The NC State defense continued to struggle mightily against ranked opponents, surrendering 553 yards of offense Saturday afternoon in a 45-34 loss to rival North Carolina. Granted, they were no ordinary offenses—Clemson, Carolina, and Florida State will likely all be top 10 teams when the rankings are released today and the Tar Heels are second in the nation in yards per play—but the Pack allowed an insurmountable 7.29 yards per snap in those three losses to ranked opponents.
Led by a spirited performance by senior quarterback Jacoby Brissett, State kept up with Carolina in total yardage if not explosiveness but ultimately failed to turn long drives into touchdowns; that and an unfortunate first quarter where the team missed several opportunities to stall drives ultimately spelled doom. The Pack is a better team this year than last by about any metric you want to apply save the most important one—wins and losses—and finish a second consecutive season 7-5.
It's hard, even with the perspective of "the morning after," to come up with anything but ugly when you lose to the Sheep, but, in keeping with the format of this here weekly feature, let's look at the good, bad, and the ugly from the regular season finale.
- The team could have very easily folded after the 35-7 shellacking in the first quarter but continued to fight. Doing so not only eventually stoked the flames of epic comeback in our hearts, it also kept Carolina from running up the score to biblical beat-down proportions, a thing I have no doubt Larry Fedora would have done had he been able.
- State actually allowed more yards in the first quarter than it did over the rest of the game and "won" on the scoreboard 27-10 after the opening frame.
- Brissett struggled with his accuracy, completing just 17 of 37 throws, but nonetheless willed the Pack to a 514-yard performance. He was the Pack's leading rusher with 128 yards and accounted for two scores on the ground and two through the air.
- Jaylen Samuels was oddly absent in the run game (three rushes for five yards) but snatched six balls for a game-high 97 yards.
- David J. Grinnage again showed, as Steven brilliantly noted, that the J stands for Jtouchdown; he was on the receiving end of both of Brissett's TD tosses.
- The Pack forced three turnovers.
- Though trading three for seven was not a winning formula, freshman kicker Kyle Bambard showed no signs of his previous struggles with a couple of made field goals.
- A.J. Cole, speaking of freshman kickers, was again very good in the punt game, averaging 43.5 yards per boot and pinning three inside the 20.
- Cole's hang time kept Ryan Switzer from even attempting a return (and at least State kept one guy in check defensively as Switzer managed just 38 yards on eight catches).
- NC State arguably got jobbed on the replay of Quinshad Davis's touchdown catch which came on third down (and thus likely would have resulted in the Heels having to settle for a field goal had it been overturned). The rule essentially states that a player must have firm control of the ball through the entire play for it to be a catch. Davis indeed had the ball and two feet down, but he coughed it up on his way to the ground. Officials typically take the position that "when in doubt, wipe it out" but did not do so in this instance.
- With the Pack down 21-7, Brissett badly overthrew a wide open Cole Cook on a third down throw. A catch there puts State in Carolina territory, perhaps leads to a score, and turns rather than adds to the massive momentum monster of suck before the game got so far out of hand.
- The Heels got a number of batted balls at the line, including one that Andre Smith picked and returned to the six which led to the 35-7 deficit.
- Two Pack players had Marquise Williams in their grasp on UNC's opening drive, but the QB spun out of the sack and threw the ball away, keeping Carolina from getting off schedule. A few plays later it was 7-0.
- On the next drive, Williams should have been thrown for a loss on third and two but again broke a tackle, this time going for a long run that set up the second score.
- On UNC's third drive, State again had Williams stopped short of the mark on third down but a late hit out of bounds gave Williams and crew a fresh set up downs. They scored on the next play, a 42-yard scamper from T.J. Logan.
- On the fourth drive, once again, Williams escaped a sack and threw the ball away to avoid a loss...a few plays later it was 28-7.
- Perhaps had the throwaways been sacks, UNC scores anyway, but at least twice it should have been fourth down and a punt but instead the Heels scored. Add to that the questionable touchdown ruling, and it could well have been a 17-7 game at the end of one and a very different outcome. Instead, poor tackling and poor discipline on the late hit led to a 308-yard quarter.
- Despite all of that, the Pack could have come back if they turned red zone opportunities into touchdowns. There was a turnover on downs in the red zone, two short field goals, and a missed two-point conversion. By my math that's 16 points left on the field in a game we lost by 11.
Brissett and the handful of seniors on this very young NC State team will be missed, but thankfully they have not donned the red and white for the last time. Here's to hoping they go out in style with a win in the TBD Whatever the Heck Bowl, presented by Whatsit Now. Thanks to the seniors, and, as always, go to hell Carolina.