NC State probably cost itself a chance to win the game Saturday with early turnovers that led to 10 Virginia Tech points. The Hokies would go on to rout the Pack 38-10. Now it's time for some Monday Morning Quarterbacking.
Key moment of the game:
Much like the Boston College game in Chestnut Hill Oct. 17, NC State had a close game broken up at the end of the first half and start of the third quarter. Virginia Tech was leading 17-10 with 5:24 left in the second quarter when they started the drive at their own 26. The Pack looked to be on the verge of getting a crucial three and out when Hokie junior quarterback Tyrod Taylor connected with sophomore receiver Jarrett Boykin for a 42-yard pass play on third and 18 at the Virginia Tech 18. On the play, it appeared that freshman corner Jarvis Byrd was looking for help from senior safety Clem Johnson, but Johnson did not come over the top.
Later in the drive, on third and 11 from the NC State 26, Taylor again tried to connect with Boykin, this time in the end zone. The pass fell incomplete behind what appeared to be a strong defensive play from freshman safety Brandan Bishop, but the refs flagged Bishop for a highly questionable pass interference. Virginia Tech would score go on to score a touchdown with 30 seconds left.
The Hokies scored a touchdown on its opening drive of the third quarter on a five-play, 62-yard drive to take an insurmountable 31-10 lead.
Three things that worked:
1. Containing Ryan Williams
Yes, the redshirt freshman running back went for 120 yards in the game, but it took him 32 carries to do it. He averaged just 3.8 yards per carry, his second lowest total of the year behind a 3.5 effort against Duke. His 32 carries was also his second most in a game this season behind 34 against Miami. He ran for 150 yards that day against the Hurricanes, and the 120 yards was just Williams' sixth best effort of the year despite the high number of carries.
Redshirt junior Jeff Ruiz averaged 47.0 yards in three punts, including a long of 49, his second longest boot of the year. He also downed one punt nicely at the Virginia Tech 3. It was Ruiz's best effort of the year. Redshirt junior Josh Czajkowski hit a 45-yarder that may have been good from 50, and he averaged 61.3 yards per kickoff, which is 2.5 yards better than his season average.
3. The defensive players of tomorrow
The top four tacklers from this game are players who are likely to play key roles on next year's defense. Redshirt sophomore linebacker Audie Cole had a career-high 12 tackles, including 1.5 for losses. Sophomore middle linebacker Sterling Lucas set a career-high with 11 tackles, including assisting on one for a loss. Redshirt sophomore defensive tackle J.R. Sweezy had a career-high six tackles, including a sack. Bishop also had six tackles and broke up a pass.
Three things that did not work:
1. Offensive focus
This was a game to forget for the offense. They had three fumbles on its first five plays, losing two of them. Redshirt sophomore quarterback Russell Wilson had a bad intentional grounding penalty that forced Czajkowski into a long field goal. The blitz pick ups that had been strong in recent weeks were not sharp. Virginia Tech had six sacks, the most NC State has allowed since the season opener against South Carolina.
2. Third down defense
Stop if you've heard this before: the third down defense was bad. Virginia Tech converted 8 of 14 third downs. That's the fifth time in the last seven games that opponents converted more than half of their third downs. That led to Virginia Tech having a lopsided 36:26 to 23:34 time of possession advantage.
3. Covering Boykin
The Hokie receiver had six catches for 164 yards and a touchdown. Whether it was in man coverage or zone, Boykin was getting open and making big plays. He was a one-man wrecking crew for Virginia Tech's passing offense. The rest of Virginia Tech's receivers had just a total of three catches for 33 yards.
Breaking down the position battles:
NC State's OL vs. Virginia Tech's front seven
Virginia Tech had six sacks, and although that's not all on the offensive line, the pass protection could have been better. The running backs were only tackled for a loss once, but in 17 carries they had just 61 yards, just 3.6 yards per rush.
NC State's front seven vs. Virginia Tech's OL
This was not actually as bad as the numbers may first suggest. Virginia Tech did rush for 200 yards, but it took 56 carries to do it, just 3.6 yards per rush. NC State also had three sacks, the most since the Wake Forest game. Since the Wake Forest contest, a span of five games going into last Saturday, they had just four sacks total.
NC State's WR vs. Virginia Tech's DB
Take out Boykin and the NC State defensive backs actually did a pretty solid job, although they were bailed out by some drops by sophomore receiver Dyrell Roberts.
NC State's DB vs. Virginia Tech's WR
Junior Owen Spencer had his moments, making a nice 48-yard catch and scoring on a pretty 20-yard touchdown pass. Redshirt sophomore Jay Smith also caught a nice 33-yard pass. Fumbles though by redshirt junior receivers Darrell Davis and Jarvis Williams hurt the Pack.
Taylor was not overly effective throwing the ball, but he managed the game well and did not turn it over. Wilson had a fumble and an interception, and he was running for his life too many times Saturday and did not scramble as effectively as he had done in prior games.
Williams was a workhorse and held onto the ball every time. Baker and Eugene were not as effective running, and Baker had a fumble that State was able to recover.
Redshirt sophomore George Bryan caught two passes for 28 yards. Virginia Tech senior and preseason All-ACC tight end Greg Boone did his damage in the "Wild Turkey" formation, lining up at quarterback and running twice for nine yards.
Two long kick returns, one by Roberts and the other from running back David Wilson tilts the advantage in favor of Virginia Tech. However, other than the coverage on those two kickoffs, not a bad afternoon for NC State's special teams.