NC State missed a golden opportunity at Clemson Saturday to take control of the Atlantic Division in the ACC when they dropped a 14-13 game to the Tigers. Now it's time for some Monday Morning Quarterbacking.
Key moment of the game:
Most fans are going to point to Tom O'Brien's decision not to go for it on fourth and one late in the fourth quarter as the key moment of the game. We're going to a point though a little earlier than that. NC State led 13-7 with 11:38 left in the fourth quarter after Clemson field goal kick Richard Jackson missed a 32-yarder wide right.
NC State took over at its own 20, but the Pack could not move the ball. Three plays resulted in a loss of two yards, and the Pack was forced to punt. Junior Andy Leffler's kick though was a line drive 34-yarder that was returned by Clemson senior corner Marcus Gilchrist eight yards to the NC State 39, setting up short field for the Tigers.
Clemson took advantage. Sophomore quarterback Kyle Parker completed 4 of 5 passes for 35 yards to set up sophomore running back Jamie Harper's 4-yard touchdown run with 6:18 left in the game and what proved to be the game-winner.
Three things that worked:
1. Overall defense
You don't typically lose games where you allow just 260 yards of total offense and force three turnovers. That happened Saturday though. The Pack effectively shut down Clemson for much of the game. Both of Clemson's touchdowns were set up by great field position and were short drives. The only negative to the defensive performance was the lack of third down stops. Clemson was 8 of 17 on third downs.
2. Short passing game
NC State used redshirt junior tight end George Bryan and the running back duo of sophomore James Washington and freshman Mustafa Greene well in the passing offense. Bryan caught four passes for 51 yards, and Greene and Washington combined to make six more receptions for 60 yards.
3. The effort
NC State's problem Saturday was not from a lack of effort. They came out with good intensity, forcing a three and out on Clemson's first series and marching right down the field for a quick touchdown to take an early 7-0 lead. Playing against a desperate Clemson team, NC State's effort was fine. A prime example was redshirt sophomore corner Gary Grant running Gilchrist down on a long kickoff return to prevent a touchdown before Jackson's second missed field goal. Rather the problem Saturday simply was a lack of execution. The team just was not clicking on offense and special teams.
Three things that did not work:
1. Overall offense
There were moments of good play scattered during the game, but overall NC State struggled. The Pack had just 275 yards of total offense and turned it over twice. They were just 5 of 15 on third downs, and for the first time all season lost the time of possession battle. NC State especially could not open up holes for the running backs. Greene and Washington combined to run 20 times for just 34 yards.
2. Special teams
It was an ugly game for the special teams. Redshirt junior Josh Czajkowski had a short, 30-yard field goal blocked. O'Brien's decision to punt on fourth and one with a little over three minutes left in the game backfired after Leffler had a four-yard kick. Leffler's short punt set up Clemson's go-ahead touchdown. Gilchrist also had a 76-yard kickoff return, and one of Leffler's good punt failed to be downed inside the five despite four Wolfpackers surrounding the football.
3. Taking advantage of the game
Both teams were incredibly sloppy Saturday, and NC State will forever regret not taking advantage of Clemson's miscues. Redshirt junior quarterback Russell Wilson threw a costly interception in the end zone after Clemson fumbled away a handoff deep in Clemson territory. Redshirt sophomore linebacker Terrell Manning had an interception return for a touchdown taken off the board by a block in the back penalty. NC State failed to convert Jackson's two missed field goals into points.
Breaking down the position battles:
NC State's OL vs. Clemson's front seven
Clemson had four sacks, the second most allowed by a Wolfpack offense this year. Boston College had five. Clemson also dominated the line of scrimmage when NC State tried to run the football, totaling seven more tackles for losses. This was not one of State's better efforts along the offensive line.
NC State's front seven vs. Clemson's OL
NC State had three sacks themselves, all from defensive linemen, and the added another three tackles for losses. Both teams front seven controlled most of the action Saturday.
NC State's WR vs. Clemson's DB
Clemson's defensive backs did a good job taking the Wolfpack wide outs out of the game. Take out a 31-yard pass to senior Owen Spencer when a scrambling Wilson was able to improvise for the big gain, State's wide outs had just three catches longer than seven yards.
NC State's DB vs. Clemson's WR
Clemson's much maligned receiving corps actually came up with a solid effort, although almost all of it came on short passes. The Tigers ran a steady diet of receiver screens in the game.
Wilson made one bad pass for an interception, but overall he did not play a bad game Saturday. He completed 22 of 36 passes for 212 yards and a touchdown along with the pick, but simply put the Clemson defense effectively shut down the rest of the Wolfpack attack.
Parker was 20 of 29 for 214 yards and a touchdown with an interception. He also had a fumble, but overall it was a nice rebound game for Parker after his dismal effort at Boston College.
As mentioned above, NC State's running backs had very little running room Saturday. Harper though ran hard for Clemson. Officially he had 25 carries for just 60 yards, but that number is a little deceiving because Harper was credited for a four yard loss on a mishandled handoff with freshman quarterback Tajh Boyd.
Bryan played a very good game for NC State, while Clemson sophomore Dwayne Allen caught just two passes for 13 yards.
NC State's special teams had a very bad game. Clemson's was not much better, but Gilchrist had a couple of very effective returns, and punter Dawson Zimmerman may have saved the game by making a leaping deflection and then catch on a high snap with three minutes left.