NC State lost any chance to be bowl eligible with a 43-23 loss to Clemson at Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh Saturday afternoon. The defeat left NC State at 4-6 overall and just 1-5 in ACC action with two conference games left in the season. Now it's time for some Monday Morning Quarterbacking.
Key moment of the game:
There were actually two moments that stood out in this game. The first came right after Clemson took a 10-0 lead with 14:29 left in the second quarter. A false start penalty on redshirt freshman lineman Andrew Wallace set the Pack back on its drive, and redshirt sophomore quarterback Russell Wilson was sacked for a 8-yard loss on third and 11 at the NC State 19. What happened next would be a disaster.
Trying to kick it away from Clemson's dangerous kick returners, NC State redshirt junior punter Jeff Ruiz booted it just six yards before it went out of bounds at the NC State 17. Clemson quickly converted with a halfback pass from senior running back C.J. Spiller to senior wide out Xavier Dye on the next play to take a 17-0 lead with 12:48 left in the half.
The second crucial moment occurred in the third quarter. NC State had just completed its best drive of the game to start the second half, scoring on Wilson's 8-yard pass to redshirt junior receiver Jarvis Williams to complete a 9-play, 75-yard drive in 3:45 and cutting Clemson's lead to 24-14 with 11:15 to go in the third quarter.
In desperate need of a stop for a chance to get back into the game, NC State thought they had it when senior safety Clem Johnson appeared to rip the ball loose from Spiller and recover the fumble at the NC State 22. However, the runner was ruled down on the field, and inexplicably the review booth decided not to take a look at it. NC State was forced to challenge, but the review official did not overturn the call despite video evidence that appeared to show a fumble on the play. Clemson would score two plays later on a touchdown run by Spiller, giving them a 30-14 lead with 7:56 to go in the game.
Three things that worked:
1. Solid effort from offensive line
Against Clemson's much heralded defense that led the ACC in sacks, the Pack did a good job protecting Wilson during the game, giving up just two sacks, and NC State managed to run for a respectable 138 yards on the day.
2. Toney Baker running hard
The fifth-year senior continues to have a very good season. He ran 19 times for 76 yards, an average of 4.0 yards per carry against a stiff defense. Perhaps most impressively is that Baker did not once get dropped in the backfield for a loss.
3. Koyal George
The former walk-on was the starting cornerback to start the year, but after early season struggles was demoted from the rotation and not seeing much playing time. He made the switch to receiver during the bye week and had a noted impact in the passing game Saturday. He caught two passes for 27 yards, including an 18-yard touchdown reception.
Three things that did not work:
1. Defensive breakdowns
The defense gave up too many big plays to Clemson by simply breaking down on assignments. Spiller's halfback pass was to a wide open Dye because the defensive backs left Dye to tackle Spiller. Just after State had cut the lead to 17-7 in the second quarter, they looked poised to get a three and out with the Tigers facing third and 11, but there was a breakdown in coverage and senior wide out Jacoby Ford found himself wide open deep behind the secondary for a 47-yard gain. Spiller was just as open when he scored on a 34-yard pass play in the fourth quarter to give Clemson a 36-17 lead, and the run defense collapsed when Tiger sophomore running back Jamie Harper scampered for a 69-yard touchdown run with 8:42 left in the game.
2. Avoiding Spiller on special teams
Every fan would have agreed with the strategy to avoid kicking to Spiller at all cost, but in the end the cost was expensive. Ruiz's 6-yard punt was one of the key moments of the game. The Tigers also were averaging a starting field position of their own 40 in the first half. Ironically the one time State kicked it to Spiller he only got a 13-yard return.
3. Third down defense
Once again getting off the field was a problem for NC State. Clemson, one of the least effective third down offenses in the league, went 6 of 10 on third downs in the game. That was the best effort on third downs for Clemson this season, although to the Tigers' credit in their past three games before NC State they had converted half their third downs in every contest.
Breaking down the position battles:
NC State's OL vs. Clemson's front seven
For the second straight game, the NC State offensive line really did a nice job against a stiff defense, as we noted above.
NC State's front seven vs. Clemson's OL
The official stats showed no sacks, although that appeared to be incorrect as NC State fifth-year senior defensive end Willie Young did get to Tiger sophomore signal caller Willy Korn in the fourth quarter. The Tigers averaged an amazing 7.1 yards per carry, a number simply way too high.
NC State's WR vs. Clemson's DB
Perhaps the most disappointing position battle of the game as Clemson's defensive backs blanketed NC State's receivers all game, and the Pack's wide outs had too many drops in the rare cases they did find themselves open.
NC State's DB vs. Clemson's WR
Aside from the breakdown on coverage on Ford's big reception, the defensive backs actually did okay. Clemson wide outs only caught five passes total Saturday for 98 yards, almost half of those coming on the Ford catch.
Wilson may have had his worst performance of his career Saturday, completing just 12 of 32 passes for 183 yards and two touchdowns with one pick. He also ran seven times for 25 yards. Clemson rookie signal caller Kyle Parker managed the game well, completing 12 of 18 passes for 183 yards and two scores and running three times for 21 yards. He also did not turn the ball over once.
Spiller was sensational as he always is against NC State. He accounted for 175 yards in the game total and became the first Clemson player to ever throw, catch and run for a touchdown in a single game. Harper and freshman Andre Ellington also played well.
Baker ran hard for NC State, but fifth-year senior Jamelle Eugene struggled, running 15 times for 37 yards and getting dropped in the backfield quite a few times.
Clemson senior Michael Palmer was the Tigers' most effective receiver. He caught four passes for 50 yards, doing a nice job getting a foot down on his five-yard touchdown reception and also making a big 22-yard reception on a third down play when Parker was being pressured for one of the few times in the game. NC State's George Bryan, a redshirt sophomore, was not as effective. He caught three passes for 29 yards in the game, but two of those came in the final drive of the contest.
NC State had a hard time trying to be effective kicking while not kicking to Spiller. Clemson though had issues too on special teams, as Spencer Benton missed two more extra points after having issues the week before against Florida State on points after touchdowns.