NC State matched its regular season win total from a year ago, overwhelming Syracuse 42-29 in a game that probably wasn't as close as the final score indicates. The Orange took advantage of some second teamers to score the game's last 13 points, and the Pack, exuding sportsmanship that at times was lacking in game that featured several ejections, took their time and eventually took a knee when they could've punched it in for yet another score.
For perhaps the first time since Shadrach Thornton's dismissal from the team, NC State made a concerted effort to run the ball between the tackles, and the result was the team's highest rushing (276 yards) and total offensive output (511 yards) in league play. And, given how State beat UNC a year ago by relying chiefly on the power run game, the rediscovery of physical football up front perhaps bodes well for the season finale against the Coastal champion (but somewhat yet untested) Tar Heels. Carolina has certainly been impressive in what is likely its final season before an extended period of penalties and probation, but keep in mind that the Heels didn't draw Clemson or Florida State in the unbalanced ACC slate and lost to a South Carolina team that couldn't beat The Citadel.
On to the bullets...
- NC State busted out some seriously swagtastic alternate uniforms for military appreciation day. Can we wear those again Saturday?
- Dave Doeren and Matt Canada finally took the training wheels off running backs Dakwa Nichols (12 carries, 81 yards, TD), who looked explosive, and Reggie Gallaspy (13 carries, 83 yards, TD), who looked powerful. While neither is an accomplished pass catcher like Matt Dayes, their combined production on the ground made me stop lamenting the loss of the first and second string backs at least for one Saturday.
- True freshman Nyheim Hines had a breakout game, even getting some run at a traditional running back position in addition to his sweeping and pass-catching duties. Hines carried six times for 70 yards and a score while adding 69 yards on five catches.
- Jumichael Ramos added a big game though the air, grabbing eight balls for 83 yards and a score. He and Hines each had a 34-yard grab. Ramos's day was his best since a 95-yard effort in week two against Eastern Kentucky and the Pack's fourth-best game in terms of wide receiver yardage on the season.
- Jacoby Brissett wasn't great, throwing a pick when the Pack had a chance to score in the two-minute offense before the half and all but put the game away, but he did hit nine different receivers for 235 yards, including two impressive fourth down completions when Doeren gambled.
- Doeren gambled on fourth down! The swing pass to Hines was a questionable call on 4th and one from his own 35, but I like the aggressiveness. You get four downs to make a first, not three.
- The Pack held yet another opponent to under a 50% completion percentage; that's seven times in 11 games for what I think is sometimes an unfairly criticized secondary.
- Freshman Riley Nicholson missed a tackle on Jordan Fredericks' 75-yard score that briefly got the Orange back in the game, but the young linebacker impressed overall, recording eight stops, or twice as many as any of his teammates. Nicholson also quickly scrambled to his feet after a cut block on a blitz to start a sack that teammate Bradley Chubb finished off (and got credit for—probably should've been a ½ sack each). Nicholson figures to be a fixture in the middle of the defense for a long time.
- The Pack didn't allow an Orange third down conversion until the 10:30 mark of the fourth quarter. Cuse was just 2-for-11 on third down.
- Syracuse was thrown for a loss on nearly 20% of its offensive snaps (10 of 53).
- Darian Roseboro, another freshman, continued the tradition of a defensive end dropping into coverage on a zone blitz and taking a pick to the house. As you recall, Pharoah McKever did virtually the same thing a year ago to turn the game in the Carrier Dome.
- Year three is when "they" say a new head coach should make his move. Doeren moved to .500 in his Wolfpack tenure with the win, and winning out (including a bowl) would put the Pack at even in league play for the first time since 2011 and at nine wins for the first time since 2010. It would be just the third 9+ win season in 21 years, a definitive step forward.
- Dadgum penalties. The Pack were whistled 10 times for 98 yards worth of infractions, including 20 yards of gaffs that directly led to Syracuse getting back in the game with its first touchdown before the half.
- One of those penalties, an unsportsmanlike conduct call, led to the ejection of Monty Nelson. Though he is fourth on the pecking order on the interior line and thus would not be a devastating loss, hopefully Nelson will not have to sit next week due to his transgression (which went woefully uncovered by the #goacc crew, though it appeared he had his helmet ripped off behind the play on Roseboro's TD and retaliated with a shunch (shovish, punchlike substance)).
- The Pack's trend of giving up a soft score right before the half continued, as did their trend of playing solid overall defense only to get gashed for a long score. Throw out Fredericks' run though, and a Cuse offense that gave LSU and Clemson troubles, managed just 65 yards on 32 carries (2.03 per rush). Here's to hoping the Pack is immune to the ONE BIG MISTAKE in the season finale.
- Jaylen Samuels tallied the game's first score on a seven-yard TD toss from Brissett, but that was the Pack's leading receiver's lone grab. He was extremely effective in the run game (7.8 yards per rush) but only toted the mail six times. I've been calling for more Nichols/Gallaspy, and there are only so many touches, but it is nonetheless a little concerning to see such a quiet game from Jay-Sam. The staff was probably just saving his energy for full beast mode against UNC.
- Jay-Sam would have added to that rushing total, as there was a gaping hole for him to run through when reserve quarterback Jalen McClendon butter-balled the exchange to the turf (which turned into a scoop and score). That derp set off a chain reaction of unfortunate events, as the team's top corner (if not top defensive player, period), Juston Burris, injured his knee on the ensuing onside kick. If Burris can't go Saturday, it might spell doom against UNC's tall and talented stable of receivers.
There's a lot to play for next week. The Pack will look to send off their handful of seniors, including Brissett and Burris, in style in their last home game against the team's chief rival. The Pack will look to go .500 in league play and up last season's win total while improving bowl position. Most of all, NC State can put an end to whatever microscopic chance UNC has of getting in the college football playoff, though I doubt even if the Heels beat Clemson it would be enough to get them in. Let's remove all doubt.