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You Could Die (Or This Might End)

More than one Ted Leo song title is applicable today. Also considered: "First to Finish, Last to Start."

First half drives:

4 plays, 20 yards, ends at NCSU 36
6 plays, 18 yards, ends at NCSU 39
6 plays, 5 yards, ends at NCSU 29
8 plays, 43 yards, ends at UMD 40
6 plays, 13 yards, ends at NCSU 41

One of these is not like the others. One of these had some coherence, looked like a legitimate drive. So guess which one the coaches decided to throw a "wrinkle" into.

After State had picked up three first downs and moved into Maryland territory for the first time all half, the Pack ended up in a 3rd-and-6 situation at the Terps 43. Suddenly, Marcus Stone was in at quarterback, taking the snap out of the shotgun. He handed the ball to Toney Baker, who ran around the left side for three yards. The Pack punted the ball, it went into the endzone for a touchback, and the Terps were no worse for wear. My immediate thought after I saw Stone in the game was that Evans had hurt himself. No way they'd willingly bring in Stone to run a play in this situation.

The call to put Stone into the game was so perplexing, Steve Martin had to go down to Mike Hogewood for an explanation. Teams have so much film on you by this time of the season, Hogewood said, that you have to throw some wrinkles in there to give opponents something they haven't seen. So NC State decided to call an option play and have Stone run it. Stone saw the defensive end to his right coming straight at him, which didn't give him the chance to run the option with Brown to that side, as I assume was intended (this assessment based on re-watching the play). Instead, he had to give it to Baker quickly. Maryland was so stunned by this wrinkle, they completely blew it up.

If Trestman wants to give Maryland some different looks, that's great. But why, on a 3rd-and-6, do you decide that this is the appropriate time to put Marcus Stone into the game, and not only that, but to call a running play? Why not find a better situation for that particular play? We ran the ball effectively all day, and that gave us plenty of mid-range second down situations which would be much better suited for Stone's option. Besides, Evans had already hit several passes on the drive--those completions were what had made it successful. We got away from what had worked up to that point.

At least John L. Smith can admit it when the coaches are blowing it for the players.

The Stone play was just a microcosm, an indicator of things to come. The team may not have been there for the first half, but neither were the coaches, and the latter is far more damning than the former. In no way, in no facet of the game, did we appear prepared. Maryland was there for the taking. Its run defense was as soft as advertised. It was a game with huge bowl and division title implications. And we blew it, utterly and completely.

Other "highlights":

-- When we got the ball back with 2:00 left in the first half, we couldn't decide if we wanted to try to score or not. Evans was sacked on first down, then we ran the ball twice and managed to move the sticks. After Baker's third down run (and conversion), he fumbled the ball but was officially ruled down. Amato, looking to get some points before the half, began to motion for a timeout, only to have a coach run up to him and point out that we didn't want the TO because we didn't want to give the officials time to review the last play. You'd think that, what with Amato being right there on the field watching the play, seeing that the officials were not sure about the play and huddled before calling Baker down, he'd recognize that this probably wouldn't be the best time to stop play.

-- Darrell Blackman breaks free on a punt return, then dives into the endzone, bringing an immediate flag. That the flag isn't thrown when other teams do it is not the point--Blackman should know better. Why is it so difficult for the players to keep their emotions in check? An unsportsmanlike penalty killed us against Akron, and it would have given Maryland the ball near midfield had they not miraculously turned the ball over on the return.

-- The offensive line did a terrible job protecting Evans. Embarrassingly bad. I noticed that in the second half, Maryland's ends were lining up way outside because they knew they could just use their speed to beat the tackles. By the late stages, our running backs were standing next to the tackles on each passing play, there to hopefully get a hand on the Maryland defenders after the tackles whiffed.

-- Timeouts were mismanaged in the second half, typically. When Maryland got the ball back after Evans' fourth-quarter INT (about 6:00 left), it took them three plays to get into a 1st-and-goal situation. They had 1st-and-goal with 4:17 on the clock. If we use our three timeouts on the next three plays, we probably have 3:45 instead of the 1:55 we ended up with. When you don't use your timeouts in this situation, still down two scores, you are definitely putting your team in a position where it must get the onside kick to win. That is, you don't have time to score, kick it deep, play defense and use your timeouts. Really, whether we used the timeouts there or not, we were going to need the onside kick. So Maryland getting the ball back doesn't even factor into your strategy. If they do get it back, you lose. You have to operate as though this is Maryland's last possession and use your timeouts where they can save the most time.