If ever there was a ringing endorsement of Dave Doeren’s tenure at NC State, it was the comment section of the game recap after the Pack pounded Florida State 47-28. Sure, this version of the Noles is the posterchild for underachievement. Has any team ever done less with more in recent memory? But even if FSU has fallen on tough times, we’re talking about a program that won its first 29 ACC games, has an active (but likely to end) 36-year bowl streak, and won a natty in the not so distant past, yet many of us were left nonplussed by a 19-point win, State’s largest in the series. Dave must be doing something right if we’re the least bit letdown by a homecoming beatdown of FSU.
Having high expectations is a good thing, though. Let’s embrace it like this mixed six of Tallahassee and NC brews.
First beer—Ology Brewing’s Problem Solver blonde ale: NC State might’ve heightened fan expectations much sooner in Doeren’s tenure had it enjoyed even moderate success in the kicking game. Enter Chris Dunn, problem solver. The true freshman carved up the uprights for a career-high four field goals against FSU. He’s hit 82.4% of his tries on the year. I’m no mathematician, but I’m pretty sure that’s better than the coin flip rate of recent seasons. Dunn is also 30/30 on extra points. If a game comes down to a field goal, I might actually not have to cover my eyes. And much-maligned former fulltime kicker turned kickoff specialist Kyle Bambard had a day himself, managing three touchbacks and, count ‘em, three tackles on special teams. Alas, while it’s nice to be able to count on some points after bogging down in the red zone, the Pack’s lack of zing in the zone is a troubling trend. State has managed a TD just 58% of the time in the red zone, a mark that ranks 90th in FBS. It was 73rd last year (60%) and 84th (59.3%) in 2016. Needs = more back-shoulder throws to Kelvin Harmon.
Second beer—Ology Brewing’s Variable #2 Saison: Speaking of Harmon, aside from a back-shoulder TD catch, he was surprisingly quiet after his record-setting performance a week earlier against Syracuse. But State has a wealth of weapons in the receiving corps, and Nole killer Jakobi Meyers proved to be a worthy go-to guy, hauling in nine balls for 125 yards and a score. Meyers had his first 100-yard receiving game in last year’s win at FSU. Saturday’s performance was the fifth 100-yard game of his career.
Third beer—Deep Brewing’s Spear Pressure British golden ale: For all of its failings, FSU came in with a stingy run defense and a future NFL end rusher in Brian Burns, who is atop the ACC with nine sacks. But the stout State line kept Ryan Finley clean, allowing no sacks. The Pack are second in the nation, allowing just 0.5 sacks per contest. (Army leads the nation in this category but has attempted just 73 passes in nine games.) While Finley had plenty of time to throw, it was the run game that set the tone early, as Reggie Gallaspy gashed FSU for nine yards on the game’s first play and added a 22-yard scamper later in an opening drive that was capped with Ricky Person’s one-yard plunge. Person would add a second rushing score and TD reception. Gallaspy ended up with 106 yards on better than five yards per carry. Most importantly, the run game allowed State to finally take an early lead. Even after outscoring the Nole 10-0 in the opening 15 minutes, the Pack have been outscored 62-40 in the first quarter this year.
Fourth beer—Steel String Brewing’s Big Mon American IPA: Something was amiss in the interior of the Pack line, namely a big mon, Eurndraus Bryant, was out with injury. Rotational interior lineman Shug Frazier was out as well. The loss of two of the top three DTs forced Darian Roseboro inside, where he made three stops, including a half tackle for a loss. It also opened up more snaps on the outside for Deonte Holden and seldom-used Xavier Lyas. Holden had a sack and half tackle for a loss, and Lyas broke out with a pair of punishing hits for the first sacks of the redshirt freshman’s young career. Lyas is a military brat who spent a couple of years in Korea as a kid and didn’t play high school football until his junior year, when he stood just 5-11. Now he’s 6-4, 235 and shows a tantalizing amount of potential. The excitement the sideline showed after his first sack was one of the highlights of the season for me. Lyas seems like a team favorite and will soon be a fan favorite as well if he keeps getting after the QB with such success.
The Pack might’ve stumbled onto something due to injury. I’d love to see Roseboro, who is more of a bull rusher, on the interior on passing downs with speedier edge rushers like Holden, Lyas, and James Smith-Williams on the edge. In all, the Pack sacked James Blackman five times. A pair of true freshmen, Alim McNeill and Tanner Ingle, accounted for the other two sacks. And, even without the run stuffers, State held FSU to a paltry 24 yards rushing. State is one of just eight FBS teams allowing less than 100 yards per game on the ground.
Fifth beer—Brewery Bhavana’s Wilt cherry-smoked quadruple: Unfortunately, a pass defense that seemed much improved in the early portion of the season has wilted, as Chris Ingram took his turn getting smoked by the deep ball on Saturday. State is getting pressure—it’s 12th in the nation with 3.13 sacks per game—but if the opposing QB doesn’t go down, he goes off. Blackman threw for 421 yards and four scores in his first start of the season, and this is on the heels of giving up 480 air yards against the Orange. Perhaps part of it is scheme, as the focus on stopping the run opens up passing lanes. Perhaps it’s the injury to Nick McCloud, the team’s #1 corner who has sat idly by while State has surrendered over 900 yards passing in two games. Whatever it is, please make it stop.
If there’s a silver lining, one TD pass came against Ingle when he was forced into the game for a banged-up Stephen Griffin. Ingle was the guy most often picked on in the secondary before Griffin wrested the starting job away Saturday. And Griffin played well and was fine; he returned to the game. And the last TD was in garbage time with many third-stringers on the field. And another and…what was up with the three-man rush, prevent defense before the half? More aggressive coaching there might’ve made the difference in that drive. And another thing, true freshman Teshaun Smith looked a lot more comfortable in his second start. Things really weren’t quite as bad as it seemed in the box score. Seriously, a little better pass defense, a couple FGs traded for TDs, and this would’ve been a Clemson-level beatdown.
Sixth beer—Triple C Brewing’s The Dude Imbibes imperial milk stout: Dude, we’re goin’ bowlin’. That’s five years in a row. Now to improve positioning by winning out. Do so, and this team has a legit shot at a top 10 finish in a year that was supposedly a rebuilding season after losing seven players to the NFL. We want
Bama a New Year’s Six bowl!
Parting shot—Broad Branch Distillery’s Nightlab 1.0: Let’s tip back Winston-Salem’s finest craft distillery’s offering in honor of a Thursday night primetime game on the Mothership against Wake Forest. It’s a blackout for those in attendance (and possibly me at home), which will hopefully help blackout any lingering bad memories of Wake Forest disasters of old.
Not this time, right? I’ll drink to that!