had an exciting 43-yard kickoff return. After his opening kick misfire, all of Sade's kickoffs went for touchbacks.
Tennessee, aside from a missed extra point, had a solid special teams performance as well.