The Pack shot themselves in the foot many times against a dangerous Wake Forest team, and it cost NC State as they fell to the Deacs 30-24 in Winston-Salem, N.C., Saturday afternoon. Now is time for some Monday Morning Quarterbacking.
Key moment of the game:
NC State had just cut Wake Forest's lead to 27-24 with 8:26 left in the game following redshirt sophomore quarterback Russell Wilson's five-yard touchdown pass to fifth-year senior tailback Toney Baker.
With a stop, the Pack could have seized momentum and taken control of the game for the final minutes. Instead, Wake Forest's speedy redshirt freshman kick returner Lovell Jackson burned the Pack with an 80-yard kick return to the NC State 16-yard line. A hustling Justin Byers for NC State prevented the touchdown.
The defense held for a goal line stand, but the field goal made it 30-24 Wake Forest with 4:44 left in the game. NC State was forced to play for a touchdown against a fired up Wake team, who would eventually pick off Wilson in the end zone.
Three things that worked:
1. Defensive front seven
The front seven for NC State's defense accounted for eight tackles for losses, including six sacks, which is the most Wake Forest senior quarterback Riley Skinner has ever seen the turf. They also forced two turnovers, a fumble and interception, and shut down Wake Forest's rushing game to the tune of 30 yards on 35 attempts.
2. Spencer's return
Last year junior receiver Owen Spencer proved to be one of the most dangerous receivers on a vertical route in the ACC. In his first game back since suffering a concussion against Gardner Webb, Spencer twice struck deep on Wake Forest, one for 41 yards and the other for 45. He finished the game with four catches for 102 yards, matching a career-high in receiving yards in a game.
3. Attacking the middle of the field
Redshirt sophomore tight end George Bryan tied his career high with six receptions, going for 79 yards. He also had a touchdown reception. Most of Bryan's damage was done over the middle of the field. NC State had good success attacking the middle of the field, some on crossing patterns, in the passing game. Thirteen of Wilson's 20 completions were over the middle or on crossing patterns, and they went for 148 yards.
Three things that did not work:
1. Pass defense
Wake Forest dominated time of possession to the tune of 34:15 to 25:45. Part of that is explained by the Deacs' going 9 of 17 on third down conversions, and most of that was done through the air. Wake Forest torched the Pack's secondary for 361 yards. Eighteen of Wake's 25 first downs came through the pass.
2. Kick coverage
For the second week in a row the kick coverage units were disappointing for NC State. Wake Forest averaged 35.4 yards per kickoff return and returned a pair of punts for 20 yards each. NC State had just a net of 30 yards average on its kickoff, which puts Wake Forest at their own 40-yard line. Field position was lopsided in Wake's favor most of the night, especially in the second half. The Deacs started only one drive in the second half inside their own 35, and that was the final drive after freshman corner Kenny Okoro's pick in the end zone.
3. Fundamentals and discipline
The first two games against FBS teams saw NC State miss over 20 tackles. The number could be high again after the final count is done on the Wake Forest game. Poor tackling continues to be an issue for NC State. Discipline also let the Pack down, especially in the second quarter when they were flagged six times for 75 yards. Penalties killed a second quarter drive that had reached the Wake Forest 38, and two personal fouls gave the Deacs' 30 yards on a drive at the end of the half that resulted in a short field goal to give Wake a 13-10 halftime lead.
Breaking down the position battles:
NC State's OL vs. Wake Forest's front seven
NC State did not run the ball well at all Saturday, but the Deacs' front seven only had two tackles behind the line of scrimmage for the game, and Wilson had time to throw many times. He was only sacked once. The line had only one holding penalty.
NC State's front seven vs. Wake Forest's OL
The front seven did its job effectively against Wake. As mentioned above, they were one of the highlights from the game. Senior defensive linemen Willie Young (three sacks, forced fumble), Alan-Michael Cash (nine tackles, two sacks) and Leroy Burgess (fumble recovery, interception) and sophomore reserve defensive tackle J.R. Sweezy (four tackles, sack, quarterback hurry) had nice games in particular.
NC State's WR vs. Wake Forest's DB
The result was mixed here. Spencer did make some big plays, and redshirt junior Jarvis Williams caught five passes, the second most he has ever caught in a game in his career. However, there were quite a few times Wilson scrambled to buy time and no receiver would get open.
NC State's DB vs. Wake Forest's WR
Simply put this was not a good game for NC State's defensive backs. The Wake receivers got open often, and they broke many secondary tackle attempts. This may have been the biggest mismatch of the game. The trio of Chris Givens, Devon Brown and Marshall Williams combined to make 20 catches for 255 yards and three touchdowns.
Wilson did not have his A-game Saturday, completing just 20 of 43 passes for 275 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions and running seven times for 41 yards and another score. However, Wilson's effort was probably good enough to get a win if he had some more help. He had at least three dropped passes and had to throw it away quite a few times.
Skinner though was sensational for Wake Forest. He completed 31 of 45 passes for 361 yards and three touchdowns with two interceptions, and he was the MVP of this game.
Neither team did a great job running the ball. NC State's backs ran 19 times for 63 yards, but 23 of them came when Baker had a meaningless run on the next to last play of the first half. Wake Forest's backs ran 20 times for just 58 yards, but junior Josh Adams was active in the passing game, catching five passes for 57 yards and making a tremendous effort to get the first down with less than two minutes remaining and sealing the win.
Bryan had a good game, catching six passes for 79 yards and a touchdown, and overshadowing Wake sophomore Andrew Parker, who had a 13-yard pass.
Wake Forest missed a field goal, but overall they dominated special teams, getting good kick returns to own field position in the second half.