NC State has won two football games this year, one against an ECU program that got trucked 42-10 Saturday by Navy, and another over a WCU squad that broke a 10-game losing streak by squeaking past D-II North Greenville by a mere three points. Turns out a couple wins over the dregs of college football fooled us all—Vegas included—as the Pack, despite being favored, were in no way ready for a road test in Morgantown.
Perhaps State was favored not so much due to its early season wins over cupcakes, but rather for West Virginia’s perceived early ineptitude. The Mountaineers struggled to beat James Madison in their opener (you know, exactly like a veteran State team did last year) and got embarrassed on the road against a second-tier SEC team (you know, kind of like State in its bowl game last year). That SEC team, Missouri, won this week 50-0. The Mountaineers’ demise was perhaps a bit exaggerated.
Sure, the banged up NC State defense was a sieve, and, yes, the play calling nonsensical, and, hate to pile on, but Matthew McKay looked incapable at quarterback. There’s all that. But, in the end, the “doomsters and gloomsters,” to borrow a phrase from Boris Johnson, need to take a step back from the cliff and get some perspective. This is a very young Pack team—especially with senior defenders James Smith-Williams and Nick McCloud out with injury—playing on the road against a traditionally solid, power five program. The performance sucked, but the sun came up today. There’s a lot of football left. Time will tell whether or not that’s a good thing.
I’m not feeling my usual Sunday morning gimmick—no brunch or mixed six this morning—and would rather just put in my three cents for your perusal. West Virginia dropped 44 points after coming in averaging just 13.5 per game. Why? The Mountaineers managed just 32 yards rushing per game in their first two, but ran wild for 173 yards, averaging 6.2 per carry, against an unprepared Pack defense. Dave Doeren chalked this up to the opponent running plays State hadn’t seen on film and added that the players didn’t seem to comprehend the adjustments the staff was imploring them to make. Doeren and his staff get paid far too much money for me to accept this explanation, and I think it only tells part of the story anyway. It looked like the Pack thought they were the superior team and expected to cruise to another easy win, got punched in the mouth instead, and then wilted in the raucous atmosphere of 60,000 amp and hype partisans at Mountaineer Field. None of Doeren’s explanation or mine should make it any easier to sleep at night, but all of the above is correctable.
So is the play calling. The most glaring example of WTF are you doing was the discombobulated third and half a yard call in the third quarter with State trailing by three points. QB sneak it. Hand it to a running back behind a lead blocker. Try play action and roll the quarterback out with a run pass option. Don’t do whatever that slowly developing, broken-ass-play-looking bullshit was. As karma is a bitch, a blocked punt immediately followed. The football gods punish you for these mistakes by having you miss an assignment and leave a guy unblocked, and/or having Thomas Roucchio, the last line of defense in front of the punter, wear a blindfold on the play and never even so much as notice that no one on the line bothered to block the guy coming right at your punter. Olay!
The ensuing touchdown put West Virginia up 31-21, and then any assemblance of logical play calling went the way of the dinosaurs. There were over 21 minutes left in the football game, but State’s two-headed and relatively inexperienced offensive coordinators pretty much abandoned the run and put the game in the hands of McKay, who was making his first career start on the road. Zonovan Knight averaged six yards per carry. Ricky Person averaged 4.7 yards per carry. When State came back to tie the game at 21, it looked like those two were going to wear out the Mountaineer defense in the second half. They never got a chance. The coordinators panicked and allowed McKay to dig the hole deeper with incompletion after incompletion on a day where he was struggling.
Film study. Practice. Learning from mistakes. Experience. None of the problems outlined above must linger. Go to work. Fix it. Seriously, folks, show a little patience. In the preseason, most of y’all had this chalked up as a loss anyway before we blew out two shithole teams and West Virginia struggled against much, much tougher competition than we have faced.
But then there’s the third cent: McKay, who has gotten progressively worse in each of his starts. He locks in on his intended receiver and seems immune to the concept of working through progressions. He throws it behind receivers on slants and crossing routes. He has struggled with accuracy and touch on deep balls. And, while he’s no Mike Glennon, he’s definitely not Jordan Lynch. He seems a little awkward and even unwilling in the run game, though it seemed as if his potential to be a “dual threat” was a large factor in his winning the QB job. Emeka Emezie had his first 100-yard receiving game with 12 catches for 103 yards, but it took 23 targets to get him there. McKay is not efficient, and he clearly lost his confidence in the second half. I don’t know if letting him try to play through it was the best thing for his development, but I’m pretty sure it (and abandoning an effective running game) was the worst thing for our odds of winning.
But it is just three starts. We could list a hundred great quarterbacks who struggled early in their careers. The success (or failure) of this season will hinge on State’s staff correcting the correctable—and player development has no doubt been a strength in the past—but also correctly judging whether McKay’s flaws are indeed something that can be fixed. If not, they need to move on for the sake of the development of the next man up, as well as for the fortunes of the program as a whole.
At least we have company in our misery. Florida State tried a wildcat down seven with five seconds left from the five with predictable, failed results. Stupid shit happens. These are humans. Georgia Tech, a 27-point favorite, lost to a triple option FCS team. Irony! Kansas, a week after losing 12-7 to Coastal Carolina, embarrassed BC’s dudes. Sports! If this stuff makes you this upset, you doomsters and gloomsters of the message boards, find a new hobby. Also, I’m clinically depressed after this game and need help.