NC State mostly overcame its dread zone scoring woes, getting four TDs in five trips to the red zone, and definitely overcame its inability to finish, pitching a fourth-quarter shutout, in Saturday's 35-20 win at Syracuse. In the big picture, the Pack moved to within one game of bowl eligibility and senior Matt Dayes is a mere 61 yards from becoming the squad's first 1,000-yard rusher since Touchdown Anytime did so in 2002. The first road win of the 2016 campaign snapped a four-game slide that included three brutal losses of a touchdown or less.
In its first attempt at bowl eligibility, NC State will host a Miami team with metrics suggesting it is much better than its 6-4 record in the final home game of the year for the red and white. The Canes need to win out against State and Duke and get a miracle from Virginia against Coastal-leading Virginia Tech to play in the conference title game. The Pack will of course close the season at rival UNC, another team in the Coastal hunt (because nearly everybody is in the Coastal hunt every year).
After an evening to let the blood pressure and alcohol levels normalize following State's win in the Carrier Dome, let's take a look at the good, bad, and the ugly from the 15-point, streak-snapping win.
- Syracuse is not a running team, but making even a pass-happy attack totally one dimensional is generally a recipe for success. The Orange managed a less than robust 28 yards on 28 carries. Even the liberal arts majors among us can peg that at a mere one yard per carry. It's also 34 yards less than they had accumulated in any other game.
- Bradley Chubb and Airius Moore led the charge in getting the Cuse off schedule with four tackles for a loss apiece. Chubb had a pair of sacks, and Darian Roseboro added one. Chubb has a team high eight sacks on the season; Roseboro has six.
- Cuse's inability to get anything going on the ground left it with a lot of third and longs; State got off the field by allowing Cuse to convert just four of 14 third downs. Without the ability to sustain drives, an Orange offense that was in the top 10 nationally in snaps per game managed just 53 plays from scrimmage, by far their lowest total of the season.
- The paltry 218 total yards the Orange managed was their lowest total of the season; the 4.1 yards per play was second worst.
- Jack Tocho's interception was a huge momentum swinger. State (once again) came out flat and was in danger of going down 14-0 when Tocho forced the day's first turnover with an acrobatic pick on a deep ball. I don't think I'm exaggerating when I say that pick might have saved Dave Doeren's job. An uninspired blowout loss to Syracuse is a nail, if not the final one, and things were sure looking to unfold that way early. The defense, save for one home run ball when Josh Jones appeared to forget the he was supposed to be helping Niles Clark over the top, was dominant after Zack Mahoney got to know Jack.
- Dayes did not have a big day on a per-carry basis, netting just four yards a try, but the Pack's insistence on staying balanced paid off. He put the game away with TD runs of 20 yards at the end of the third quarter and 13 yards with less than five minutes to go against a withering Cuse defense. He finished with 108 yards on 27 carries, including three scores. He's got seven rushing TDs on the season.
- Eli Drinkwitz finally treated the Pack faithful with runs other than Dayes' runs. Dayes should get lots of touches, no doubt, but when the running game is more diverse it seems to make him and the entire offense better. The jet sweep was rediscovered and Jaylen Samuels carried three times for 26 yards and a score. The Jalan McClendon was rediscovered and he carried four times for 31 yards. Gallaspy, Nichols, and Meyers too, oh my! Wildcat even, diversify!
- I think part of it was by design, and part of it was due to Ryan Finley being gimpy, but McClendon made his return and completed all five of his passes in the starter's stead. (What's that? Two of those completions were to the other team? Hmm. Maybe I should cut and paste this into the "ugly" section? Nope. I'm not going to do it. One INT was on a hail mary, so who cares. The one in the endzone was inexcusable. But the guy's not getting any better sitting on the bench, and we need his legs to diversify the offense, especially in the red zone. I demand more J-Mac packages. Just learn to throw the damn ball away, please.)
- Oh yeah. Finley. The dude continued his domination of bad defenses with his best career performance in terms of passing yards. He completed 20 of 29 throws for 340 yards and a score. In case you haven't noticed, Finley has three straight 300-yard games and four for the year.
- One of State's biggest weakness last season was at the receiver position. There's some developin' goin' down in this arena, as evidenced by Kelvin Harmon's first 100-yard game. His 68-yard catch and shake of poor tackling was a thing of beauty. Fresh off a 100-yard game of his own, Nyheim Hines ran under a 53-yard deep ball and finished with 73 yards. Bra'Lon Cherry had 85 on a team-high seven catches.
- Jay-Sam not only returned to the running game (he averages six yards per carry; feed him for chrissakes), but also snatched six tosses for 66 yards despite a gimpy ankle. He was literally dragging fools down the field. (Make a note to fit him with a tear-away jersey, Dave'n'Drink.)
- In the end, State held a 27-10 advantage in first downs, a 544-218 advantage in total yards, and a +2.5-yard advantage per play.
- There were no missed field goals!
- It is a good thing when you reduce the other team's offense to depending on Harrison Beck-like grippin' and rippin' bombs to have a chance. It's a bad thing when they complete three of such offerings. Thankfully, one was called back on the kind of horrid chop block flag I thought was only called against us, but for as well as the defense played, we were just one bomb or blown coverage away from being in another down-to-the-wire battle.
- Two personal foul penalties by offensive linemen after the play showed that discipline is still an issue. Play nasty until the whistle, fellas, but not after it. We're unlikely to be able to overcome that business against the better teams that remain on the schedule.
- Cherry had a good game overall, but a missed block and a drop in the first quarter contributed to the Pack putting up a goose egg in the first quarter. It's not all on him, but, again, State can't afford slow starts in the last two games if it wants to extend its season.
- No sir, we can't go a week without pain in the special teams department. Cole Cook's blocked punt could've led to disaster, but the defense responded by forcing a field goal and State managed to cling to a 21-20 lead after yet another gaffe by the special teams unit, and Dayes took over from there.
The blocked punt and interception in the red zone made this game closer than it should've been, but a 15-point win against an improved Syracuse team on the road is most definitely better to wake up to on a Sunday morning than what we've seen over the last month. Eliminate turnovers, mistakes in special teams, and bad penalties, and there may well be a season to salvage down the stretch.