The idea behind the "morning after" feature is that the distance between the game and the writing will allow for a more level-headed analysis, but it's still pretty hard this morning to revise out the red level of rage that accompanied yesterday's debacle.
The "loveblog" was anything but yesterday, colored with negativity and sarcasm to the extent that some were driven off. I've been trying to put a finger on those dour emotions. It's not like we've never lost a football game before. It's not like we've never lost a football game before that we had every opportunity to win. But this one felt different, and I think I know why. Until yesterday, we could suspend our disbelief regarding this team. Now we know that NC State is not going to contend for an ACC championship this year. There will be no big step forward this year; it will be another struggle to go .500 in league play and secure a decent mid-tier bowl.
Sure, logically one loss is not insurmountable. Beat Clemson and an FSU team that is majorly struggling to score points, and the Pack could still end up playing for their first ACC championship since 1979. But, logically, I think we all saw yesterday that a team that cannot beat a 1-3 team at home, one with a talented but wildly inaccurate true freshman at quarterback, is incapable of making that run. In essence, the season—or at least a great season—died yesterday.
We will measure yet another season on bowl eligibility and beating UNC (something that is looking increasingly unlikely). We all wanted more.
With that eulogy, let us look at the good, the bad, and the ugly from NC State's 20-13 loss to Louisville.
- You don't get to take a play out of the stats, but aside from once again falling victim to the big play, the Pack's defense played exceptionally well. Take away Lamar Jackson's 68-yard TD run, and the Cardinals managed just 238 yards from scrimmage on a meager 3.4 yards per play.
- Jackson managed to complete just 10 of his 27 throws for 103 yards and was sacked three times.
- The defense tallied 10 tackles for a loss overall, led by Justin Jones' pair of stops behind the line. Jones is cutting into the more heralded Kentavius Street's playing time, and, along with B.J. Hill, solidifying the middle of the Pack's defense as a strength.
- The Pack D was particularly stout in the second half, allowing just three points and giving the offense every opportunity to come back and win.
- Mike Stevens stood out at corner with two pass breakups. The Kansas State decommit combines with Juston Burris to give the Pack a pair of pretty solid corners, and Stevens is just a sophomore.
- Jaylen Samuels was awesome as always in the passing game, grabbing five balls for 75 yards, including a 39-yard score. Inexplicably, he was totally absent in the run game, getting nary a carry.
- Nyheim Hines has developed into an explosive weapon in the return game. He totaled 169 yards on kickoff returns, averaging 33.8 yards an attempt.
- The offense lost its identity without Shadrach Thornton. It was as if the staff had game planned for a Shad-centric attack and just threw their collective hands up when the senior was booted off the team midweek. There was very little commitment to the run game, including the aforementioned egregiousness of not handing off to JaySam at all. Coach Doeren gave too much respect to the interior of the Louisville defense, and his team must run between the tackles to be successful.
- State managed just 45 yards on the ground.
- Both teams fumbled twice. Louisville recovered all four. We could probably just have those two sentences serve as the entire recap.
- We don't have a kicker. Kyle Bambard has been brutal in the field goal department and is now dabbling in missed PATs. Even if State scored to get within 20-19, would we have been able to send it to overtime? And of course we should have been kicking for the win, not the tie, had we gotten there. Just about every game from here on in promises to be tight, and without drastic improvement from Bambard (or Jackson Maples winning the job and performing well) State will be at a huge disadvantage. Stupid kicking.
- Jacoby Brissett was sacked three more times and missed a couple of open receivers deep by either literally not seeing them or underthrowing them. It would most certainly open up things in the running game if defenses were forced to pay for stacking the line of scrimmage.
- State held the ball for less than five minutes in the second quarter and over 12 minutes less than their average coming in to the game. It's hard to wear down a defense if you can't sustain drives (and it's hard to sustain drives if you very rarely even bother trying to pound it for positive yardage on first down).
- Doeren did not wear his big boy britches on fourth down, going ultra-conservative-avoid-second-guessing-if-it-doesn't-work twice. On State's opening drive, Doeren punted on fourth and inches from his own 38. That one, in a 0-0 game, was defensible. But what kind of signal does that send to your offense?
- The second punt, FROM LOUISVILLE'S 33 YARD LINE, is simply the wrong strategy. With State already down 7-0, the little bit of yardage you stand to gain from kicking it does not justify sacrificing possession of the ball in a game where yards and points are going to be hard to come by. In no way am I arguing we should kick a field goal there; you go for it, plain and simple, from that spot in that situation 100% of the time, even if it's 4th and 30. The only exception would be if you're nursing a lead of eight or less. Then, sure, boot it. But that was a white flag punt—really both of them were—and the team never recovered.