NC State shook off an early hangover from its disappointing season-opening loss to South Carolina, and overcame a record-setting performance from Marshall wide receiver Tyre Brady, to even its mark at 1-1 with a 37-20 win over a game Thundering Herd. And I’m not sure how to feel.
The same problems that plagued the Pack in their opener—namely special teams, a green and injury-plagued secondary, a defensive line that has been too often neutralized by a short passing game, and an offensive line that hasn’t been able to consistently open running lanes—remained against an opponent that managed just two wins against bowl division teams a year ago, but the defense pitched a shutout over the last 35 minutes of the game and Ryan Finley was once again fabulous, allowing the Pack to erase a 10-point deficit and win going away.
And a win’s a win, even when it’s not in the lopsided fashion Vegas predicted.
There was a good bit of good to feel good about, so let’s get to the goodness.
· Finley completed 29 of his 36 attempts for 341 yards, a total second only to his 415-yard effort against the Gamecocks. He threw for three TDs and has yet to be picked in 100 attempts on the season.
· Finley’s prolific performance, which included a 46-yard run, helped the Pack average seven yards a snap.
· Kelvin Harmon is a complete receiver. Not only did he catch nine balls for 121 yards and a score, he also willingly and effectively blocks and uses his size to fight for extra yards, one time carrying three tacklers five yards to pick up a first down. He’s got 19 catches already on the season after totaling 27 as a freshman. I’d say he’s broken out.
· Stephen Louis bounced back from his fumbling performance against South Carolina with five catches for 73 yards, including breaking a couple of tackles en route to a score. State has some big, physical receivers.
· Jaylen Samuels didn’t have a lot of touches, but he hauled in five balls for 60 yards and a sweet score on that reverse toss back to the QB play that has led to chunk plays twice already this year.
· But that 39 yard score was not Jay-Sam’s best work. Expect to be continuously mesmerized by an endless gif loop of that tip drill catch it on your back play. (Paging no23sports.) It wasn’t just a jaw-dropping grab, it was a huge momentum play after the Pack came out flat in the third quarter.
· Penalty luck! Marshall gifted the Pack a first down earlier in the third quarter drive with a PI flag on third down. The hanky flew on a five-yard pass that was about 10 yards short of the line to gain for a first down. Reggie Gallaspy capped the drive with the first of his two second-half rushing TDs.
· Watching Gallaspy the first two games has made me long for Matt Dayes’ vision, but he finally hit the hole hard on the 23-yard jaunt that salted the game away. That run made his overall line look good: 12 carries for 61 yards, an average of 5.1 per tote. Less dancing. More bruising.
· More penalty luck! A week after an egregious no call on a blatant hold directly led to an opponent kickoff return for a TD, the hanky bailed the Pack out, negating what would’ve been the third Keion Davis KOR TD of the season.
· If there’s one thing State did fix from week one, it was its own tendency to get noticed by the zebras. The Pack was flagged just three times for 33 yards after getting flagged eight times for 65 yards in week one.
· Bradley Chubb lived in the Herd backfield, recording three tackles for a loss which included his first sack of the season.
· Airius Moore had a pick to seal a second-half shutout, and State was +2 in turnover margin.
· Nick McCloud looked pretty good at corner. When Mike Stevens returns from injury, perhaps the secondary will settle in.
· We made a three-pointer!
· Injuries: James Valdez replaced a woefully ineffective Johnathan Alston only to leave with a knee injury, though he did come off the field under his own power, so perhaps it’s not serious. Tyler Jones appeared to be in some serious pain with a hand or wrist injury. The band of brothers may not be back at full strength when Will Richardson returns next week after all.
· While we were gifted a first down on the aforementioned PI and caught a big break on the called back kick return, two holds that went uncalled led to Marshall’s first TD. Even the announcers were miffed.
· JaySam had his third drop of the season, a drive-killer when the Pack was down early. Time to roll.
· JaySam got just two rushes. That’s not enough.
· Nyheim Hines was a nonfactor, gaining a mere 29 yards on 13 carries and 14 yards on four catches.
· Dave Doeren sent out the punting unit on fourth and five from the Herd 39. Predictably, the punt ended up in the end zone for a touchback, netting 19 yards.
· Whatever that stupid trick play was that killed the opening drive.
· A team that wasn’t supposed to be explosive managed nine explosive plays (runs of 12+ yards or passes of 16+ yards).
· Chase Litton dropped back to pass 43 times and was sacked just once, and Dave Huxtable dialed up several blitzes that left Alston on an island with Brady after it was clear that the Herd were going to repeatedly exploit this mismatch.
· Marshall averaged 6.6 yards per snap.
· Davis averaged 9.7 yards a rush. Thank goodness they didn’t get him the ball more.
· They certainly got the ball to Brady plenty. Dude caught 11 balls for 248 yards and a score. It’s the most receiving yards the Pack has ever allowed at home.
· The hanky bailed out the kick coverage unit, but that group remains a disaster waiting to happen. Pooches forever.
· One extra point doinked in off an upright. One went wide right.
I’m going to tell myself that Marshall is much improved, and we’ll look back on this as a good win when they go 8-4. I’m going to tell myself that Richardson is the answer to our stagnant running game. I’m going to tell myself that Stevens will solve a lot of problems in the secondary. I’m going to tell myself that the sports psychologist is finally going to get through to the guys on the roster listed as “K.” I’m going to tell myself that everything is alright. But I’ve lied to myself before.