After a miserable, winless October, the NC State football team broke back into the winning column with a hard fought 38-31 triumph over Maryland on Saturday at Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh. Now it's time for some Monday Morning Quarterbacking.
Key moment of the game:
The key moment of the game actually started with what seems like a rarity for NC State, a fortunate break. Maryland freshman kicker Nick Ferrara, who had a kick blocked earlier in the game, missed wide right on a 47-yard field goal attempt with 4:02 left in the third quarter and NC State leading 31-28. The Terps had been set up with great field position after sophomore safety Kenny Tate had picked off NC State redshirt sophomore quarterback Russell Wilson at the Maryland 38 and returned it 27 yards to the NC State 35. The Pack defense held the Terps to just five yards though in three plays, forcing the long field goal attempt.
NC State then capitalized on Maryland's inability to convert the turnover into points. Mixing the run and pass, NC State embarked on an 11-play, 70-yard drive that ended with fifth-year senior running back Jamelle Eugene's two-yard plunge into the end zone. The Pack ran seven times on the drive, but it was two other plays that did the damage.
The first was a spectacular leaping catch by junior receiver Owen Spencer for a 38-yard gain to the Maryland 3, and the second was a crucial pass interference call on Maryland star junior linebacker Alex Wujciak on third and goal at the Maryland three-yard line. On the next play, Eugene scored to give State a crucial two-possession lead at 38-28 with 13:33 left in the game.
Three things that worked:
1. Controlling the game
NC State dominated time of possession, 34:55 to 25:05. After the contest, Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen said the Terps were hurt because they only had four second-half possessions, when you normally average about six a half. With the offense staying on the field, NC State's vulnerable defense was off the field.
2. Defensive improvement
Credit the Pack's defense for getting off the field, too, something they had not been doing in recent weeks. State held Maryland to 6 of 14 on third-down conversions. Maryland had just 270 yards of total offense, and its offense accounted for just 14 first downs and 17 points. Redshirt junior defensive end Michael Lemon also came through in crunch time with a sack and quarterback hurry on the last two plays of the game for the defense.
3. Offensive consistency
For the second straight game, the offense for the most part gave NC State the consistency it needed to win. The Pack had an amazing 31 first downs in the game. They ran 41 times for a respectable 139 yards and threw 38 times for 343 yards, totaling 482 yards of offense. Redshirt junior punter Jeff Ruiz actually only punted once.
Three things that did not work:
Maryland had its chance to win a game they probably had no business winning because of NC State turnovers. Wilson threw an uncharacteristic three interceptions, one of which was returned 70 yards for a touchdown by Wujciak, and another in the end zone right before halftime. Redshirt junior receiver Donald Bowens muffed a punt, and State turned it over on downs late in the fourth quarter setting up Maryland's last, desperate drive for a potential tying score. It's unusual to win the game with a negative-3 turnover ratio.
2. Kickoff coverage
Two big plays kept Maryland in the game. One was Wujciak's pick six, the other was sophomore wideout Torrey Smith's 82-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. Kickoff coverage though was an issue all game. Maryland averaged 30.7 yards per kickoff return. Of NC State's seven kickoffs, six were returned beyond the 30-yard line, all of them by Smith. The lone drive to start inside the 30 was off an 11-yard return by junior running back Dan Bonato to the Maryland 24.
3. Putting Maryland away
The truth is NC State was simply a better team than Maryland, and the game probably should not have been as close as the final result. Up 14-7, the Pack could not finish off a drive that would have put Maryland in a deep early hole, and instead Wilson threw the pick six on a fourth-down play. Up 24-21 just before halftime, NC State had first and 10 at the Maryland 11, when Wilson was intercepted in the end zone with 38 seconds left before halftime. A touchdown there gives NC State a 31-21 halftime lead, and the Wolfpack were receiving the kickoff to start the second half. Wilson was also sacked on third and seven at the Maryland 26 for a five-yard loss, setting up a tough fourth and 12 at the Maryland 31, which State did not convert with 59 seconds left, giving the Terps one last chance.
Breaking down the position battles:
NC State's OL vs. Maryland's front seven
Give the Pack offensive line huge props. Without starting right guard R.J. Mattes, a redshirt freshman, and left tackle Jake Vermiglio, a junior, State held up well. The running backs were tackled just twice for losses, and Wilson was sacked only once.
NC State's front seven vs. Maryland's OL
State was able to get a little pressure on the Maryland quarterbacks, knocking senior starter Chris Turner out of the game and harassing junior Jamarr Robinson on the final plays of the game. The Terps really did not try to run the ball, but when they did they had limited success between the tackles.
NC State's WR vs. Maryland's DB
NC State's receivers did a good job Saturday, although there were a few drops. Six different wide outs caught a pass, led by redshirt junior Jarvis Williams, who hauled in seven for 107 yards. Redshirt junior Darrell Davis also had a nice game as a reserve, catching four passes for 54 yards and a touchdown.
NC State's DB vs. Maryland's WR
The defensive backs twice allowed receivers to get open deep, but both times Maryland could not complete the pass. Both redshirt junior DeAndre Morgan and redshirt freshman C.J. Wilson had some tackling issues, but overall this game showed continued improvement, especially from the safeties - senior Clem Johnson, redshirt freshman Earl Wolff and freshman Brandan Bishop in particular.
Wilson was a catch-22 almost Saturday. He led a well-oiled offensive attack for most of the game, but his three mistakes were also very costly and kept the Terps in the game. Nevertheless, he threw for 343 yards and three touchdowns and ran for 11 more yards and another score.
Turner had mixed results before he was knocked out of the game, completing 12 of 19 passes for 135 yards with an interception and rushing for a touchdown. Robinson was ineffective overall as a passer (5-of-11 for 27 yards) but was a threat with his legs, rushing for 38 yards.
The duo of Eugene and fifth-year senior Toney Baker had a solid game, running 31 times for 127 yards and a score and also making four catches for 30 yards. Maryland's depleted running back corps were not asked to do much. Sophomore Davin Meggett and freshman Caleb Porzel ran just 13 times for 55 yards and a touchdown. Porzel seemed effective, but he ran just four times for 31 yards.
Redshirt sophomore George Bryan caught a 17-yard touchdown pass to start the game for the Pack, but he was quiet after that, and it would be his only reception of the game. Maryland freshman Devonte Campbell was also quiet, catching just two passes for 13 yards.
Both teams had issues on special teams. For State, the aforementioned kickoff coverage continues to plague the Pack. On the positive, Czajkowski did boot a career-long 48-yarder, and redshirt junior defensive end Audi Augustin was credited with blocking a 27-yard field goal attempt by Ferrara that could have tied the game at 24 with 4:25 left in the second quarter.
Maryland was really hurt by the two missed field goals, but Smith did a great job setting them up with good field position to start most of its drives. The Terrapins' coverage units also held State to an average of just 19.6 yards per return on kickoffs.