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Thoughts from Alec’s Brain: Syracuse

The Surgeon General warns against extensive use of NC State Football

North Carolina State v Syracuse Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

Personally, I believe Saturday’s loss to Syracuse was a better indictment of where NC State Football is than the loss to Clemson. The Pack is a decent team. In some areas it’s elite or damn near elite, and it’s good in more areas than not. Football can be a weak link sport though, and when you run up against a team that’s built to attack that weak link, you can be made to look quite incompetent.

That’s what happened to NC State on Saturday. Despite some promising early returns against inferior opponents, the Pack’s secondary is not good, improved, or even on par with last year. It’s actually quite terrible. I’m going to have nightmares about it.

Syracuse has a good crop of receivers and an excellent quarterback and they attacked a secondary that was not ready to play this game, hanging 51 points on a defense that actually played quite well up front. The front seven completely stuffed the run and generated more than enough pressure to do its part at the line of scrimmage. It didn’t matter though, because Syracuse can stretch the field and NC State has demonstrated no ability to stop it.

The Orange exposed NC State’s flaws, which have turned out to be fatal to the prospect of a special season. Those flaws were sufficiently masked through the first five games, via inferior opponents and two teams that didn’t have the personnel to attack the weakest link. Syracuse did, and oh boy did they attack it.

State also has a frightening lack of depth, which was masked again during the opening stretch but shined through in the Carrier Dome. Arguably the biggest play of the game came on State’s final third down when the worst attempt at a block in the history of football occurred. The Pack only has two people capable of playing tackle at an acceptable level. That’s not good, and it may have changed the outcome of the game. A defensive end shouldn’t move to offensive tackle and immediately be on the two-deep, no matter how talented he is.

NC State was down an offensive tackle and a cornerback and nobody was capable of stepping into those roles and being good enough to get the job done. Instead, crucial failures came from those positions with regularity. It was a problem last year and it is this year again.

This isn’t a complaint directed at anyone in particular. Building quality depth is one of the hardest things to do. Attrition kills you and State has had a lot of it in the defensive backfield. I’m not taking aim at anybody specific for a failure as much as I’m pointing out that NC State just isn’t there yet. If you break a football team down to pieces, State probably has 70% of the pieces it needs to be where we want it to be.

The missing 30% played right into Syracuse’s hands though, thus the embarrassing loss. That’s what NC State football is right now. It’s a team that’s capable but not well-rounded enough to produce a consistent result.

If you dissected every previous game more than any of us have time to and were honest about what you saw (which I stubbornly refuse to be as a fan), you probably could have seen this coming. It was easy to get swept up into being 5-0, but this year’s team had obvious deficiencies that were just waiting for an opportunity to “Here’s Johnny” themselves through State’s front door.

I lean towards the thought process that that’s okay though. Building a title contending football team out of something that has literally never been that is not an easy or quick task. The secondary has lagged behind other units in its ability to get talented players in and keep them, and the lack of depth is just a function of a program still trying to grow.

There’s reason for optimism with the current recruiting classes, which have done much more with defensive backs than the previous ones did. If you look for a solution to the two biggest issues from Saturday, you can find it.

If you look for reasons to be pessimistic, you can find those too. As so many things have improved over the last five years, so many have stayed exactly the same. The issues that have repeatedly kicked NC State in the groin are still kicking. State botched another special teams play on Saturday and once again barfed all over itself as soon as the prospect of a game winning drive arose. General game management continues to be a foreign concept.

You can view this football team in two completely different lights depending on what angle you look at it from. Syracuse made one thing very clear though. While NC State is definitely not a bad football team, it’s noticeably incomplete.

Other Notes

  • *copies* *pastes* Kelvin Harmon is the best receiver in the country.
  • We definitely have a kicker.
  • I hate criticizing play calling because I know I’d be awful at it, but sometimes I’m just not sure what State is trying to do, particularly in the red zone.