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Film Room, Miami nights edition (It really wasn’t as bad as you think)

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So close. So close.

NC State v Miami Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

Hopefully, everyone has calmed down in the last few days. I needed to vent my frustration, hopefully that was okay.


Last week, I explicitly pointed out last week how the 50/50 that seem like fluke plays go your way sometimes. Against BC, almost every one of these plays went towards NC State. Against Miami, they did not. I will highlight a few that did work well, and ones where the Wolfpack got the unlucky bounce (or call).

Let’s go to the video tape, I guess.


  1. Okay, so we’re not off to a great start. You guys aren’t helping, I just spent all this time last week talking about how improved the secondary is, and how they’re playing better than NC State has seen from that unit in years.

Clearly, it’s hard, I can see that. CB is one of the toughest positions on the football field. The receiver knows where he’s going, you don’t. I understand there are differences in coaching philosophies when it comes to turning to look for the ball. If you turn and look too soon then you risk losing track of the receiver. If you look too late then the ball can go right by you and to the receiver. The most common coaching approach is if you’re trailing the receiver, don’t turn your head, just read their eyes and try to block them from getting the pass. This is what Devan Boykin did last week against BC when he broke up the would-be TD pass.

But if you’re in phase with the receiver, locate the ball. Ayden White is still young, here’s hoping he can learn that. It really seems like if he had just turned around, this could have been picked off or broken up.

Kudos to Rambo for playing through contact. He did double move but White stayed with him. Yes, if White turns around maybe he breaks it up. But it was also a really good throw and catch by Miami, credit to them.


2. Encouraging signs on NC State’s drive, big passes to Porter Rooks and Chris Toudle. These two will feature heavily for the Pack in the future, and they’re getting the reps now to be ready.

A nice pick by the referee to give Toudle a 20 yard gain. This would have been a good play to call on that fourth down at the end of the game.

Porter Rooks is so talented, but this play happens because NC State spread the field very well. Bam Knight was open short, but Leary sees that Rooks had slipped into no-mans land between the LB’s and secondary.


3. Broken play. Leary wasn’t expecting the snap but has the wherewithal to slide right away and avoid further damage. These things do happen, but this needs to be better at this point in the season. Just because it didn’t result in anything worse doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be cleaned up.


4. Drake Thomas got one of the cleanest sacks you’ll ever see.

All effort. He just juked the TE and got to Tyler Van Dyke before he could get the ball off. Seemed like Van Dyke saw the sack coming and tucked the ball to avoid the fumble.


5. Miami’s second TD shouldn’t have happened. It wiped out a very good third down stop the play just before:

Miami decides to go for it on fourth and 1 from their own 49:

Jaylan Knighton just slipped past SS Jakeen Harris. Harris was up because the whole defense was guessing run on fourth down... but Miami did not run. By the time Harris realized what happened it was too late. Because the defense sold out completely to stop the run, there was no help to stop the TD. Harris needed to read the shoulders of Knighton and see that he was releasing up field and not staying as a check-down receiver.

We knew going into the game that Miami still had lots of talent on their roster. They’ve been ravaged by injuries, like NC State in 2019, but they were never going to be a cupcake.


6. Give credit to the Pack for coming right back with a 10 play, 75 yard TD drive of their own.

Devin Leary put this pass right on the back shoulder of Emeka Emezie for a 25 yard gain.

This angle shows you just how tight the window was for Leary to squeak that ball in there:

On the next play, everyone’s covered and the pocket is collapsing but Leary shovels it to Knight for another first down. More of this, please.

The drive was capped off but a great leaping catch by Thayer Thomas with a defender on him for the score:

Someday soon, we will have to put together a Thayer Thomas compilation appreciation post. His surehandedness will be sorely missed when he leaves.

Good play design to get Thayer open on the post, having the other receivers hook short.


7. In my post on Tuesday, I said this game is NOT the same as the performance by NC State in Starkville. This play by Ricky Person shows why. He waits, reads the defense, finds a hole then piledrives his way through several Miami players for a well earned 23 yard gain.

The drive ended in a punt, but not for lack of effort, clearly.


8. NC State got the ball back under a minute remaining in the half, and put together a very short and effective 3 play, 77 yard drive for a touchdown in 32 seconds. The first two plays were to Emezie, the first going short, followed by a MUCH bigger pass. Leary steps up and delivers a nice 46 yard pass as Emezie quickly gets down to stop the clock.

If we’re picking nits, I would say Leary continues his trend of underthrowing his receivers on deep throws. Emezie has to stop in his tracks to catch the ball. A little more air under it and Emeka may have had a clear path to the endzone.

