It took a half, but NC State asserted their superiority over a rebuilding Wake Forest squad and rolled to a 38-3 win Saturday at Carter-Finley Stadium in the final home game of the year for the Pack. Now it's time for some Monday Morning Quarterbacking.
Key moment of the game:
NC State led 10-3 in the second quarter after a four-yard touchdown pass from redshirt junior quarterback Russell Wilson to fifth-year senior receiver Jarvis Williams with 7:47 left in the first half.
Freshman walk-on kicker Chris Hawthorne made his one mistake in the game during his debut as the injured Josh Czajkowski's replacement. He kicked the ball out of bounds on the ensuing kickoff, giving Wake Forest the ball at its own 40. The Deacs went back to the ball control strategy that worked well in the first quarter.
They ran with fifth-year senior Josh Adams and redshirt freshman Michael Campanaro, a converted wide out, 10 times out of 12 plays to reach the NC State 2-yard line where they faced fourth and goal with 1:02 left. After calling a timeout, Wake Forest decided to go for it with another run by Campanaro. State was waiting for him though. Fifth-year senior defensive end David Akinniyi and sophomore safety Brandan Bishop were credited with a tackle for a one-yard loss.
NC State went into the locker room with a 10-3 lead, and they would score a touchdown on their opening possession in the second half, effectively putting the game out of reach.
Three things that worked:
1. Nate Irving
This may have been the fifth-year senior's finest game in a Wolfpack uniform. He dominated at times, leaving Wake Forest head coach Jim Grobe shaking his head during his post-game press conference over how Irving was unblockable for the Deacs. Irving finished with 13 tackles, including a school record-setting eight tackles for loss and a sack.
2. Russell Wilson
Wilson may have had some better games statistically, but he was really in a nice rhythm against Wake Forest. Wilson completed 24 of 35 passes for 300 yards and two touchdowns. He did have one pick at the NC State 15 that came on a fourth and nine play at the NC State 35 in what was effectively a punt for NC State. Wilson used all phases of the passing game, hitting running backs out of the backfield and receivers open down the field. Wilson also ran effectively when needed.
3. Getting it done
Granted NC State was playing an inferior opponent Saturday in Wake Forest, a team that has now lost eight straight games and many of them lopsided. But NC State deserves credit for taking advantage of the opportunity. The Pack put the game away rather quickly in the second half, and none of the starters were on the field at the end of the game.
Three things that did not work:
1. Starting strong
Credit Wake Forest for coming out with an effective game plan to start the game. The Deacs set the tone by running on the first five plays of the game. They ran for much of the first half, having the ball over 21 minutes and coming close to scoring two touchdowns, but the Pack's goal line defense had the answer both times.
2. Running the football
The ground attack did not seem to be a big part of the game plan Saturday afternoon, but still the Wolfpack had an awful time running when they did try. The running back duo of sophomore James Washington, earning his first career start, and freshman Mustafa Greene, ran 11 times for just 25 yards. State's best runs Saturday were Wilson scrambles.
3. Pitching a shutout
Incredibly nit-picky, but NC State really came close to getting a shutout Saturday against Wake Forest. The Deacs' lone score came at the end of a drive that was continued because of a running into the punter penalty against NC State redshirt sophomore linebacker Colby Jackson. Without that call, the Wolfpack very well could have gotten a well-deserved shutout.
Breaking down the position battles:
NC State's OL vs. Wake Forest's front seven
The Deacs' front seven may have played as well as any of Wake's units Saturday. They got a couple of sacks and a few more hurries on Wilson, and they were stout against the run.
NC State's front seven vs. Wake Forest's OL
Not much contest here. The Wolfpack got three sacks among their 14 total tackles for losses. Wake ran well at times with its counter and misdirection runs, but once State got a beat on what the Deacs were doing, NC State shut down Wake's rushing attack in the second half.
NC State's WR vs. Wake Forest's DB
This was a mismatch and thus one of State's better efforts from the receivers this year. Senior Owen Spencer had seven catches for 138 yards and a touchdown, and fifth-year senior Jarvis Williams added four catches for 74 yards and a score. Junior T.J. Graham, redshirt junior Jay Smith and redshirt freshman Quintin Payton all caught passes as well.
NC State's DB vs. Wake Forest's WR
Wake Forest has a very good receiving corps with redshirt junior Devon Brown, redshirt sophomore Chris Givens and fifth-year senior Marshall Williams, but they are only as good as their quarterback, and freshman Tanner Price struggled.
Nevertheless, this was a strong performance by the secondary. Redshirt sophomore Earl Wolff and Bishop both had big afternoons. Wolff had 11 tackles, including 1.5 for loss and a sack, and he had a fumble recovery. Bishop added seven hits, including an assist on one for a loss.
Maybe the biggest difference in the game. Price is a true freshman that has shown earlier this year he has a nice arm, but he's probably being pressed into duty before he's truly ready. Wilson was a significantly better quarterback on this afternoon.
The best running back on the field was Campanaro, a converted wide out making his debut at the position. He ran 19 times for 67 yards, and he broke quite a few tackles on the afternoon. Adams was solid with 10 runs for 39 yards. NC State's running backs did more damage receiving than running. Washington caught seven passes for 36 yards, and Greene added three more receptions for 22 yards.
NC State's George Bryan, a redshirt junior, caught just one pass for seven yards. Wake Forest's Andrew Parker, a junior, caught a nine-yard reception. As you can see, neither was a potent weapon Saturday.
NC State still had a few miscues here. Jackson had the running into the punter penalty, and Hawthorne had the kickoff that went out of bounds. Campanaro had a nice 41-yard kickoff return, and Graham for NC State dropped at least three punts, although he was able to recover all of them.