Saturday's contest at Central Florida was considered a litmus test for the Pack, and NC State emerged with a passing grade after knocking off a stubborn Knights squad 28-21. Now it's time for some Monday Morning Quarterbacking.
Key moment of the game:
NC State had total control of the contest in the first half, taking a 21-7 lead into the locker room, and the defense was technically pitching a shutout because UCF's lone score came when sophomore receiver Quincy McDuffie returned a second quarter kickoff 93 yards for a touchdown.
After halftime, there was a feeling that if NC State could get one more score they would put the game out of reach for Central Florida. State's offense however was struggling to gain traction, even after redshirt junior linebacker Audie Cole picked off freshman receiver Nico Flores' double reverse halfback pass at midfield with 7:29 left in the third quarter.
State's drive stalled at the UCF 37, and the Pack was forced to punt. Three plays later, Central Florida junior quarterback Rob Calabrese threw an interception that was returned by redshirt sophomore cornerback C.J. Wilson 43 yards for a touchdown with 5:22 left in the third.
The play was key for two reasons. Most importantly it gave the Pack an insurmountable 28-7 lead, but it also was the final straw for Calabrese, who was replaced by the immeasurably more effective freshman Jeffrey Godfrey. Godfrey led a UCF comeback that included two fourth quarter touchdowns and a drive that nearly tied the game in the final minute.
Three things that worked:
1. Rush defense
Central Florida head coach George O'Leary has a simple formula for success. Part of that includes a methodical offense that uses a physical rushing attack to set up the play action passes and control time of possession. Central Florida though never established a ground attack against the Pack. Central Florida had 34 carries for 95 yards on the game, an average of just 2.8 yards per rush. If you take out Godfrey's scrambles, the numbers fall to 24 rushes for 42 yards.
2. Forcing turnovers
NC State's defense can be credited with forcing three turnovers while two were more of the fortunate variety. The game-clinching fumble was a textbook helmet on ball hit by sophomore safety Brandan Bishop. Cole's interception was pure hustle and recognition, while redshirt sophomore Earl Wolff's pick came off a deflected pass at the line of scrimmage by redshirt junior defensive tackle J.R. Sweezy.
3. First half by freshmen running backs
The duo of freshman Mustafa Greene and redshirt freshman Dean Haynes ran well against Central Florida, carrying a combined 24 times for 104 yards and two scores. The huge majority of that however came in the first half. In the first 30 minutes of action they ran 17 times for 87 yards and both their scores. They also picked up the slack for a surprisingly ineffective redshirt junior quarterback Russell Wilson.
Three things that did not work:
1. Passing offense
Much of the blame is going to be laid on Wilson, who completed just 10 of 30 passes for 105 yards and a touchdown. However, Wilson was not alone in being effective in the passing attack. The offensive line struggled to contain Central Florida's speedy and aggressive pass rushers, and wide receivers were not breaking open that often.
2. Special teams
A week after a strong effort against Western Carolina, the Pack took a step back on special teams. Although fifth-year senior placekicker Josh Czajkowski had his first two career kickoff touchbacks and averaged a solid 61.8 yards on kickoffs, McDuffie did have the 93-yard return for a score. Fifth-year senior punter Jeff Ruiz also struggled, averaging just 33.7 yards per punt on 10 boots, including a late 14-yard shank that set up Central Florida for their final possession at the NC State 49.
3. Containing Godfrey
There is no denying that Godfrey gave the Knights a jolt of energy and looks to have a very bright future at Central Florida. He ran 10 times for 53 yards and two scores and completed 7 of 10 passes for 107 yards. State struggled to keep Godfrey bottled up in the pocket, and he eluded fifth-year senior linebacker Nate Irving twice in the backfield. To be fair to the Pack's defense, Godfrey's fresh and quick legs was running around against a tired Wolfpack unit on a hot, muggy night in Orlando.
Breaking down the position battles:
NC State's OL vs. UCF's front seven
Aside from some noted success running the ball in the first half, Central Florida's front seven controlled the line of scrimmage Saturday. Senior defensive end Bruce Miller and his counterpart Darius Nall, a junior, were particularly destructive. The two combined for eight tackles, including two sacks, and eight quarterback hurries. The good news for the Pack is that State controlled the action up the middle against UCF's young defensive tackles.
NC State's front seven vs. UCF's OL
Central Florida's only offensive success came because the athletic Godfrey was able to improvise on the run and keep plays alive. The line of scrimmage was mostly controlled by the Pack's front seven, which had a strong performance, especially in shutting down UCF's rushing attack.
NC State's WR vs. UCF's DB
There were a few times the Wolfpack receivers got open deep. Ffith-year senior Darrell Davis' touchdown catch was an easy pass, and senior Owen Spencer got wide open deep in the first quarter but Wilson overthrew him. All in all though the Central Florida defensive backs did a pretty good job covering State's receivers.
NC State's DB vs. UCF's WR
Central Florida has a pretty good group of receivers that goes five deep and definitely challenged the Pack's defensive backs. State's secondary played a solid game but also allowed some UCF receivers to get open from time to time.
The good news for State was that Wilson did not turn it over and was effective scrambling at times, rushing 13 times for 35 yards. The best quarterback on the field Saturday though was Godfrey. Both Wilson and Calabrese struggled, but unlike Wilson, Calabrese turned it over twice.
UCF's Jonathan Davis could not build on his 100-yard effort against South Dakota in week one. The Pack bottled him up for just 32 yards on 16 carries. State's duo of Greene and Haynes were much more effective.
Bryan was actually NC State's leading receiver and perhaps in hindsight should have been utilized in the passing game more. He had three catches for 35 yards. UCF did not utilize the tight end much at all.
All the big plays in special teams were made by Central Florida. Strong special teams have been a big of a trademark for O'Leary, and Saturday night was no exception.