The advanced metrics show that NC State has steadily improved in each season under Dave Doeren—last year’s luckless bunch should’ve won at least eight games while derailing Clemson’s title run—but until Saturday in Tallahassee Doeren only had almost and so close to show for the work he’s put in building the program. No more. The Pack’s 27-21 statement win over #12 Florida State gives Doeren a signature win.
It’s still just one game. But, if the Pack can continue to compete with college football’s elite programs AND avoid dropping those (expletive deleted) games to the likes of BC and Eastern Carolina, we’re in for a special season, and, if it can be sustained, we’ve got the best football program we’ve had since Sheridan. Or Holtz. Or ever.
That’s a big if, but there’s no reason not to dream big. The fact is that all of the team’s preseason goals are intact, and Doeren’s talk of championships seems much less like a fairy tale this morning after.
Let us revel in all the good things—even the bad and the ugly that was overcome—on this morning after sweet, sweet road victory over a program many pundits picked as a playoff performer in the preseason. (Also, consonance!)
· My game ball goes to the offensive line. Ryan Finley was never sacked; the only sack FSU was credited with was the suspect trick play call on the Jakobi Meyers intentional grounding misadventure. Sure, the running game was not exactly explosive, but against a slew of future Sunday stars, the line opened one all-important hole for Nyheim Hines to run through and salt the game away. In the end, State had the game’s lone rushing touchdown and went over 100 yards rushing as a team on the road against a stout defense. Kudos to the big uglies.
· The line paved the way for State to amass 365 total yards at Florida State. For comparison’s sake, Alabama managed just 269 yards against the Seminoles on a neutral site. The Tide averaged 4.5 yards a snap against FSU; State put up 5.2 per play.
· Finley was efficient yet again, completing 22 of 32 throws for 230 yards and a pair of scores. Did I mention that his jersey was pristine at the end of the game? Only stain was from taking a knee.
· Thanks to a pass interference penalty negating a pick, Finley’s INT mark is still clean for the season with 159 not intercepted throws. The Pack were +1 in turnover margin and the veteran offense hasn’t coughed the ball up in three straight games.
· Jaylen Samuels had the huge would-not-be-denied stretch on fourth and goal to put the Pack up 10-0, and he hauled in 12 balls in 13 targets, the biggest being a 12-yard shovel pass for a TD sprung by an awesome Tony Adams block that put the Pack up 27-16 in the fourth quarter. His 38 career touchdowns puts him in fourth place in Pack history, with former teammate Matt Dayes next up on the list of people to be passed; Dayes had 40, Stan Fritts had 42, and Ted Brown had 51. Brown is probably safe. Probably.
· JaySam also completed a pass to Dylan Parham for a 25-yard gain. I am not nearly man enough to criticize the choo-choo train, but Parham actually made the better play on what was not the prettiest pass, twisting and high-pointing it to pull it in.
· What was a thing of beauty was Meyers’ 71-yard catch and run where he put Derwin James on a poster. FSU’s likely first-round pick tried in vain to grab a facemask after having his ankles broken, but Meyers shook him off in the game’s most explosive play. Meyers finished with five catches for 112 yards.
· Stephen Louis didn’t have a huge game in terms of targets (3), but he moved the chains with a clutch, leaping grab on third down that helped set up the JaySam shovel.
· Defensively, Bradley Chubb made a lot of money on Saturday. He was the best player on the field for either team. Chubb had a pair of sacks among his seven tackles, forced James Blackman inside to a waiting BJ Hill for another sack, and forced a fumble that resulted in the game’s lone turnover. He was simply unblockable, and at times unholdable, despite FSU’s best efforts in that regard. (Seriously, I don’t know how the d-line didn’t have their jerseys ripped off.)
· Justin Jones also recorded a sack, giving the Pack four on the afternoon.
· There were too many big plays on defense to mention them all, but two that stood out include an Airius Moore thunderous third-down hit for a stop that forced a field goal that was pushed wide, and Jarius Morehead shoving a receiver out of bounds on third down in the fourth quarter to force a punt. Respectively, those two plays helped State pitch a first-quarter shutout and continue its streak of not allowing a touchdown all season in the fourth quarter.
· The defense gave up 382 yards and 5.9 yards per snap, which is solid considering the opponent. They were stout on third down, allowing just four conversions in 14 third-down plays. Getting off the field helped State hold the ball for almost two-thirds of the second half on a hot afternoon in FLA.
· More evidence of the D being good when it mattered most: FSU averaged just 2.6 points per drive inside the 40.
· Carson Wise made every kick he attempted!
· The Noles shot themselves in the foot with 11 penalties for 93 yards and should’ve had a couple hundred more in uncalled holding infractions. Guess the Handicapper General has deemed that Chubb and company are the Harrison Bergeron of college sport and are trying to level the playing field. Anyway, the more disciplined (yet still unfortunately undisciplined a couple of times—see below) Pack were flagged just six times for 41 yards. A 52-yard swing in penalty yardage is huge in a one-score game.
· Speaking of penalties, Chubb was flagged for a roughing the passer infraction for the second straight game. Love the nasty streak; don’t love the free 15 yards. The foul helped set up a field goal that pulled FSU to within 17-13. And the loogie on the logo. Just don’t.
· Speaking of penalties, Meyers scored a 10 from me for his gymnastics routine that punctuated his TD, but the ACC judges were less impressed. Personally, I think exuberance is cool. Taunting is not. That was exuberance. That was not taunting. Nonetheless, you know that’s getting flagged. And you know that sets up a kick return against our shaky coverage. Just don’t.
· Glad to see Wise making them, but settling for two field goals after first and goal, and needing four downs for a TD on another trip inside the 10, is a bit concerning even against that defense. Need seven. Every time.
· Kelvin Harmon with just three targets? Could we please scrap the wildcat near the goal line and perhaps replace it with a fade route to the tall, strong, competitive, athletic gentleman wearing number three?
· Still no Mike Stevens.
· Sadly, the special teams does not escape this space yet again. You can’t win on the road if you get a punt blocked. I’m pretty sure there’s some stats somewhere that prove this. Oh wait. We hung on. Phew.
· I’m pretty sure that a bumbled snap safety is also a harbinger of doom for a team trying to cling to a win on the road against a perennial national title contender. Oh wait. We didn’t fold.
· NONETHELESS, let’s clean both of the ugly bullets up before next week, and the penalties too. Please and thank you.
That blocked punt certainly raised the feeling of “It’s happening,” and not in a good way. St. Louis in hoops…TCU and Coastal in baseball…Clemson and FSU on the gridiron just last year…insert dramatic NC State fail here… Again, it’s just one game. But an NC State team just faced its patented self-inflicted wounds on the road and did not fold. IT DID NOT FOLD. And, foolishly or not, that’s got me Juning hard this Sunday morning. Did we spring a one-off upset or turn a corner? Time will tell.