It ended up not mattering, as Leary found Thayer on the next play for the touchdown. Leary steps up in the pocked and delivers a strike to a wide open Thomas. Miami seemed out of sorts, stuck between halfway running a blitz, zone coverage or prevent defense.

Give all the credit to Ricky Person for throwing an absolutely savage block to give Leary the time to throw:

If only they were all this easy:


9. I’m going to be honest, after that drive I was feeling VERY confident the Pack had found their stride. Going into halftime like:

NC State had scored 14 unanswered and went into the locker room with a 3 point lead. Given how we saw them respond after halftime at Boston College, signs were pointing to the game going swimmingly after the break.


10. The problem, it turned out, was that a football game consists of two halves.

The very first play of the half caught the Wolfpack sleeping, a 60 yard bomb to Charleston Rambo. This is what I mean by Miami playing like they had nothing to lose, it made them a very unpredictable opponent. On the one hand you can’t get beat like this on the very first play of the half, but also Rambo is one of the best receivers in the conference. But also you can’t get beat like this on the very first play of the half.


11. That play moved the Hurricanes into the redzone, where the NC State defense had recovered and forced a field goal. Then this happened:

The defense is trained to jump when the ball goes. The long snapper moved the ball, effectively changing the spot before snapping. It was borderline underhanded of the snapper to do this, but if the ref didn’t see it then they’ll gladly take the first down when Cory Durden gets called for offsides.

Miami scored on the ensuing first down to go up 21-17. Assuming the kicker made the kick, that’s a 4 point swing, basically the difference in the ballgame.


12. The NC State offense did not respond well on the following possession. On the first play, a short Bam Knight gets turned into a first down when a Miami defender grabbed his face mask. Unfortunately, the drive stalled on the next three plays when Leary just wasn’t sharp.

First down: The pocket collapses, altering Leary’s throwing motion. He had Emezie open on a crossing pick play but the pass is behind him.

Second down: Devin Carter on a go-route and beats his man off the line. He gets single coverage because the defense bites on the play action. Unfortunately, Leary doesn’t put enough touch on the ball and sails overhead. There was nobody back there, this could have been a HUGE gain. Leary continues to improve, don’t get me wrong. He also takes care of the ball, again having a game without an interception. But his accuracy on deep balls while stationary in the pocket is one of his biggest areas of needed improvement... still.

Third down: Thayer makes a great cut to the inside slant. He had at least 10 yards of green grass ahead of him, but Leary throws it too far ahead and low. The silver lining is Leary didn’t sail it high, like we saw from Dennis Grosel last week, potentially causing a tipped pass. But this killed the drive.

Punt... but wait!


13. NC State punted the ball, and Miami muffed the punt, then chaos ensues.

First, the Miami PR, #15 Jacolby George, muffs the punt and. NC State freshman Anthony Smith has made a role for himself as the gunner on the punt team. He has been training for just an event to occur. Smith tries to secure the ball, it bounces off his hands and off of George, then off Miami #16 Malik Curtis before George is able to track it down and pick it up again.

Then, a swarm of NC State players smell blood in the water and go after George and the ball. #42 Danny Blakeman is able to get a clean swipe at it and the ball comes free a second time! Smith sees the ball bouncing right towards him and does the only logical thing anyone would do in this scenario, jump on the football.

The problem, it turns out, is that Smith’s helmet had come off in the scrum. You’re considered ineligible at that point, and can’t make a play on the football.

The referee then goes on the mic to correct this mess, here is his direct quote: “The ruling on the field: There was a return and a fumble recovered by the kicking team. Also, there were two holds against the receiving team, #9 and #18. Those penalties are declined. The result of the play, first and goal, NC State.”

At this point, everyone is excited (except Miami, obviously). And they give Smith the bone to sign.

Leary brings the offense on the field. Before they could get a play off, the ref says the previous play is under review. Because of course it is.

Initially, I got upset because it looked like Curtis ripped Smith’s helmet off. That wasn’t the case. They were battling, and the helmet just gets squeezed in Curtis’ arm and slides off.

The ref comes back to set the record straight, saying: “After further review, there are fouls by both teams on the play. During the kick, holding, receiving team, #9 and #18. During the return, personal foul, participating without a helmet, #85 receiving team. Those penalties will offset. We’ll replay fourth down.”

