TheWolfpacker - Monday morning quarterbacking: Clemson 55, NC State 10
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Monday morning quarterbacking: Clemson 55, NC State 10

It was not a pretty homecoming, after NC State football lost 55-10 at home to Clemson.

It’s time for a final look at the contest with some Monday morning quarterbacking:

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Redshirt freshman quarterback Devin Leary and the Wolfpack offense struggled again, this time against the Tigers.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Devin Leary and the Wolfpack offense struggled again, this time against the Tigers. (Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports)

Key Moment Of The Game

Given the state of the Pack’s health and being forced to start eight freshmen or sophomores on offense and six more on defense, some fluky things were going to need to happen to give the Wolfpack any hope.

All chances for that began to eradicate when NC State elected to accept a holding penalty, changing a fourth-and-short into a third-and-14 for Clemson at the NC State 33-yard line. Clemson sophomore quarterback Trevor Lawrence then, on the next play, threw a 33-yard touchdown pass to junior wide receiver Tee Higgins to go up 14-0 with five minutes left in the first quarter.

Two plays after that, NC State freshman running back Jordan Houston fumbled, and Clemson recovered and took possession at the NC State 3-yard line. The avalanche would soon begin.

Three Things That Worked

1. Zonovan Knight running the football

Hard as it may seem, there was a clear bright spot Saturday and that was the freshman’s big effort. He ran 12 times for 139 yards, including a 53-yard touchdown. He also had a 41-yard rush and finally showed some of his big-play capabilities.

2. The kickers

When the final chapter is written on the 2019 season, it will say that NC State may have found as dynamic a kicking duo as it has seen in many years. Sophomore Christopher Dunn made a season-long 46-yard field goal, and redshirt sophomore Trenton Gill averaged 52.2 yards per punt, including a 75-yarder that was one small favorable bounce away from being downed inside the 5-yard line.

3. Taking the lumps with the young players

NC State started four true freshmen and four redshirt freshmen Saturday against maybe the best team in the country. The Pack got whupped, but the hope is the experience will start paying benefits, if not in the final weeks of this season then next year when the vast majority of the team returns.

Three Things That Did Not Work

1. Coming through unscathed

When it’s clear that a team is overmatched, one of the unspoken goals is to get out of the game avoiding injuries. Yet four linebackers and a cornerback on defense were all sidelined before the night was over.

Thus far this year, NC State has had 23 players miss action, including 14 that had started at least one game in their careers. Fourteen players were out Saturday against Clemson. Adding to that list was the last thing the Pack needed.

2. Avoiding mistakes

The bottom line is that the first step towards improvement that NC State can take — once accepting the reality of the injury situation — is to stop fumbling deep in its own territory. NCSU did that twice in the first quarter.

It also had a promising drive at the end of the first half when redshirt freshman quarterback Devin Leary didn’t field the shotgun snap. Then there was fifth-year senior Tabari Hines' beyond-bizarre decision to try to jump on a punt that was about to roll dead, surrounded by Clemson players.

3. First quarter

NC State has been outscored 49-0 in the first quarter in the last two games. It’s hard to play with confidence when there's a feeling of déjà vu 15 minutes into the game.

Position-By-Position Battles

NC State’s offensive line vs. Clemson’s front

On the surface, NC State averaged 4.0 yards per carry and only gave up two sacks. Clemson had held opponents to 3.0 yards a rush and averaged 3.3 sacks a contest going into Saturday. Clemson won the battle, but an NCSU offensive line starting a pair of true freshmen may have done somewhat better than expected.

Clemson’s offensive line vs. NC State’s front

The Tigers averaged 6.0 yards per carry and gave up only one sack. Clemson has four seniors starting on its offensive line, and the experience and talent showed in a dominant win.

NC State’s wide receivers vs. Clemson’s secondary

Another decisive victory for the Tigers here. NCSU’s receivers combined for just nine receptions on Saturday.

Clemson’s wide receivers vs. NC State’s secondary

Like the previous Saturday against Wake Forest, NCSU was dominated on the perimeter on both sides of the ball. That is not surprising, however, because Clemson owns a collection of skill talent at receiver that rivals anyone in college football. Additionally, NCSU was severely shorthanded in the secondary.

Quarterbacks

After the WFU loss, we noted the glaring difference in the margin could partially be explained by quarterback play. That was the case again. Lawrence looked every bit the likely future No. 1 overall NFL Draft pick, completing 20 of 27 passes for 276 yards with three touchdowns.

Leary battled for NC State and completed 14 of 29 passes for 166 yards under tough circumstances.

Running backs

Clemson junior Travis Etienne was efficient and very good for Clemson, running 14 times for 112 yards and two scores. Overall, the Tigers got more production from their running backs. Whereas Knight had a great game for NC State, his classmate Houston struggled (net loss of 15 yards on seven runs).

Tight ends/fullbacks

NCSU redshirt junior Cary Angeline continues his solid season with two receptions for 53 yards. Clemson did not use the tight end in the passing game.

Special teams

Both teams punted well, but Clemson didn’t need its field goal kicker. However, Hines’ foolish decision on the punt return gives the edge to the Tigers.

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