If you ever wondered how covering the spread while beating an undefeated power five, conference opponent could be frustrating, you only needed to tune in for NC State's 33-16 win over Wake Forest Saturday at Carter-Finley. Everything went swimmingly in a first quarter that saw the Pack claim a 17-0 advantage, but penalties and the inability to comfortably put the contest away thereafter made for a liver-damaging, obscenity-laced final 45 minutes, at least in my living room. Nonetheless, the Pack are 1-0 in ACC play, the offense is putting up numbers, and there is much to be excited about for the future.
Here's the game in good, bad, and ugly bullets:
- NC State put up 527 yards of total offense, netting 6.9 yards per play against the best defense it has faced thus far in 2016. Wake surrendered double the average points allowed it had yielded over its first four games (which was 16.5), and State's 5.1 yards per rush was more than the Deacs had been allowing per play.
- Leading the rushing attack was Matt Dayes, who was not stopped for a loss once in 24 carries on his way to 125 yards and a score. Dayes has 439 yards through four games and is once again well on his way to a 1,000-yard season if he can stay healthy.
- Though not quite as accurate as he had been coming in—Ryan Finley was completing a nation's best 76.3% of his throws prior to the Wake game—State's transfer QB continued to exude a comforting level of competence under center. Finley completed 23 of 36 throws (and a couple were dropped) for 300 yards and three scores. He's yet to throw a pick in his Pack career.
- Stephen Louis has emerged to give the Pack a genuine threat at wide receiver to go with Dayes' in the running game and Jaylen Samuels in the everything game. Louis had four catches for 102 yards and is up to 328 yards on the year.
- Jay-Sam did not have a huge game but kept the sticks moving with seven catches for 50 yards, including a score. He averaged 12 yards on two runs and even had a crunching tackle on punt coverage.
- Kelvin Harmon adds yet another dimension to the offense with his size at receiver. The true freshman caught his first (and second) of what will hopefully be a lot of TDs in his career.
- We have ourselves a slash. WR/QB Jakobi Meyers took a lateral and tossed it to Cole Cook for a 27-yard gain. He also caught two balls for 28 yards. Meyers versatility will definitely give DCs yet another thing to worry about from an already diverse offensive attack.
- Thaddeus Moss, another true freshman, offered even more to dream on with his twisting, acrobatic catch for 17 yards.
- Wake came in averaging a pedestrian 25.5 points per game. Thanks to some timely stops forcing field goals, State held the Deacs to nearly 10 points below their scoring average.
- Josh Jones led the way defensively with 12 tackles, a sack, and two pass breakups.
- Bradley Chubb posted a pair of sacks, and Jack Tocho even got in on the act on a corner dog. State did not blitz much, perhaps being in the "don't put too much on film" mode with a decent lead, but it was effective when utilized.
- A.J. Cole III brought out the club, booting a 72 yarder on his way to averaging 54.5 a kick. Of course you would rather not use your punter, but those are the results you want to see when you do.
- When is a bad a good? Maurice Trowell dropped a perfectly thrown ball that would've moved the sticks, forcing a 48-yard FG attempt from the talented but struggling Kyle Bambard. Bambard drilled it to make it a three-score game again after Wake had grabbed some momentum. The long kick not only arguably put the game out of reach, it may also be just what the sophomore needed to get his confidence and become a reliable option for Dave Doeren.
- It was 16-16 after the first quarter. Against Wake Forest. At home.
- Allowing 16 points against a P5 opponent is normally something to hang your hat on, but this is Wake Forest. Bending but not breaking to hold them to FG attempts rather than touchdowns was the difference in the outcome, but allowing 5.3 yards a snap to a team that came in averaging 4.9 per play against a very weak schedule does not inspire confidence in the defense going forward.
- Nyheim Hines does not appear to be healthy. He was nonexistent on offense and barely averted disaster after muffing a kickoff return.
- The Pack didn't turn it over, but they also didn't force one. Despite the havoc created by the defensive line, State's got just four takeaways in four games.
- NC State was penalized 13 times for 144 yards compared to Wake's three hankies for 38 yards. It's actually pretty remarkable that State won as easily as it did while going -106 in zebra yardage.
- Some of those flags were undoubtedly deserved, but both chop block calls demonstrated either a total lack of understanding of the rule or bad eyesight, if not both.
- The targeting call on Shawn Boone was also suspect. The offensive player lowered his head, creating the helmet-to-helmet contact. The offensive player was not in a defenseless position. And the hit was really not particularly violent. Now Boone has to sit for the first half of the Notre Dame game.
With a night to sleep on it, perhaps the game was a greater success than it seemed in real time. Certainly the good in the bullet list above far outweighs the bad and the ugly. In fact, this might have been a 30-point blowout without the 144 yards of oft-specious flags. Still, I saw a team that will have to get a lot better defensively to keep the Pack in games against the heavyweights on the schedule to come. And we've been repeating that refrain for a long time.