Saturday started promisingly for NC State, but ended with a 38-31 loss at Maryland that derailed the Pack's ACC title hopes. Now it's time for some Monday Morning Quarterbacking.
Key moment of the game:
NC State trailed 31-17 with under seven minutes left and faced a fourth and goal at the Maryland 8-yard line. Redshirt junior quarterback Russell Wilson scrambled desperately to find an open receiver, but there would be no miracle this time. Maryland senior defensive lineman Drew Gloster sacked Wilson back at the 29-yard line before Wilson was able to throw the ball up for grabs.
On the very next play, Maryland redshirt freshman quarterback Danny O'Brien went deep to junior receiver Torrey Smith for a 71-yard touchdown with 6:26 left in the game that gave the Terps an insurmountable 38-17 advantage.
Three things that worked:
1. Stopping the run
NC State keyed on stopping Maryland's rushing attack and succeeded greatly. The trio of senior Da'Rel Scott, junior Davin Meggett and freshman D.J. Adams was held to 15 carries for no yards. As a team the Terps ran 20 times for negative-nine yards, marking the second straight game NC State held the opposition to negative rushing yards.
2. Starting strong
The conventional wisdom had been that if NC State could start strong a demoralized Maryland team would fold quickly after the Terps saw their ACC title hopes derailed a week earlier at home by Florida State. That obviously did not turn out to be the case, but NC State did start strong. The Pack jumped out to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter.
3. Never quit
Down three touchdowns with about six minutes left spells doom, but NC State came close to getting the ball back with a chance to tie it in the final minute. The Pack scored two touchdowns to cut the lead to 38-31, but a very questionable fourth and one spotting by the officiating crew gave Maryland a first down at the NC State 31 with about a minute left.
Three things that did not work:
1. Covering Torrey Smith
Fourteen catches for 224 yards and four touchdowns. Enough said.
2. Pressuring Danny O'Brien
The rookie quarterback dropped back to throw 50 times, and he was only sacked twice on the afternoon, and the Pack was not credited with a quarterback hurry. Maryland, with its patchwork offensive line, did a great job protecting O'Brien and executing an offensive game plan that was well suited to attack an NC State defense geared up to stop the run.
3. Making winning plays
The bottom line in this game is Maryland made seemingly all the winning plays. The Pack was up 14-0 and had Maryland facing a third and 10 at the NC State 44 when O'Brien hooked up with Smith for a 35-yard gain to set up the Terps first score. Had the Pack held there, they would have forced Maryland to punt.
On the next possession, NC State had a third and two at their own 42 but sophomore running back James Washington was stopped for a one-yard loss. After forcing a Maryland three and out, junior receiver T.J. Graham fumbled at the NC State 36, and Maryland was able to win the field position battle. Eventually the Terps would get an interception off a deflected pass to Graham that would be returned 26 yards to the NC State 3 and set up the tying score when O'Brien found Smith for an 11-yard strike on third and goal.
Near the end of the second quarter, fifth-year senior field goal kicker Josh Czajkowski had his 38-yard field goal attempt blocked and returned 35 yards to the NC State 47 with 43 seconds left, setting up a career-long 52-yarder by senior Travis Baltz to give the Terps a 17-14 lead at halftime.
Maryland converted a third and 11 at their own 32 when O'Brien found Smith for a 21-yard gain to set up a crucial third quarter touchdown that gave the Terps a 24-14 lead. On the next possession, State drove to the Maryland 13 when redshirt junior tight end George Bryan dropped what would have been a sure touchdown, forcing State to kick a field goal and trail 24-17 instead of cutting the lead to 24-21.
The Pack had a chance to tie it when they regained possession at the start of the fourth quarter but went three and out, and on the next possession Maryland scored on three pass plays thanks in part to a short punt going into the wind by fifth-year senior Jeff Ruiz. Then there was the whole sequence that was detailed earlier in the key moment of the game.
Breaking down the position battles:
NC State's OL vs. Maryland's front seven
Maryland had four sacks and eight tackles for losses, but the NC State offensive line had to pass protect for over 60 plays, and the running backs were tackled behind the line of scrimmage just twice in 19 carries. The offensive line was not the problem Saturday, although in crucial situations they could have done a better job.
NC State's front seven vs. Maryland's OL
In the running game, there was no doubt that NC State's front seven overwhelmed Maryland. In the passing game however, it was a different story.
NC State's WR vs. Maryland's DB
This was one of NC State's worst performances of the year from the receiving corps. Dropped passes and short-arming catchable balls will haunt the receivers for some time. Maryland's defensive backs were also hitting hard Saturday.
NC State's DB vs. Maryland's WR
See Smith's numbers.
With more help Wilson would have had a very nice game. He completed 31 of 60 passes for 311 yards and two touchdowns with one interception and ran 17 times for 53 yards and two scores, and that included a 21-yard loss on a sack while trying to make a play happen on fourth and goal.
O'Brien though was terrific and showed while Maryland coaches and fans are extremely excited about his future. He completed 33 of 47 passes for 417 yards and four touchdowns without throwing an interception.
Washington actually ran well as the game progressed and finished with 15 carries for 55 yards and caught six passes for 46 yards and a score. The Pack though may have been hurt when freshman Mustafa Greene was knocked out of the game thanks to a vicious hit while trying to make a catch. Nevertheless, State's running game was more productive than Maryland's.
NC State redshirt junior George Bryan caught four passes for 24 yards, but he will be more plagued by the catches he didn't make. Bryan was overshadowed by surprising senior Will Yeatman, who caught five passes for 46 yards after not being a big factor in Maryland's passing attack earlier this year.
One of the plays of the game was the blocked field goal. Otherwise neither team had a lot of missteps or big plays on special teams. Baltz did miss a 37-yarder for Maryland in the second quarter, but given the blocked field goal was turned into three points right before halftime, they get the edge in the special teams matchup.