For the second straight game NC State made a statement on national television, this time dominating defending ACC champion Georgia Tech 45-28 in Atlanta on Saturday. The win help propel NC State to No. 23 in the Associated Press Top 25 poll. Now it's time for some Monday Morning Quarterbacking.
Key moment of the game:
Despite dominating the contest, NC State had lost all momentum when Georgia Tech scored a pair of touchdowns 50 seconds apart in the fourth quarter, cutting State's lead to 31-28 with about 12 minutes left in the game.
State though showed the signs of a mature and poised team. The Pack marched down the field with a balanced attack, reaching the Georgia Tech 18 before facing their first third down of the drive. A false start by freshman running back Mustafa Greene pushed NC State back to the 23 and gave the Pack a third and 11, but redshirt junior quarterback Russell Wilson still found junior receiver T.J. Graham in the end zone for a 23-yard touchdown that allowed State to re-establish control at 38-28 with 8:31 left in the game.
State went nine plays to cover 74 yards in 3:33 on the touchdown drive. It was the third time Saturday that Georgia Tech cut State's lead to three points only to have NC State march down the field for a touchdown on the ensuing drive.
Three things that worked:
1. Moving the football
Last week NC State went for 491 yards of total offense against Cincinnati. At Georgia Tech they did even better, totaling 527 yards and owning a 33:14 to 26:46 time of possession advantage. The Pack threw 41 times for 368 yards and ran 40 times for 159 yards. That's called offensive balance.
2. Defending the first down
Georgia Tech was just 4 of 14 on third down conversions and 1 of 4 on fourth downs. A big reason for that is Tech is not a good second and third down and long team, and that was the situation Georgia Tech found itself in all afternoon. Officially Tech averaged a respectable 6.2 yards per first down play, but that number is misleading. If you take out a 61-yard run by quarterback Joshua Nesbitt and a 50-yard pass from Nesbitt to running back Anthony Allen, both of which happened on first down, State held Georgia Tech to just 2.0 yards per first down play.
3. Getting star performances
Big-time players have to step up in ACC play, and that's exactly what Wilson and fifth-year senior linebacker Nate Irving did against Georgia Tech. Both set career highs Saturday. Wilson completed 28 of 41 passes for 368 yards and three touchdowns with one interception and also rushed for a touchdown. The passing yards were the most Wilson has ever thrown in a game. Irving had 16 tackles, including 4.5 for loss and two sacks. The tackles and hits for losses were new career-bests, while he matched the most sacks he ever had in a contest.
Three things that did not work:
1. Defending the big play
The Pack dominated the line of scrimmage for the most part, but they were hit hard giving up big plays defensively. Georgia Tech's three touchdown-scoring drives were all triggered by big plays. Running back B.J. Bostic set up Tech's first touchdown with a 43-yard run. Nesbitt's 61-yard burst on the first play of the second half set up the second touchdown. The final offensive touchdown of the game came after Nesbitt completed passes of 50 and 32 yards.
2. Josh Czajkowski's field goal kicking
NC State's usually ultra-reliable field goal kicker struggled quite a bit Saturday. He missed a pair of 31-yard field goals, including one badly wide to the right. Both missed field goals came in the first half and allowed Georgia Tech to stick around.
3. Red zone defense
For some reason NC State has had a tough time defending the red zone. Not only are teams scoring every time they get inside the NC State 20, they are scoring touchdowns. Georgia Tech was 2 for 2 Saturday. For the year teams are six for six in red zone scoring and all of them are touchdowns.
Breaking down the position battles:
NC State's OL vs. Georgia Tech's front seven
Georgia Tech was able to apply some pressure on Wilson in the first half, getting two sacks then and three total for the game. The Pack was also flagged three times for holding. Despite that, NC State dominated here. The Pack moved the ball at will, and there were big holes for the running backs to rush through.
NC State's front seven vs. Georgia Tech's OL
The biggest mismatch of the game perhaps, especially after Georgia Tech's All-ACC center Sean Bedford went down with an injury early in the contest. The Pack's defensive line does not get its due from much of the media, but they dominated the line of scrimmage and allowed the Wolfpack linebackers, the heart of the defense, to make the plays.
NC State's WR vs. Georgia Tech's DB
Georgia Tech's secondary was supposed to be the strength of their defense, but you would not have noticed that Saturday afternoon. NC State's deep stable of receivers was getting open consistently throughout the game. Six different wide receivers caught passes.
NC State's DB vs. Georgia Tech's WR
The Pack's secondary may have been aided a bit by Nesbitt's inaccurate passing. There were times the Yellow Jackets' receivers were open but Nesbitt could not get them the ball. On one play Nesbitt under threw a wide open Stephen Hill and allowed Wolfpack redshirt junior corner Justin Byers time to recover and break up the pass.
Not even close here. Wilson was the best offensive player on the field. Nesbitt ran 19 times for 95 yards, but take out his 61-yard rush and the numbers are a far-less-impressive 18 carries for 34 yards. Nesbitt was just 5-of-18 passing for 116 yards and a touchdown.
Tech's primary running back, Allen, was held to just 35 yards on 14 carries. Last week Allen had 115 yards on 20 carries against UNC. NC State's duo of Greene and redshirt freshman Dean Haynes were much more effective against Georgia Tech's porous rush defense. They combined for 31 carries for 143 yards.
Georgia Tech does not use the tight end position so there is no comparison to be made here. NC State redshirt junior George Bryan had a relatively quiet afternoon other than a nifty one-handed catch for 22 yards in the first half.
One of the biggest plays of the game was made by NC State's special teams when sophomore tight end Asa Watson blocked a punt and it was recovered for a touchdown by fifth-year senior receiver Jarvis Williams for the game's first touchdown. Other than that neither special teams were much to brag about. The Pack did make a change at punter, giving junior Andy Leffler the opportunity. Leffler punted three times for 37.3 yards.