For the first time under head coach Tom O'Brien the Wolfpack won a season opener. NC State easily dispatched of overmatched Western Carolina last Saturday 48-7 at Carter-Finley Stadium. Now it's time for some Monday Morning Quarterbacking.
Key moment of the game:
Believe it or not there was a key moment to Saturday's win despite the lopsided outcome. Western Carolina had stunned nearly everyone in attendance by taking the opening drive 87 yards in 10 plays for a touchdown.
NC State was not near as efficient on its first drive. The Pack sandwiched a two-yard run by redshirt freshman running back Dean Haynes with a pair of incomplete passes for redshirt junior quarterback Russell Wilson.
NC State was forced to punt, and fifth-year senior Jeff Ruiz boot of 41 yards was muffed on the run by WCU's Deja Alexander and recovered by NC State junior fullback Taylor Gentry at the WCU 26. One player later Wilson found a wide open junior receiver T.J. Graham in the end zone for a touchdown, and order was restored.
Three things that worked:
1. Special teams
The addition of true freshmen defensive backs David Amerson, D.J. Green and Dontae Johnson appears to have given State a nice boost in the kick coverage units. The Catamounts did not have a kickoff return longer than 20 yards. Fifth-year senior Josh Czajkowski averaged a respectable 63.6 yards per kickoff, an improvement from the 58.3 he averaged last season. Graham also had a nice kickoff return of 50 yards to start the second half.
2. Settling down on defense
NC State gave up 87 yards, three first downs and seven points on 10 plays on Western Carolina's opening drive. The rest of the game, NC State allowed 102 total yards, six first downs and no points on 39 plays.
3. Passing attack
It's hard to imagine State needing any more weapons in the passing attack. Wilson completed 21 of 31 passes for 306 yards and four touchdowns without an interception. Five different wide receivers, redshirt junior tight end George Bryan and freshman tailback Mustafa Greene all caught at least two passes.
Three things that did not work:
1. Establishing the run early
O'Brien commented Monday during his press conference that running game struggles should be expected when the Pack started four offensive linemen who had never started before, and the two primary tailbacks were making their college football debut. Greene and redshirt freshman Dean Haynes ran a combined 23 times for 104 yards and two touchdowns, but you would hope for better than a 4.5 yards per carry average against WCU.
2. Opening drive defense
For whatever reason, WCU executed almost flawlessly their opening drive. Running back Michael Johnson opened the game with a 20-yard run and later had a 10-yard rumble. Quarterback Zack Jaynes fooled the entire stadium on a read draw for a nine-yard game, and he converted an 11-yard pass to an open Andrew Rogers on fourth and one from the NC State 37. Jaynes finished the drive with a wide open 23-yard touchdown pass to Alexander.
3. Stopping Johnson
Give kudos to WCU running back Johnson, who rushed 16 times for 77 yards, an average of 4.8 yards per carry. That may be a sign that NC State's defensive line needs to be more physical up front since they are destined to play bigger, stronger and faster rushing attacks.
Breaking down the position battles:
NC State's OL vs. WCU's front seven
NC State won the battle here, but probably not as decisively as they would have liked. State gave up three sacks, and the Pack averaged just 3.6 yards per carry.
NC State's front seven vs. WCU's OL
Aside from the opening drive, NC State won the battle here, too. But again, the win was not nearly as decisive as Wolfpack coaches probably would have hoped.
NC State's WR vs. WCU's DB
Perhaps the biggest mismatch of the night. State receivers were getting open underneath and deep, and WCU's defensive backs had a very hard time staying with the speed of the receiving corps.
NC State's DB vs. WCU's WR
Aside from an apparent busted coverage on the opening drive for the touchdown, the defensive backs performed well. WCU quarterbacks completed just 10 of 18 passes for 103 yards. Still, you would like to see more pass breakups and potential interception opportunities from the defensive backs.
Wilson was very good, as expected. He was efficient and on the money for most of his passes. After the first drive, Jaynes struggled quite a bit.
Johnson for Western Carolina may have actually been the best running back on the field Saturday. Haynes and Greene though seemed to get much more comfortable as the game developed, and redshirt junior Curtis Underwood ran hard when he came in the game in the fourth quarter. Underwood finished with six carries for 28 yards.
Bryan caught three passes for 23 yards, leading the way for all the tight ends on the field. Bryan's touchdown catch where he trapped the ball between his legs before grabbing it, was a classic.
NC State dominated on special teams. The coverage was great, and Western Carolina's fumble on the punt return was a very costly mistake for the Catamounts.