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Thoughts from Alec’s Brain: UNC-Chapel Hill

Another win in Kenan

North Carolina State v North Carolina Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

NC State took home its first road win in the State-Carolina series in its last one try and just its third in its last three on Saturday. The Pack rode Reggie Gallaspy to the finish line after being outplayed for the majority of the game, and ultimately hung on for what was a nice win, even if it was a tight contest against a poor team.

A win over UNC is always a beautiful thing, but the way State got this one done was the biggest positive takeaway. The Pack won a football game in which it trailed in the fourth quarter for just the second time since the start of 2015. I don’t need to rehash all the heartbreaking fourth quarters over the past two years, because everyone is well aware of all the missed opportunities. This game doesn’t get to join the group, as the Pack made just enough plays to win instead of coming up one play short.

There wasn’t a soul in red that thought State was winning that game when they were behind 28-21 in the fourth quarter and defending an offense that had scored on every second half possession so far. But the Pack found a way. Playing the most combustible team in history might have helped, but State found a way to make the plays it needed to make to win. That was awesome.

The actual happenings of the game were pretty gross for a long time. UNC dropped a lot of guys into coverage throughout the game, played a lot of zone, and decided they were going to force NC State to beat them with the run. Fortunately for the Heels, NC State also decided that they were going to force NC State to beat them with the run. And so went one of the worst offensive halves of football you have ever seen.

Normally you’d welcome this ground-and-pound approach against UNC, which is a team that State has beaten up in the trenches in recent victories. Offensive line play hasn’t been at the level you’d hope for though, and the offense sputtered behind its inability to generate any running lanes. State had 92 yards of offense at the end of the first half.

The approach, although rightfully ridiculed by pretty much everyone watching in the first half, did end up working. State was fortunate though that UNC imploded as badly in the first half as it did, which is the only reason State’s stubborn play calling didn’t help deliver them a double-digit deficit at halftime. UNC’s receivers (and punter) having shovels for hands saved the Pack defense on several occasions.

State made some halftime adjustments that ended up being key, mainly using the middle of the field more to attack the holes in UNC’s coverage with Jakobi Meyers and Thayer Thomas. Thomas made some huge third down catches to extend drives. The UNC front starting to wear down though made the biggest difference, as State began opening up holes to run through and then continuing to hammer away behind their 235 pound running back until he was gashing the Tar Heel front.

Gallaspy’s big game was the most Gallaspy style big game possible. He ran a combined total of 11 yards on four of his five touchdowns. It was his bruising between the tackles effort that eventually put State over the top. This has been said a million times already but seeing him get a career game like this at the end of his senior year is just awesome. He was the second-stringer his entire time in Raleigh before this year, and many were ready for him to slide back there again after Ricky Person announced himself against Virginia and Boston College. Gallaspy stayed all four years though and burying UNC is the perfect way to finish his time in this rivalry. He really hates UNC too, if his twitter is any indication, which only made Saturday cooler.

Continuing with the theme of not playing well but making just enough plays to win, let’s talk about the defense. Obviously, the Pack has been critically deficient in the secondary all year. Nick McCloud, who is the best player back there, started the game off with a couple nice PBUs, but things went downhill from there. Dudes were open everywhere and State most likely loses this game if not for an inconsistent quarterback and 46 dropped passes.

The biggest deficiency is at nickel, where State’s top two options haven’t been able to cover anyone all year. You could make the argument that Shawn Boone was actually the biggest loss from last year’s defense, given how the attempts to replace him have gone. I don’t have any problem with the 4-2-5 alignment, but it takes a special player to be really good at nickel and the Pack has nobody prepared to be that right now.

The bright spots were the young players in the front six. Brock Miller made some strong open field tackles in his first career start. Alim McNeil, who is just going to be an absolute monster, had a pretty critical sack in the first half. State’s front six will be just fine moving forward.

Special teams had a very strong game and was definitively the best special teams unit, which was refreshing. A.J. Cole was dynamite as was his coverage team. The first punt effectively cost UNC an entire possession, as they wasted plays trying to get out of the shadow of their own goal posts. State’s maligned kickoff coverage group handled a dangerous returner with relative ease and there were zero stupid plays. UNC on the other hand was a complete disaster, fumbling three punts, one punt snap, and missing an overtime field goal. State definitely had the edge on the special teams front.

There wasn’t a lot about this performance that was particularly encouraging, but you’d have to be some kind of cynic to not enjoy an overtime victory in Chapel Hill (plus UNC was always a little bit better than their record). This game was awesome, even if it was terrible. 10/10 would recommend to a friend.

Other Notes

  • Jarius Morehead is an excellent tackler. He would have made a good linebacker
  • State badly needs another Hines or Samuels type that is really good in space. Not having that forces the OC to be more creative and he cannot do that.
  • This is the 9th win in the last 12 meetings for NC State
  • This is the 9th win in the last 12 meetings for NC State
  • This is the 9th win in the last 12 meetings for NC State
  • This is the 9th win in the last 12 meetings for NC State!!
  • This is the 5th win in the last 6 games in Kenan Stadium for NC State
  • NC State has won 19 of its last 26 games and 12 of its last 17 ACC games
  • UNC has won 6 of its last 26 games and 2 of its last 17 ACC games