It didn’t start particularly well, with a flat NC State offense managing just a field goal in the first quarter, but the Pack eventually overwhelmed Western Carolina, pulling away for a 41-0 win in the annual FCS money game. After the shutout, the Pack have held directional Carolina opponents (two against ECU and one against WCU) to just nine points over the last three home games at Carter-Finley.
In case you’re suffering from a hangover this fine Sunday morning, let’s get the bad stuff out of the way first with your hair of the dog cocktail. Bottoms up!
Hair of the dog—electric current fizz: I chose the electric current due to the shock of an anemic first quarter that saw State gain just 57 yards (nine less than an initially plucky WCU team gained despite being forced to turn to its backup QB due to a suspension). Two issues plagued the Pack for the second straight game: an inability to convert on third down, especially due to receivers running routes short of the first down marker, and Matt McKay continuing to overthrow open receivers downfield. Poor execution on third down and the inability to stretch defenses with the vertical passing game simply haven’t mattered so far against inferior competition, but both shortcomings need to be cleaned up as the schedule grows more difficult.
Now, your three-course brunch.
First course—smoked salmon potato hash with poached eggs and caviar: We start with a fancy Emeril Lagasse recipe because of Emeril’s catchphrase: BAM! State’s fancy freshman running back, Zonovan Knight (a.k.a. Bam), has a habit of fancy firsts. He scored on his first touch against ECU and notched his first 100-yard game against WCU. Knight found the endzone twice in his 119-yard effort against the Catamounts. He averaged 6.6 yards per carry. Another true freshman, Jordan Houston, had his first career TD as he exploded for 73 yards on just eight carries (9.1 ypc), all in the second half. Ricky Person accounted for a rushing TD as well. The Pack totaled four TDs and 309 yards on the ground as they continually ran behind right guard Joshua Fedd-Jackson and right tackle Justin Witt. The duo repeatedly whipped the undersized Catamounts in the trenches.
Knight is on pace for 966 yards rushing in the regular season and, while he hasn’t started a game yet, has just two carries less than Person and Houston combined (29 to 27). He’s the best bet to give State its fourth consecutive 1,000-yard rusher. The young but talented RB group is just what the doctor ordered as McKay and a young but talented receiver group gets its footing.
Second course—brisket and grits: We turn to Charleston’s Smoke BBQ for some burnt ends in honor of the tight ends, who led the passing attack with a combined seven catches for 87 yards and a score. Cary Angeline (four catches for 47 yards and a TD) caught McKay’s lone TD on a call that gave me some faith in the play calling of the two-headed offensive coordinator. With just 16 seconds left in the half and out of timeouts, the Pack couldn’t afford to run the ball from the one. Get stuffed, and you get no points. McKay rolled out, giving him the option to run or pass, and found Angeline in the back of the endzone to put the Pack up 24-0 at intermission. Angeline’s 28-yard grab was the game’s longest play from scrimmage.
Dylan Autenrieth added three catches for 40 yards. Primarily known for his blocking, Autenrieth’s three catches were one more than he had all of last season, and he showed some nice hands on a catch in traffic. Like the strong stable of running backs, having these two big targets as safety blankets is a plus while breaking in a new QB.
Third course—bacon stuffed donuts: The sweetest part of the game was of course the performance of the defense, which stuffed the run with a swarm of fresh bodies en route to the shutout on a hot Raleigh afternoon. WCU managed just eight yards on 19 carries as 23 Pack players were credited with a tackle; none had more than Tanner Ingle’s five. Xavier Lyas led the havoc with two tackles behind the line (one a sack) that accounted for 13 yards in losses for the Catamounts. He also forced the fumble that led to the game’s lone turnover. In all, State tallied three sacks and four TFLs.
State was also stingy against the pass, allowing Will Jones to throw for just 98 yards on 27 attempts. It was State’s first shutout since blanking Eastern Kentucky in 2015. Only Wisconsin, which hasn’t allowed a point in two games, has a better scoring defense than the Pack’s three points allowed per game so far this season. State is fourth in yards allowed per rush (1.02), seventh in yards allowed per pass (4.5), and fifth in yards allowed per play (3.13).
Of course, those numbers probably can’t hold against better competition, though it’s a fair question to wonder how much tougher the competition is about to get after West Virginia was embarrassed in a 38-7 loss to a Missouri team that couldn’t get past Wyoming in week one. The Mountaineers barely escaped in a 20-13 win over James Madison in its first game and have managed a mere 1.14 yards per rush so far this season.
Here’s hoping the defense and running game—and hopefully a much sharper Matt McKay—can make it 3-0 next Saturday in Morgantown (at, you guessed it, noon).