What a difference a month makes. Seven of our resident BTP contributors showed up to weigh in on the Clemson game, with three daring to predict a win, though the overall margin of the collective predictions was +3 in favor of the Tigers. After a four-game stretch of NC State unceremoniously settling back to earth, just four of us coughed up a prediction for the Louisville game, with three boldly predicting victory. The aggregate margin was +4 for the Pack. So, in a month’s time, we’ve gone from believing we could hang with, if not beat, the S&P+ #2 ranked team, to fretting over escaping Louisville, ranked 104th, unscathed.
Turns out there wasn’t much to worry about. The Pack pounded the Cardinals 52-10, handing them a defeat of proportions not even meted out by Alabama (37-point win), though exceeded by Clemson (61-point win). Obviously, we’re closer to Bama and Clemson than whatever the hell that was against Wake Forest.
Alas, that Wake loss was rough on the soul, so this week’s mixed six is kicked up a couple of notches. When in Rome, do as the Romans do. When in Louisville, drink bourbon.
First bourbon—Elijah Craig 23 year: Forgive the liberty here, as I know it’s Eliah Drinkwitz. Apparently David Jtouchdown Grinnage’s parents stole the “J” in Eli’s name. Drink’s offenses have been widely panned for their inability to convert red zone trips into seven points, but that was not the case against the Cards. State reached the red zone seven times and scored on each trip, settling for a field goal just once. An 86% TD rate in the red zone would lead the nation! Let’s do that from now on instead of whatever we’ve been doing.
Second bourbon—Bulleit Barrel Strength: This strong, unfiltered bourbon, ranging from 120 to 125 proof depending on the batch, makes for a fine toast to Ryan Finley’s strong right arm. You might say the ol’ gunslinger was firing bullets up and down the field (but dadgummit I’m one letter off again). Finley moved into second place all-time in the history of Pack passers with his 316-yard performance. His four TD tosses set a career high; he had thrown three in a game eight times. We have been so, so spoiled at quarterback.
Third bourbon—Woodford Reserve Double Oaked: NC State almost doubled up on 100-yard receivers, as Kelvin Harmon grabbed seven balls for 100 yards and Jakobi Meyers added seven catches for 96 yards. Both receivers hauled in a TD grab, as did Emeka Emezie, who matched their seven catches and accounted for 72 yards through the air. Harmon’s afternoon made him just the third Pack receiver to post two 1,000-yard receiving seasons in his career, joining Torry Holt and Jericho Cotchery. I’d say that portends a bright NFL future for the chiseled, 6-3 215-pound receiver. Even Dylan Autenrieth got in on the action, as the tight end traded in his lead blocker assignment to collect his first two career receptions (and had Finley’s throw not sailed a bit, causing Autenrieth to make a twisting grab rather than catching it in stride, he would’ve notched his first TD).
Meyers needs to average 82 yards over State’s last three games to give the team a tandem of 1,000-yard receivers. He’s averaged 83.8 yards per game so far this season.
Fourth bourbon—Colonel E.H. Taylor small batch: Pour some Colonel Taylor in honor of the men and women in uniform, as the Pack participated in a military appreciation game for the second straight week. Marine brat Brady Bodine, whose father Wayne is a lieutenant colonel who has been deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq a combined four times, notched his third career rushing touchdown. A former walk-on, Bodine has averaged five yards per carry in his final season, the best mark of any State player with double-digit carries. Oh, and Bodine’s backfield mate Reggie Gallaspy was pretty good too, averaging 6.6 yards per tote and scoring three times (two rushing, one receiving) for the first time in his career. Gallaspy, who had never caught a TD pass, went eight straight games with a rushing TD before being shutout the last two weeks.
Fifth bourbon—Maker’s 46: Chris Dunn is a maker. He’s 18-for-21 on the year after chipping in a 23-yarder Saturday. He’s also perfect on extra points—39 of 39—on the season. It was a good day all around for the special teams, as A.J. Cole averaged 46.7 yards per punt, including one downed at the one. Kyle Bambard reached the endzone four times on kickoffs, with three going for touchbacks. It might be an overstatement to call Pack special teams a strength, but it’s no longer a glaring weakness. Tanner Ingle even forced a fumble (though Louisville retained possession) on a bruising special teams tackle.
Sixth bourbon—Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve: I am a sucker for garbage time, when you get a glimpse of reserves who may play a larger role in future iterations of Wolfpack football. Matt McKay looked good. Last year’s offensive scout player of the year got his most extended run and impressed by completing 5-of-6 passes for 38 yards and scrambling his way to 22 yards on three carries. Devin Leary or Bailey Hockman may ultimately beat McKay out for the job of replacing Finley next year, but if McKay does win the job, State will have a true dual threat quarterback in 2019. A running threat at QB may well rejuvenate what has too often been a lethargic running game this year.
Additional noteworthy notes: State was back to being awesome on third down, converting 10 of 14. They held Louisville to just 3-for-12 on third down, and those three conversions came after the game was out of hand. The Pack also recorded three sacks and avoided penalties, getting flagged just twice (compared to 12 for Louisville, which is an apt number since they were repeatedly flagged for having 12 men on the field. Counting is hard.)
The much-maligned State secondary did not allow a TD pass for the first time since the Georgia State game, though the defense did allow a 100-yard rusher for the first time this season. Malik Cunningham gained exactly 100 yards on 14 carries.
Parting shot—Angel’s Envy Cask Strength: A bottle of this spirit, which is finished in port barrels, will set you back nearly $300. Only the best for our angelic, exemplary friends in Chapel Hill. Sure, the footballing Tar Heels are just 2-8, but, as they will surely tell you, their school and basketball team are the envy of every unfortunate fan of moo college. The irony that they’ll tell you this while using their comparative poetry degree to land a job as a Starbucks barista will be lost on them, which is probably for the best. Their genuine disinterest in football will help the Pack paint their shrinking stadium red for what will certainly be a lopsided win for Finley and company.
No, seriously, please don’t lose Saturday. My liver couldn’t take it.