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Thoughts from Alec’s Brain: Virginia

Ricky Person!

Virginia v North Carolina State Photo by Lance King/Getty Images

The Wolfpack passed its first power five test of the season Saturday with a 14 point win against Virginia. It was a great game for young players. The Pack needs some new faces to emerge as difference makers, and Saturday definitely hinted at that need being fulfilled.

The running game! It lives!

Ricky Person is here and he is pissed off. The true freshman should earn starter reps at tailback next week after re-energizing a rushing attack that’s only two gears had been neutral and reverse. Person rushed for 108 yards and one nifty high-step, both of which are season highs for any NC State back.

He doesn’t get all the credit though. The offensive line gets its due for getting this thing to back to a level you could describe as competent. They did a much better job getting ahead of the play and creating running lanes, as well as getting blocks on the second level. Autenrieth’s return has made a significant impact as well. These plays were very well-blocked. Person’s explosiveness and anticipation did the rest. You can really see him accelerate through the hole on the second one, which is something State has been missing.

Things are trending in the right direction here. You have to like Person going forward as your lead back. His explosiveness is a lot scarier for a defense when you’re talking about the potential of a big play. Gallaspy should still play a major role, and he had a good game doing what he does, which is scoring goal-to-go touchdowns and turning 3 yard runs into 6 yards runs. Person should be leading the charge though.

Finley was meh for Finley, which is still really good

Finley didn’t have the greatest game, and a lot of that is credit to Virginia’s DBs. The senior QB tried to give his favorite receiver opportunities in one-on-ones, which are an unusually high percentage play with Harmon. He was covered well for most of these though, and the ball placement wasn’t on par with how it typically is and needs to be with those throws. You can’t be perfect every day, even if you’re Ryan Finley. Days like that will happen, and that’s another reason State must continue to find more dimensions to its offense.

Finley forced some throws too that should have been interceptions, for which good coverage was again partially responsible. Fortunately, Emeka Emezie made sure they weren’t interceptions by catching them for touchdowns instead. This dude is going to have himself a career at NC State. Finley still managed to complete well over 50% of his passes for three touchdowns and no picks.

Pass protection had its best game of the year, which helped Finley as he worked through progressions and moved on from well covered receivers. The offensive line is getting better, and hopefully that means it’s on the same trajectory as last year, where it started out only okay and then blossomed into one of the best in the conference. Now if only they could cut down on the holding penalties.

This protection is excellent and there were many plays like this to choose from^^^

State owned the trenches.

In addition to a successful afternoon for the offensive line, the defensive line was dominant. The thing I like most about Dave Doeren football is its commitment to winning starting at the line of scrimmage. That was where State won this game. The d-line and linebackers killed a fairly potent Virginia rushing attack, holding them to 3.2 yards per rush. That’s really bad, or really good depending on which color jersey you’re wearing

More than a quarter of those yards came on a receiver sweep too. The Pack owned the Cavaliers between the tackles to the tune of four sacks (should have been six) and nine tackles for a loss. Pressure also forced some poor throws, including one that would have been a touchdown, but instead fell harmlessly to the turf. Larrell Murchison is a beast. James Smith-Williams, who is a human testament to the strength program, is becoming a factor. All around, it was an excellent day for the front of the defense.

Next week will provide an even bigger test for the front six/seven, but things are progressing nicely as State tries to transition to a new group of core players. There were a lot of positive trends from this game, but the defensive pressure at the line of scrimmage was the most impressive.

Special teams are not so special.

NC State’s special teams are terrible. They are god awful and have been for some time. Not every element is bad, but the parts that struggle aren’t just driving the struggle bus. They’ve bought it, paid it off, and are seeking investment to start a public transit company. The introduction of a kicker who has grasped the concept of kicking the ball between the uprights is a massive improvement, but still only good enough to go from completely ghastly to slightly less completely ghastly.

The Pack once again gave up a big kickoff return, which is a pretty normal occurrence at this point. Kickoffs are a disaster. Every kick is short of the endzone and pushed to the sideline, which are two very effective ways to give up long returns. The so-called hands team had no idea what it was doing with that onside kick. Now granted, that was a perfectly executed onside kick, but still. You can’t just stand there and watch the ball.

This stuff matters, and if you’re going to pretend like it doesn’t, you’re going to lose games you should win. State dominated Virginia, and yet the Hoos were going into the endzone to make it a seven point game late in the fourth because of another special teams gaffe. It’s not okay. Fix it.

That’s my special teams rant.

At this point, State looks like a very good football team, but one that’s still afflicted with the same flaws that have always driven them to fall short of their ceiling. This is a grinder of a team. Great teams bury opponents once they build a lead. The Pack hasn’t shown an ability to do that, preferring to slog their way to the finish line instead.

There’s a lot available for the taking in the ACC this year. Virginia is probably a middle of the road team, and State pretty much dominated them. That’s a really good sign, and Doeren’s teams have usually been really good about beating the teams they are better than. Now it’s time to beat some teams they aren’t better than and win a freaking ACC Championship for once, so let’s go do that.

Other stuff

  • <insert weekly Chris Dunn is awesome comment>
  • The officiating in this game was an affront to human decency. This is pass interference, and considering the pathetic trash PI that got called (4 hours late) on Ingle at the end of the game, this definitely should be PI.
  • Stop running the option, just stop it
  • Seriously, stop running the option