Notebook: NC State’s aggressive defense leads way to win
NC State has come through with 16 sacks over its last two games.
The Wolfpack had eight quarterback takedowns in the loss at Florida State Sept. 29 and added another eight to help defeat Syracuse on Thursday. Fifth-year senior defensive tackle Larrell Murchison has 5.5 of the 16 total sacks in the two games, and junior linebacker Louis Acceus came through with three big ones to help top Syracuse 16-10 at Carter-Finley Stadium.
Acceus figures he had three sacks in a game at the high school level, but the New York native was happy to bring the heat against Syracuse. He also added 14 tackles in the slugfest.
“It is all Coach Hux [defensive coordinator Dave Huxtable] with all his crazy scheming and blitzes he is drawing up,” Acceus said. “Everybody is crossing here and crossing there. Someone is going to end up open.”
Head coach Dave Doeren was even surprised his defense finished with eight sacks, and it also limited the Orange to 37 carries for 41 rushing yards.
"It's working and there are things we'd still like to do better," Doeren said. "Louis has been very steady this year and is an athletic guy. He is playing fast and playing hard.
"We keep doing that [getting sacks], but it is amazing we don't get takeaways hitting the quarterback as much as we are. I don't understand that."
Acceus had zero sacks in his first 27 games at NC State, but now has 4.5 over his last three contests.
“I have to get better at not showing the blitz early because I’m so anxious to go,” Acceus said. “I just let it time up and let it develop.”
Acceus played against Syracuse redshirt sophomore quarterback Tommy DeVito in the prep playoffs in New Jersey.
“In 2016 in the championship finals, he actually beat us that year,” Acceus said. “I wanted my payback tonight, and I was able to do that.”
Murchison’s fraternal twin brother Farrell Murchison was in attendance Thursday. Farrell has overcome a testicular cancer diagnosis in July 2018 to return to play running back for Winston-Salem State. Larrell Murchison plans to watch his brother play Johnson C. Smith on Saturday.
“I get emotional every time you speak on him [Farrell],” Larrell said. “I’m just glad he was able to see it and in position to play the game. I’m excited for him.”
Larrell said he saw blood in the water and knew it was "time to eat." He hopes his efforts the last two games will earn him a special treat from his mother.
“We are trying to keep it going each week,” he said. “I really hope so [she makes the cake] because that is my favorite, I swear. Mom if you see this, please make the Hershey bar cake.”
Thayer Thomas Shows Off Right Arm
NC State redshirt sophomore wide receiver Thayer Thomas could tell the jokes were coming about his quarterback skills.
Thomas caught a backward pass and then tossed a 32-yarder to a wide-open Trent Pennix, and the redshirt freshman running back had an easy touchdown. Thomas is now 2-of-3 passing for 50 yards with two scores this season, which is one away from redshirt sophomore quarterback Matthew McKay’s three touchdown passes for the team lead.
Thomas knew the offense was in need of a spark, but doesn’t want to see the Wolfpack have to rely on trick plays too often. The pass play proved to be the only touchdown of the game for NCSU.
“The offense, we weren’t doing what we needed to do,” Thomas said. “Hopefully, we won’t need to do that as much as we’ve been doing it.”
Thomas was confident that the play would work if called upon.
“The play we actually took from Duke against Virginia Tech, it was the exact same play,” Thomas said. “We knew it was going to work. We did it a lot in practice.
"When he’s that wide open, I just try and put it on him so he can run in.”
NCSU starting quarterback redshirt sophomore Bailey Hockman finished 16-of-27 passing for 205 yards with one interception. Thomas caught two passes for 35 yards, but the offense continued to struggle making big plays, other than Thomas' trick-play pass.
“I think Bailey brings toughness and he gets hit a lot, and he keeps battling,” Thomas said. “I thought he did OK in his first start.”
Christopher Dunn, NC State Wins Special Teams Battle
With two of the best field goal kickers, not only in the ACC but the country squaring off, score one for NC State sophomore Christopher Dunn.
Dunn made field goals from 43, 32 and 23 yards, which helped NC State win by a six-point margin. Conversely, Syracuse star redshirt sophomore kicker Andre Szmyt had one of his two field goal attempts clang off the left upright post, his only miss of the season in seven attempts.
“It was definitely good and the most I had made in a game this season,” Dunn said. “It was very fun to go out there and make 3 for 3 and make my extra points, and help the team win its first conference game.”
Doeren hopes to convert some of those field goal attempts into touchdowns in the future. He said struggling to run the ball in the red zone has made it harder to pass the football.
"We have to get better throwing the ball in the red zone," Doeren said.
Szmyt won the Lou Groza Award for being the nation’s top kicker a season ago. Dunn hopes to also win that award, and he has made 13 of 16 field goals this season.
“That is my way of contributing to the team,” Dunn said. “I just want to show the work that [holder] Trent [Gill], [longsnapper] Joe [Shimko] and I have put in during the week. Every point matters, especially in this game.”
NC State also did well in the other parts of special teams, with redshirt sophomore punter Trenton Gill averaging 48.8 yards on six punts, with a long of 55. He out-punted Syracuse ace fifth-year senior punter Sterling Hofrichter, who averaged 43.9 yards on seven punts. Gill also proved stronger than Hofrichter on kickoffs, with the latter kicking one out of bounds, giving NCSU the ball at the 35-yard line.
NCSU’s special teams held Orange dangerous return man Sean Riley in check. He didn’t return any of Gill’s six punts, and he had two kick returns for just 33 yards.