The Pack showed a much better effort against Florida State than in their prior two defeats, but in the end NC State came up a bit short as the Noles scored a late touchdown in a 45-42 FSU win that extended the Pack's losing streak to four games. Now it's time for some Monday Morning Quarterbacking.
Key moment of the game:
There were two missed opportunities for NC State that may have affected the outcome, and they both had to deal with the Pack not taking advantage of turnovers.
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The first came at the end of the first half. Redshirt freshman linebacker Terrell Manning picked off FSU junior quarterback Christian Ponder at the FSU 46 with 40 seconds left and the game tied 21-21. With a golden opportunity to take the lead going into halftime, NC State redshirt sophomore Russell Wilson hit classmate tight end George Bryan for eight yards on second down over the middle to the FSU 38. Instead of calling one of their three available timeouts, NC State tried to rush a play off and was flagged for illegal shift. NC State in a panic finally called timeout with seven seconds left and Wilson's desperate heave to end the half was intercepted.
The second came when the game was tied 28-28 with 7:37 left in the third quarter. Ponder's pass was intercepted by junior defensive tackle Natanu Mageo, but Mageo then fumbled the ball as he was falling to the ground at the FSU 18. FSU sophomore Jarmon Fortson recovered for the Noles, and FSU would drive the field for a field goal that would prove to be the difference in the game.
Three things that worked:
1. The offense
With the defense being what they are, NC State's chance to win games is in a shootout, and the offense definitely put forth a winning effort. They ran for 189 yards, threw for 389 and totaled 538 yards. They scored touchdowns on six of their 12 possessions. That's the type of consistency that was lacking in recent games.
Say this about the Pack, they fought hard in this game. Head coach Tom O'Brien made special mention after the contest of State's effort, which could not be said for the Florida State game two weeks before.
3. Toney Baker
Special mention goes to the fifth-year senior running back that played one of his finest games in a NC State uniform Saturday. Baker ran 19 times for 112 yards and also caught three passes for 32 yards. It's been a remarkable comeback for a player who many wondered if he would ever play again at one point.
Three things that did not work:
Fans hate to hear it, but the defense is what it is. After a fourth consecutive game where the opponent torched NC State, Pack fans should probably accept the reality that the defense is going to be lit up. FSU had 555 yards of total offense. What was especially disconcerting however was their success running the ball. FSU had 278 yards rushing.
2. Third down defense
One huge problem that NC State has faced on defense is they simply cannot get off the field. Florida State went 8 of 12 on third downs. NC State has forced just 13 punts in their last four games.
3. End of halves management
The two-minute drills did not go well for NC State in this game. In addition to the debacle at the end of the first half, State could not protect Wilson when it counted most, and the Pack could not drive the field for a game-winning touchdown or tying field goal.
Breaking down the position battles:
NC State's OL vs. Florida State's front seven
NC State won the battle here, especially impressive considering State lost starting right guard R.J. Mattes, a redshirt freshman, to a torn ACL in the first quarter. However, when it counted most, the Pack did not give Wilson the protection he needed.
NC State's front seven vs. Florida State's OL
For the second straight game, the offensive line dominated NC State's front seven. The Pack did not record a single sack in the game, and FSU averaged a stunning 8.4 yards per rush.
NC State's WR vs. Florida State's DB
FSU could not cover NC State junior wide out Owen Spencer on deep routes or redshirt junior Jarvis Williams in the red zone. Overall it was a solid game for NC State's receivers.
NC State's DB vs. Florida State's WR
It's hard to cover when you cannot get pressure on the quarterback .The defensive backs made their mistakes, but this game was not on them as much as previous losses.
Both quarterbacks played very well. Ponder showed tremendous heart to shake off a painful ribs injury and lead his team to a win. On the other side, Wilson had probably his best throwing game of the year.
Both teams' running backs ran well. Offense was not the problem on either side of the ball. FSU sophomore Jermaine Thomas though was especially impressive, running 20 times for 186 yards and two scores.
NC State redshirt junior George Bryan continues to prove he is probably the ACC's best tight end. Bryan caught four passes for 47 yards, including a nice 29-yard touchdown reception in the fourth quarter. Bryan was the best tight end on the field Saturday. FSU's Beau Reliford caught just one pass for eight yards.
Neither team gave up a big play on special teams. Coverage units were solid all around. NC State redshirt junior Josh Czajkowski did have one kickoff go out of bounds, but overall an uneventful afternoon on special teams on both sides of the ball.