The game was certainly not pretty at times, but all that matters is the final outcome. NC State prevailed with a thrilling and emotional 29-25 win at archrival North Carolina in Chapel Hill, N.C., Saturday afternoon. Now it's time for some Monday Morning Quarterbacking.
Key moment of the game:
It will go down as the "two-yard Hail Mary." Before that play however, redshirt junior quarterback Russell Wilson scrambled for a 34-yard gain on third and 18 from the North Carolina 42 to the 8-yard line, and four more yards were added because of UNC junior defensive lineman Quinton Coples had a late-hit penalty on the play.
State gained only two yards on three plays from there, and Tom O'Brien decided to go for it on fourth down and trailing 19-10. The play broke down quickly however. Wilson used his feet to keep the play alive before throwing the ball up for grabs in the right corner of the end zone.
UNC fans will argue that NC State fifth-year senior receiver Darrell Davis, who was out of bounds on the play, knocked the ball back into play, but after the game UNC senior safety Da'Norris Searcy admitted that he was the one that deflected the ball, not Davis. Diving to the ground, NC State senior receiver Owen Spencer made the catch for the most improbable touchdown with 52 seconds left in the third quarter.
Three things that worked:
1. Getting after T.J. Yates
As good as the UNC senior quarterback was Saturday, and he had a great game, Yates also is a slow-footed signal caller and an ideal target for the Pack's blitz schemes. NC State ended up with seven sacks and had another four quarterback hurries. That's why State ended up holding UNC to negative-7 yards rushing for the game.
2. Being strong in the fourth quarter
The improbable touchdown pass from Wilson to Spencer set up what was, for the most part, a dominant fourth quarter for State. Junior receiver T.J. Graham returned a punt 87 yards for a touchdown, and then the Pack forced a punt on UNC's next possession. State then ran the ball at will on UNC to get a crucial insurance field goal.
The quarter was not perfect. UNC did almost tie the game, and a crucial false start penalty probably cost State a touchdown that could have put the game out of reach, but the Pack ended the game emphatically when redshirt sophomore linebacker Terrell Manning sacked Yates for a safety.
3. Red zone defense
One of the major reasons why NC State won this game was because UNC failed to score touchdowns on some of their promising drives. Twice the Heels had to settle for field goals instead of touchdowns in the red zone thanks in large part because of the Wolfpack's defense.
Although it was not technically in the red zone, the Heels also had a drive stall at the NC State 20. Fifth-year senior linebacker Nate Irving also forced a fumble by UNC tight end Ed Barham at the NC State 28
Three things that did not work:
1. Covering Anthony Elzy
Yates killed NC State with dump downs and screen passes to UNC senior running back Elzy, who caught nine passes for 178 yards and a touchdown. He had screen passes that went for 52 and 42 yards during the game.
2. Covering the middle of the field
NC State got burned a few times over the middle of the field in the passing game, in particular by sophomore receiver Erik Highsmith. He caught a 29-yard pass late in the second quarter to set up a 49-yard field goal for Casey Barth with just 15 seconds left before half. Highsmith caught a 16-yarder as well that went to the NC State 1 and set up the final UNC touchdown.
3. Protecting Wilson
UNC had four sacks and five quarterback hurries in the game. Wilson seemed to be scrambling more than normal in this game. Sophomore defensive end Donte Paige-Moss in particular was effective in getting after Wilson. He had 10 tackles, four of them for losses and two sacks, and a quarterback hurry.
Breaking down the position battles:
NC State's OL vs. UNC's front seven
As mentioned above, this was not a good game for the Pack in pass protection. The offensive line did redeem themselves a bit late in the game when they helped the Pack's running backs run down the field for a late field goal.
NC State's front seven vs. UNC's OL
NC State sacked Yates seven times, and the longest UNC run from the scrimmage was just nine yards. NC State's front seven controlled this matchup for the Wolfpack.
NC State's WR vs. UNC's DB
UNC's defensive backs played a solid game, but they did have trouble covering Spencer, who caught five passes for 92 yards. The rest of the State receiving corps caught just four passes for 12 yards however.
NC State's DB vs. UNC's WR
UNC big-play junior receiver Dwight Jones was relatively held in check at five catches for 54 yards. Highsmith hurt the team over the middle, but other UNC receivers did not have a big impact in the game.
Wilson emerged victorious, and his legs did a lot of damage. Despite four sacks that cost him 32 yards, he still ran 10 times for 26 yards. Without the sacks it was six carries for 58 yards. Wilson though did not have a great throwing game, completing 15 of 29 passes for 163 yards and two touchdowns with a pick.
Yates was the opposite. He threw brilliantly, completing 33 of 44 passes for 411 yards and two scores, but his lack of mobility was an issue for UNC.
Kudos to Elzy for the damage he did out of the backfield as a receiver. In terms of actually running the football, NC State's duo of sophomore James Washington and freshman Mustafa Greene were more effective. They ran 21 times for 88 yards. Elzy and senior Shaun Draughn ran 18 times for just 46 yards.
NC State fifth-year senior George Bryan caught just one pass for 12 yards, while UNC's duo of Barham and senior Ryan Taylor caught a combined eight passes for 82 yards. UNC's tight ends were clearly more effective in the passing game.
One of the biggest players in the game was Graham's punt return for a touchdown. State also got a crucial 57-yard punt from senior Jeff Ruiz, and they handled the onside kicks well. State was better on special teams Saturday than UNC.