After NC State weathered the storm, quite literally, to beat Notre Dame and followed that up with what should've been a win in Death Valley in the team's best performance under Dave Doeren, I swilled the Kool-Aid by the bucket. The offense has taken a slight step back without Jacoby Brisett, but Ryan Finley has been a capable game manager and the run game remains strong. The defense, always the Achilles' heel under Doeren and Dave Huxtable, is where the real improvement seemed to have come. The Pack entered yesterday's debacle at Louisville with the 13th best defense in the nation according to S&P+. After the near miss in Death Valley, we had reason to believe that this was a top 25 program headed for an eight or nine win season. But this morning after, it appears the Notre Dame game was a weather-aided fluke and that the Clemson performance was an outlier.
We're probably better than who we thought we were after East Carolina, but we're not nearly as good as we thought we were a week ago. And so it goes.
Time to grasp at straws for the good bullets in our weekly good, bad, and ugly.
- We won the second half! Sure, this is completely without meaning when you spot a team a 44-0 lead at intermission, but at least there wasn't a total ankle-grabbing quit. The Cards, if you remember, actually beat Florida State by a greater margin.
- When Louisville failed to score in the third quarter, it was just the second time all season they were held without points for a period. They've scored in 26 of their 28 quarters this fall.
- The run defense, even on Lamar Jackson, was actually pretty solid. The Cards came in averaging over 7.25 yards per rush, over two more per carry than any team in the ACC and the most in the nation, but they were held to a paltry 3.7 yards per carry against the Pack.
- The season-low 163 yards State allowed on the ground were 109 fewer than the least allowed to Louisville previously this year. (That alone boggles the mind.) The Cards previous low on a per-carry basis was five yards per tote against Clemson before being held to a new season-low 3.7 against the Pack.
- State managed to sack the elusive Jackson three times, a truly exceptional feat, and totaled six tackles for a loss.
- Matt Dayes was cleared to return to the game after his injury but was held out; that was probably the wise decision with the game out of reach. Dayes not being expected to miss any time going forward is probably the most good to come out of yesterday's bloodletting.
- There really wasn't anything bad. It was beyond bad. So, let's get to the ugly.
- Finley's first pass was an intercepted duck into double coverage. Both Louisville defenders had a better shot at it than the intended receiver. If anyone had a Clemson hangover, it was Finley. His confidence looks shaken.
- The offensive shitshow in the early going included this nugget: eight of State's first 11 plays went for no gain or negative yardage.
- The offensive shitshow in the early going included this nugget: State had -1 total yards in the first quarter.
- The offensive shitshow in the first half included this nugget: INT, punt, punt, punt, punt, INT, INT, punt, half. That's quite a "drive" chart.
- Meanwhile, Jackson had thrown for over 300 yards by intermission.
- The big play bugaboo is back. Jackson was bottled up on the ground with the exception of his 36-yard TD to open the scoring, but four Louisville receivers had a catch of 30 yards or more, including Jaylen Smith's 74-yard TD. That's 378 and 390 yards allowed through the air in back-to-back weeks. Obviously the competition have been Heisman QBs, but this doesn't look like the performance of a truly improved defense. And Jackson might've thrown for 500 if he hadn't been bored.
- I could go on. But I don't want to.
In defense of the defense, it was made more difficult to try to combat the Cards' speed by an offense that couldn't manage a first down until deep into the second quarter. Short fields. No breaks. Speed. Petrino. It's going to get ugly despite your best efforts against his team if the offense can't burn some clock.
This game was probably over a week ago when Kyle Bambard's kick sailed wide right, and it certainly didn't help to have Tony Adams banged up and Will Richardson out with an illness. The Pack run behind those two most often. The Pack ran for just 14 yards Saturday.
The gauntlet is over. State mercifully returns home to take on Steve Addazio's dudes next Saturday. Let's get healthy and be ready to play.