We know Rudyard Kipling for his NC State adopted quote from the Jungle Book: "For the strength of the pack is the wolf, and the strength of the wolf is the pack." (The irony of a group of largely African-American young men chanting the phrase penned by Kipling, a racist imperialist by most accounts, is not lost on me, but I digress.) Kipling also wrote a short story, "Bridge Builders" (about bridge building, of all things), that featured the tag line: "Never look backwards or you'll fall down the stairs." There's a certain catch 22 (all the literary references!) to looking back if applied to the NC State football squad. Look back, and you see an embarrassing finish to a season that held the possibility of a step forward. And then you fall down the stairs, or, metaphorically, you lose your senior quarterback, three offensive linemen, the two guys in your secondary who can kind of football, your best pass rusher, all while facing a much tougher schedule next year.
So, very soon we should look ahead, tiptoeing around recent events and that stairway to doom, and begin rationalizing why things will be better in 2016. There are 240 or so hallucinating days until football! No one amps and hypes next year like us. Alas, no one wallows in misery like us, either. So, fellow wallower, indulge me in one more morning after, the raped 51-28 by Mississippi State in the Belk Bowl edition.
We'll soften the blow by mining the few positives from the painful season finale.
- Dave Doeren seems to have figured out what to do with the considerable physical gifts of Pharoah McKever. At 6-6, 260 pounds with good hands and remarkable speed for his size, the erstwhile defensive end was moved to tight end for the bowl and did not disappoint, putting the Pack on the board with an 82-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter. The last 65 or so of those yards came after the catch; presumably speedier safeties and corners could not run the big man down.
- McKever, once fully acclimated to the position, could become the star at tight end we thought he would become at defensive end. (Let the amping and hyping begin!)
- Jaylen Samuels was given three carries on end arounds and has yet to be tackled. Once he scampered for a modest gain before going out of bounds; the other two resulted in scores. His 48-yard TD on his second touch was sprung by a McKever block and brought the Pack to within a score at 21-14.
- If we counted stats like the NFL (which does not count sack yardage against a QB's rushing totals), Jacoby Brissett would've had 94 yards on 21 carries. JB seems often to hold the ball too long and lacks pinpoint accuracy in the passing game, but you certainly can't question his toughness and heart. It's probably never a good thing when your quarterback has the dirtiest jersey on the field at game's end, but JB's grit and passion for the game will be missed next year.
- We've panned the receiver play around here ad nauseam, but Jumichael Ramos made a helluva grab for a 40-yard pickup that set up State's third score and finished with a solid 75 yards on five catches. Ramos finished the campaign with a respectable 457 yards on 34 catches (13.4 ypc) and, like McKever, is a guy we can dream on a little for next year.
- It's hard to find much good when the defense has over half a hundred hung on them, but Niles Clark had a nice pick and the Pack forced a pair of fumbles. Of course it's our luck that we fell on neither fumble, including one that was picked up in the end zone for a fat guy touchdown. State forced 28 fumbles (tied for third!) this year but recovered just nine, a 32.1% rate that ranked 116th in the country. Seriously, why does the universe hate us?
- Speaking of turnovers, Brissett uncharacteristically tossed a pair of picks, including one on the first play from scrimmage that led immediately to a 7-0 deficit the Pack could never overcome.
- JB did average an impressive 17.8 yards per completion but only found a teammate on 42.9% of his throws. His TD to McKever was his lone six-pointer and he finished the year with a grand total of seven TD scores to wide receivers. Despite the good yards per completion totals, State's chunk plays in the passing game were usually born of YAC or a coverage breakdown after a scramble rather than JB's ability to accurately get the ball downfield.
- Part of the reason we saw so few intermediate and deep balls: five sacks allowed. Matt Canada calls some seriously slow developing play--I particularly love the "play action" fake handoffs when there isn't a running back within five yards of the QB--so perhaps some of the blame should go to the scheme rather than the OL. Then there's JB's tendency to hold it forever because he believes he can FSU miracle play it on every snap. Then there's the wide receivers' inability to get separation. Then there's...oh it's just a big mess.
- Speaking of a big mess, Mississippi State scored on five of its first seven possessions and went three and out just once in the entire game.
- The cowbell crew jumped out to a 14-0 lead. In four games against bowl eligible, P5 schools held in North Carolina (three at home and one in Charlotte), the Pack were outscored 72-20 in the first quarter. Is there a not ready to answer the bell issue here, or is this a talent gap thing where the other team jumps to a lead and then relaxes? Neither answer is comforting.
- Dak Prescott treated us to another torching of the secondary, throwing for 380 yards and four scores. He was sacked just once, for a yard loss. State's strategy seemed to be to "rush" four, or rather have four guys stand there and spy Prescott so he couldn't use his legs to beat them on broken plays, while covering with seven. Despite the abject failure of this strategy, no adjustments were forthcoming.
- NC State has this guy named Jaylen Samuels, or JaySam for short. This gentleman was first-team all-conference TE, though his true position is TE/FB/RB/BAMF. JaySam did not get his first touch until the 7:50 mark of the second quarter. His second touch resulted in a 48-yard score. He would later add another. In total, the gentleman had four touches and two touchdowns. This is an excellent rate. Why in the dickens was this gentleman not utilized more thoroughly in the execution of the game plan the staff had weeks to develop? Color me perplexed, flummoxed, and crestfallen. JaySam finished the season with 980 yards combined receiving and rushing with 16 touchdowns. Spurious play calling was his greatest nemesis, and he should've had twice those bullshit numbers.
I'll soon take a statistical look at the season as a whole, and I suspect the numbers will show a lot more progress from a year ago than the W-L record, which of course went backasswards. Regardless of any metrics-based silver lining, losing toss-up games with Louisville and Virginia Tech, blowing another lead against FSU, getting shell-shocked at home against UNC, and looking thoroughly outclassed by a middling SEC team, does not progress make. It WAS nice to thoroughly thump the dogs on the schedule--this has been no given in the past--but Doeren has to beat SOMEBODY at some point or he'll be rubbing salve on the heat rash from the hot seat.