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Thoughts from Alec’s Brain: Marshall

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3-0 is 3-0 is 3-0

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

The ACC looks awful, but NC State is 3-0. Now the Pack hasn’t played even a power five team this point, so 3-0 doesn’t mean much. But Saturday night’s win at least allowed it to escape the sad fraternity of Atlantic Coast teams whose membership requirements include only an embarrassing and exposing early season loss.

This was State’s best game of the year. A lot of areas overflowing with question marks provided some real reasons for optimism on the road against a decent opponent. The defense had a strong night in front and on the back end. The running game made measurable progress, even though it was still below average. Chris Dunn looked good. And finally, the passing game was the passing game.

Offense

That passing game fully unleashed Kelvin Harmon’s powers in the first half, and Marhsall had no answer for him because there is no answer for a fully operational Kelvin Harmon. Ryan Finley to Kelvin Harmon is the subject of nightmares for DBs. You can be in great position and still get beat. Seriously, what are you supposed to do with this as a defender?

Steph Louis was back and provided yet another example of the valuable depth that’s been molded at wideout. Emezie’s strong game was needed as well to help mitigate the injuries inflicted by the Marshall defense.

“Taking away Kelvin Harmon, huh? Well here’s five more guys I can make you look stupid with.”

-(not a real quote from) Ryan Finley

State is the best team in the ACC and one of the best in the country when it comes to the vertical passing game. It is 4th nationally in 3rd down conversion percentage (24/41) because of it. That number probably even goes up if you exclude 3rd downs in the redzone, where the field mostly takes away the threat of the vertical pass.

That’s all well and good for now. It’s fun to watch 3rd and 15 be an almost easy first down. But State cannot live like this the rest of the season. The offense is very one dimensional and that will be the undoing if they let it. I’m not just talking about the running game. The Pack lacks the underneath passing game it used Jaylen Samuels so heavily for last season. State also doesn’t have a player right now to give the ball to in space and let him do something. That was Samuels also, as well as Hines.

Angeline should be able to bring some of what Samuels had to the passing game, and Thayer Thomas might be able to function as a space guy. State might not need those elements as much as they used to with such a well developed receiving corps and accurate quarterback, but they cannot continue to be this one-dimensional.

Then there’s the dreaded running game. This was actually the best it has looked out of three contests, but that was not a high bar to clear. People can be quick to point to Gallaspy as the primary issue, and that’s understandable. The offensive line is supposed to be really good and The Bus doesn’t bring a running style known for busting big plays. In my first edition of this series, I state that Gallaspy doesn’t “maximize his blocking.” That’s still true because of his lack of quickness and burst, but he’s a good enough back to lead a competent rushing attack. He’s got nowhere to run though.

Sophomore guard Josh Fedd-Jackson had a really up and down game. Here he’s beaten on his first block and the defender blows up the play in the backfield

Missed blocks have contributed heavily to the negative yardage plays that have plagued the rushing attack. The line doesn’t get to the second level either, leaving linebackers available to get in rushing lanes and make the stops without much resistance.

Gallaspy and Pennix aren’t exceptional backs right now, but the blocking is the heart of the issue. Now here’s what happens when the blocking is good. The line gets their blocks and moves the defenders out of position. Fedd-Jackson gets upfield and delivers a block on the linebacker that springs Gallaspy for a first down. More of this please.

Defense

The defensive line had easily its best game of the year. Marshall averaged less than three yards an attempt running the ball, which is really terrible. The line owned in the trenches and got a lot of pressure on the quarterback. Isaiah Green is a hard man to tackle, and the one sack is not indicative of the impact the pass rush had on the game. Morehead’s pick six was largely forced by the d-line pressure that caused the overthrow.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the game was the secondary. Other than one big error early in the game, they played well. For a unit that was criticized as much as they were last year, all of which was deserved, they’ve came out strong this season. McCloud mostly locked down Tyre Brady, holding him to just 25 yards. Chris Ingram looks like the future at corner more and more with each passing game.

This is exciting, because this was my personal pick for NC State’s doom this year. These corners look good though, and if they can manage to play at a high level throughout the season, this defense has a chance to finish better than last year’s.

The door is opening wide for NC State right now in the ACC. Even wider than last year. Of course, Clemson sits in that doorway like a tank, but everybody else is doing their part for the Pack. This team still has a ways to go before we can declare it any type of contender, but it’s not too crazy to think something that hasn’t happened in a long time could happen if the Pack can get right in a handful of key areas.

Other Notes

  • A ray of light has broken though our seemingly eternal darkness, and his name is Chris Dunn
  • State has to figure out how to suck less in the redzone. Field goals are for losers
  • Nick McCloud has the best celebrations. This should be the new JaySam GIF.