NC State made a huge statement in the ACC Atlantic Division with a huge 28-24 home win over then No. 15/16 Florida State in front of 56,807 fans at Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh last Thursday night. Now it's time for some Monday morning quarterbacking.
Key moment of the game:
There were quite a few key moments in this game,' especially in the fourth quarter, but we went a bit earlier than that. NC State had just scored a much-needed touchdown to start the second half and cut FSU's lead to 21-14. The Noles took over at their own 25 with 9:51 left in the third quarter.
Florida State junior running back Jermaine Thomas ran for four yards on first down. On second down, senior quarterback Christian Ponder dropped back to pass. He had an open receiver downfield, but Ponder took a split second too long to make the pass. Just as he started his windup NC State fifth-year senior defensive tackle Natanu Mageo hit Ponder at the Florida State 22, and the ball came loose. NC State redshirt junior defensive tackle J.R. Sweezy recovered what was ruled a fumble. FSU fans will forever argue that Ponder's arm was going forward, but replays were inconclusive, and State was awarded possession.
The Pack faced a third and eight at the Florida State 20 when redshirt junior quarterback Russell Wilson ran for his third score of the night, tying the game at 20-20 with 7:36 left in the third quarter.
Three things that worked:
1. Committing to the run
Florida State's defense has been solid all season aside from their lopsided loss at Oklahoma. However, both Miami and Boston College in FSU's two games before NC State showed that you can run on them. That is exactly what NC State did. The Pack ran a season-high 53 times for an also season-high 189 yards. Reporters covering FSU said they had not seen a team run so effectively on the Noles' defense this season.
In part because of their ability to run, NC State had a decisive time of possession advantage of 32:58 to 27:02 and was an amazing 12 of 18 on third down conversions.
2. Seizing the moment
This game was a must-win for NC State if they wanted to win the Atlantic Division. Florida State was off to an impressive 4-0 start in conference play, and a win against NCSU Thursday would have give them a two-game cushion in the loss column against the Pack. NC State suffered no affects of the loss at ECU in their last game before Florida State, and they did not panic when the Noles scored 21 unanswered second quarter points. Both of those are signs of a mature team with good leadership.
3. Kicking game
Aside from some bad tackling on FSU sophomore corner Greg Reid's 41-yard punt return, NC State had a very good game on special teams. Junior punter Andy Leffler averaged 47.5 yards a boot on his four kicks. Redshirt junior Josh Czajkowski did a good job on kickoffs, averaging 66.4 yards.
The State coverage teams shut down FSU's potent kick return team. The longest return on kickoffs was just 21 yards. Sophomore running back James Washington[/db frustrated FSU head coach [db]Jimbo Fisher by returning a pair of kickoffs 30 yards.
Three things that did not work:
1. The second quarter
The numbers were not pretty. NC State was outgained 167-14 during the second quarter. That included negative-six yards rushing for the Pack. A 7-0 lead after the first quarter turned into a 21-7 halftime deficit. The game got away a little bit from NC State in the second session, and halftime could not have come any sooner for the Pack.
2. Stopping the run
Florida State gained 177 yards on the ground, which was below their season average, but much of that was because they were barely on the field, especially in the second half, and only carried it 33 times. That was the third fewest rushing attempts in a game this year for FSU behind 26 in the opener against Samford, a lopsided win, and 32 times in their blowout loss at Oklahoma.
FSU averaged 5.4 yards per rush in the game. Had NC State's offense not been so effective running the ball and staying on the field, FSU really could have controlled this game with their rushing attack. Junior Ty Jones in particular was a handful to bring down. He ran 10 times for 108 yards.
NC State was flagged nine times for 60 yards, an unusually high number for the fewest penalized team in the ACC. Redshirt junior receiver Jay Smith had a crucial 15-yard personal foul penalty at the FSU 22 late in the third quarter. The Pack also turned it over twice, including when Wilson and fifth year senior receiver Darrell Davis seemed to not be on the same page on a route.
Breaking down the position battles:
NC State's OL vs. Florida State's front seven
The line's day for NC State went much like NC State's night went. In the second quarter they were overwhelmed, giving up three sacks. For the rest of the game though they did not give up a single sack and protected Wilson fairly well while also getting a good enough push for the ground game.
NC State's front seven vs. Florida State's OL
Florida State has one of the best offensive lines in the ACC, and it showed Thursday night. Officially Ponder was sacked three times, but one of those was the game-ending fumble. The other two were coverage sacks. The Noles also did a good job in run blocking. To NC State's front seven's credit, they did force some holding penalties.
NC State's WR vs. Florida State's DB
Both Davis and his classmate, Jarvis Williams made big catches in the fourth quarter, but for the most part FSU's defensive backs did a good job taking the Wolfpack receivers out of the game. The Noles schemed their zone defenses to do just that, but it left them vulnerable to Wilson's scrambling.
NC State's DB vs. Florida State's WR
State had some trouble defending FSU leading receiver Bert Reed, a junior. He caught six passes for 87 yards, including a highlight worthy 30-yarder for a first down on third and 20 that helped set up FSU's last field goal. NC State's defensive backs were not bad, but we give the edge to the FSU receivers here.
Both played very good games, but Wilson made fewer mistakes than Ponder, and that gives him the edge. Wilson completed 18 of 28 passes for 178 yards and a touchdown and ran 17 times for 69 yards and three more scores. His interception may have very well been on Davis and not him. Wilson also deserves credit for running down freshman corner Xavier Rhodes on that play to prevent it from becoming a potential pick six.
Ponder completed 17 of 28 passes for 196 yards and a touchdown and ran 11 times for 21 yards and two scores. However, both of his fumbles could have been avoided, especially the last one.
NC State redshirt freshman Mustafa Greene ran very well, finishing with 76 yards on 17 carries. The combination of Washington and redshirt freshman Dean Haynes combined for 16 carries and 45 yards, and Haynes had a costly fumble in the second quarter.
FSU's running backs were very good though. Jones, Thomas and sophomore Chris Thompson ran a total of 20 times for 163 yards.
NC State redshirt junior George Bryan caught the game-winner, and sophomore Asa Watson had a big 22-yard reception after Wilson escaped a sack in the third quarter. FSU did not utilize their tight end, junior Beau Reliford, much at all. He caught just one pass for five yards. However, Reliford would have caught a potential game winner had Ponder not fumbled on FSU's last play.
Both teams did well. The punting and kickoffs were good. Washington did a nice job returning kickoffs for State while Reid had a big punt return for FSU. Neither team had much to complain about on special teams.