NC State extended its winning streak to three games, overcoming a mistake-filled contest and rallying from 14 down to defeat Pittsburgh 38-31 Saturday afternoon at Carter-Finley Stadium. Now it's time for some Monday morning quarterbacking.
Key moment of the game:
NC State led 38-31 and faced a 3rd and 4 at their own 29-yard line with 2:52 left in the game when fifth-year senior center Ted Larsen's shotgun snap went well over the head of redshirt sophomore quarterback Russell Wilson's head. Pittsburgh linebacker Max Gruder recovered the loose ball at the NC State 8 with 2:45 left, a golden opportunity for the Panthers to tie the game. NC State's defense did not blink however.
Redshirt freshman linebacker Terrell Manning led great pursuit on Pitt running back Dion Lewis, a redshirt freshman, on first down, holding the shifty back for just a yard. On second down, quarterback Bill Stull tried to get tight end Dorin Dickerson in the flat, but true freshman safety Brandan Bishop made a great open field tackle to stop Dickerson for a yard-loss.
Stull looked to Dickerson again on third down in the back of the end zone. Dickerson appeared to be open for a split second, but Bishop came over the top to help break up the pass at the last second. On fourth down, Stull and his receivers were not on the same page and Stull's pass harmlessly fell incomplete, securing the State win.
Three things that worked:
1. Russell Wilson
Wilson gets game ball for Saturday. He completed 21 of 35 passes for 322 yards and four touchdowns and ran 10 times for 91 yards in perhaps his best game at NC State. Wilson even recovered a downfield fumble and gained an additional four yards on the play. He had 113 yards more than Pitt's entire team.
2. Freshmen defenders
Redshirt freshman safety Earl Wolff made some mental mistakes, including a late hit out of bounds that helped set up Pitt's first touchdown, but he also led NC State with four solo hits and seven overall tackles. However, it was Bishop and Manning that had State fans excited after the game. Both made crucial plays throughout the contest. Manning finished with four tackles, including one for a loss. Bishop had three tackles, including one for a one-yard loss.
3. Toney Baker
While Wilson deserved all the accolades coming his way after his performance, fifth-year senior running back Toney Baker had a very good game in his own right. He ran 18 times for 81 yards, including the game-winning touchdown, and caught three passes for 71 yards, including a 38-yard highlight reel-worthy touchdown. Baker showed a burst running the football that proves he has recovered from his knee injury.
Three things that did not work:
There is a reason why head coach Tom O'Brien said NC State was not a good football team. NC State had 12 penalties for 81 yards, missed two field goals with one being blocked, had a crucial bad snap and missed way too many tackles throughout the contest.
2. Field position
Part of the reason that Pitt was able to score 31 points on the Pack was that Pitt dominated the field position battle. Pitt's average starting field position was the 38.8 yard-line, compared to NC State starting at the 18.5 yard-line.
3. Start to the game
NC State's start was anything but inspiring. Pitt scored the opening touchdown on just four plays in 1:58. Pitt led 17-7 early in the second quarter, and NC State only had one drive where they could have taken the lead in the first three quarters.
Breaking down the position battles:
NC State's OL vs. Pittsburgh's front seven
Eventually NC State won the battle here. The Pack gave up just one sack and had a net 208 yards rushing, a number misleading considering they lost 23 yards on the bad snap and a kneel down. However, give Pitt defensive tackle Mick Williams credit for dominating at times in the interior. He had 4.5 tackles for losses.
NC State's front seven vs. Pittsburgh's OL
Pitt got the better of State, seemingly opening gaping holes for Lewis to run through and doing a good job protecting Stull. However State did a better job as the game progressed.
NC State's WR vs. Pittsburgh's DB
This was a good game for NC State's receivers. They were too much for Pitt's defensive backs, and the most promising development for State has been the progress made by redshirt junior Darrell Davis and sophomore T.J. Graham. They are starting to develop into reliable targets for the Pack.
NC State's DB vs. Pittsburgh's WR
Other than a 79-yard catch and run by Jonathan Baldwin, State's defensive backs did a good enough job containing one of the most dangerous receivers in the Big East. Overall, NC State held their own here.
Stull was actually pretty good, completing 12 of 23 passes for 206 yards and two scores, but he completed just two of his last eight passes after the 79-yard touchdown. Plus Stull just simply could not match the brilliance of Wilson.
Lewis was good, rushing 19 times for 95 yards, but he tailed off after the second half. He ran nine times for 16 yards after halftime. Meanwhile the combination of Baker and classmate Jamelle Eugene ran 34 times for 140 yards. Most importantly, they were still getting touch yards at the end of the game.
Dickerson was a potent weapon for Pitt, catching four passes for 52 yards. That's better than NC State's George Bryan, a redshirt sophomore. Bryan caught four passes for 28 yards. Bryan though caught the game-tying touchdown, while Dickerson could not haul in what would have been a game-tying score at the end of the game.
Redshirt junior Josh Czajkowski struggled Saturday, missing a 32-yarder and having a 37-yard attempt blocked. Redshirt junior Jeff Ruiz's final punting numbers were good, averaging 45.7 a boot on three tries.
State though struggled with kickoff coverage, and they had too many penalties on special teams. Overall Pitt was better on special teams on this day.