November 11, 2013

Monday morning quarterbacking

Saturday proved to be a lot of the same for NCSU during a 38-20 loss at upstart Duke. Now it's time for some Monday Morning Quarterbacking.

Key moment of the game:

Here's the breakdown of how NCSU's 20-17 lead turned into a stunning 38-20 deficit in a span of less than 30 seconds late in the fourth quarter.

- On a beautiful play fake, Duke quarterback Brandon Connette fooled a lot of defenders on a third and goal at the NCSU 5 and was able to run it in himself for the go ahead score with 3:31 to go, completing an 8-play, 79-yard drive in 3:06.

- After a NC State timeout before the kickoff, Duke's Ross Martin kicked it for a touchback. On the first offensive play, fifth-year senior quarterback Brandon Mitchell was trying to do a last-second flick pass only to have it deflected, then snagged out of the air by Duke redshirt freshman defensive back DeVon Edwards, who returned it 25 yards for a touchdown.

- After another touchback, redshirt junior quarterback Pete Thomas came in, and his pass down the seam was picked off by none other than Edwards, who zigzagged around the field for a 45-yard pick six with 3:05 left in the game.

Three things that worked:

1. Running the football

NC State has turned into a solid running team. The emergence of sophomore Shadrach Thornton as an upper echelon ACC back continues, and he is getting help from an improved offensive line. Thornton ran 26 times for 103 yards, and as a team the Pack rushed for 164 yards despite losing 18 yards on three sacks.

2. Defense

This is one of the most misleading 38-points allowed. In addition to Edwards' two interception returns, Edwards also returned a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown. That means that 21 of the 38 points had nothing to do with State's defense. The Pack held Duke to 321 yards and chased starting quarterback Anthony Boone out of the game after intercepting him three times. They forced four total turnovers in an effort that was good enough to win.

3. Competing well into the fourth quarter

The Pack had a lot of deja vu moments go wrong for them that could have caused its sideline to have a "here we go again" attitude. But State competed, and that's a tribute to their effort. Twice they took the lead in the second half, including 20-17 on the Mitchell-to-fifth year senior receiver Quintin Payton 80-yard bomb. The game did not end like State wanted, obviously, but the effort was there.

Three things that did not work:

1. Passing attack

NC State just cannot seem to get any consistency from the quarterback position, and that was plainly seen Saturday. Mitchell and Thomas combined to complete just 13 of 33 passes for 248 yards and a touchdown with three interceptions. The yardage total is okay, but the 39.4 percent pass completion percentage and touchdown-to-interception ratio is not. The picks too were of the most costly-type variety.

2. Red zone offense

This was a theme during the week: NCSU needed to start scoring touchdowns in the red zone. They were just 10 of 25 headed into Saturday. Amazingly the stat got worse. That's because the Pack reached the red zone three times against Duke and scored two field goals and missed another. That means the Pack is now 10 of 28 scoring TDs in the red zone.

3. Finishing the game

NCSU was where they needed to be late in the fourth quarter. Even when Duke drove the field, they had a chance to hold the Devils to a potential game-tying field goal try. Then what we detailed above happened.

Breaking down the position battles:

NC State's OL vs. Duke's front seven

If you take out the sacks, NCSU averaged a respectable 4.0 yards per carry on 45 rushes. Duke did get three sacks, including a crucial one in the red zone, so it was not a perfect game for the Pack offensive line, but they played well enough.

NC State's front seven vs. Duke's OL

Duke has a veteran and respectable offensive line. NCSU's front seven thus did well. They held the Devils' running game relatively in check, and they got to the quarterbacks twice for sacks, which is more than Duke typically allows.

NC State's WR vs. Duke's DB

As much heat as the quarterbacks are taking for NC State, the receivers need to help them out more. Plain and simple they are not getting open as much as they are needed. Payton had a tremendous individual effort on his 80-yard touchdown, but otherwise Duke won the matchup.

NC State's DB vs. Duke's WR

If it did not involve Duke star junior Jamison Crowder, NCSU's defensive backs were better. Crowder though caught seven passes for 134 yards, including a huge 75-yarder against redshirt sophomore corner Juston Burris in the first quarter and a pair of 18-yard receptions to jumpstart the late fourth quarter touchdown drive. The rest of the Duke receivers did not have a catch longer than 12 yards.


Both teams had poor quarterback play. Duke completed 20 of 34 passes but for just 198 yards. Take out Crowder's 75-yard bomb, and Duke gained just 123 yards on its other 19 completions. Duke also threw three interceptions. The difference though was none of Duke's were returned for touchdowns.

Running backs

Thornton won this battle for NCSU. He ran for over 100 yards for the second time in three games since the bye and added a 10-yard reception Saturday to give him 113 total yards in the loss. Freshman reserve Matt Dayes had a big 44-yard catch-and-run. Duke's running backs by committee did not approach that production.

Tight Ends

It was a non-descript game for both tight ends. NCSU redshirt freshman David J. Grinnage caught two passes for 15 yards, and Duke's Braxton Deaver had a pair of receptions for 13 yards.

Special teams

Both teams returned kicks for scores. NCSU fifth-year senior receiver Rashard Smith had a 73-yard punt return for a touchdown. Duke gets the edge though as Will Monday averaged an impressive 46.1 yards per punt, and Sade did have the missed 41-yard field goal that hit square on the upright.

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