The play was confusing because no flag was thrown against Anthony Smith during the play. Maybe I’m not well versed enough on the rules of replay review, but I didn’t think you could issue a flag upon review if it wasn’t thrown on the field. Also, does it not matter that multiple Miami players committed holding penalties, and only one NC State player was penalized. Is there no rule about balancing offsetting penalties? That’s two 10 yard penalties and a 15 yard penalty. I guess it’s just, your side did some stuff, and their side did some stuff, so i dk, just do it over.

Such a dumb sequence, and a fluke play that did not go NC State’s way but the kind of play that did against BC. You can’t fault Smith for jumping on the ball in the heat of the moment. The roller coaster of emotions here was unreal. The momentum swing could have been HUGE, as Miami was up 21-17 at the time, and NC State would have had the ball on the 6 yard line.


14. One silver lining is that the long review sequence allowed the defense to get some much needed rest since the offense had just stalled out. They were able to get a three and out on the following Miami drive.

NC State brought a wrinkle here with four down linemen. The result was Davin Vann was able to get the sack and stop the Miami drive deep in their own territory. In general, I like the current defensive setup. But sometimes, having four dudes run at the QB is better than 3.


15. The previous sack was huge because it helped flip the field, setting NC State up with great field position. They needed just two first downs to setup a Chris Dunn field goal. One of those first downs was a great play by Devin Leary to Devin Carter.

Leary knew the pressure and eventual hit was coming, but hung in there and made a good throw, putting the ball in the right space so Carter had room ro run after the catch (a hair behind but that’s okay). Another pick play, Leary looks off of Trent Pennix running to the top, this draws the LB’s to him, leaving Carter open.


16. A very scary moment here as Porter Rooks knocks over a security woman. An update from later said she was responsive, hopefully she’s fine.


17. I was bracing for a flag on this play, as Derrek Pitts undercut the Miami receiver, then celebrated the incomplete pass as if he’d had a major pass breakup.

So I wasn’t surprised to see the FLAG indicator at the bottom of the screen. I was surprised, however, to see it was against Cory Durden for roughing the passer. I guess the pass wasn’t catchable, so no DPI, but this penalty was questionable. Leary got hit about with the same amount of time after throwing in #15 above. Maybe this was a smidge later, but come on, ref.


18. The defense stepped back up and got the stop, holding Miami to a field goal after an excellent goal line stand.

Knighton with nowhere to go.


19. Look, Devin & Devin are the future of this program. This is the first year have played all season together. NC State would not have beaten Clemson without Carter, and last week he literally caught a ball of a dude’s back.

I showed a previous drive where Leary’s timing wasn’t great. This time, however, he got the ball on the money to Carter, in stride, within SO much field ahead of him, and Carter couldn’t hang on. He likely started looking up field before securing the ball. He would have likely gotten the first down plus another 10-15 yards at least.

It’s a very well designed play. The receivers ran great routes, with Carter coming across Thayer, and Emeka Emezie running up field. Leary has the option to throw it to either Thayer or Carter, and sees Carter has daylight ahead of him on a crucial third down, so he throws it to the guy that’s been reliable all season. He just couldn’t hang on.

I really believe Carter has the chance to be one of the next great receivers for NC State. He was targeted multiple times, but ended the night with only one catch for 13 yards. This is not the last we’ll hear from Mr. Carter. There’s a memory seared in my brain of Emeka Emezie as a freshman being heartbroken on the sideline for fumbling at the goal line in Winston Salem. Yes, Emeka was in, but that’s a story for another day. Devin Carter will return.


THE NEXT SET OF PLAYS (#20-23) SHOULD SHOW YOU WHY THIS GAME WAS DIFFERENT THAN THE GAME AT MISSISSIPPI STATE. This team refused to quit. I compare this to Kevin Keatts basketball team that refuses to go away and keeps fighting until the end.

20. You would be right to have been feeling down after that play, thinking the drive had stalled. Then Dave Doeren pulled the trigger on probably the best fake punt of his career. As soon as the formation shifted, the defense should have been yelling, “FAKE!” But I’m glad they didn’t.

Trent Pennix is one of those guys that is a tremendous athlete, but has struggled to find a specific role on this team. I’m glad he was rewarded with this play, as he ran HARD through the line for 40 grown man yards.

He was one defender away from taking this to the house.

Also, one of the State players got piledrived (piledriven?) off the line. Not sure who that was, but that was rough.


21. When the Pack started again with the ball at the Miami 26 yard line, all I could say was, “don’t squander this opportunity now”. And they did not. Rickey Person continues to run strong, taking 14 yards for a first down on first down. The two best blocks he got were from the RG, I think that’s Derrick Eason, and Chris Toudle. The former got the run started, the latter allowed for the first down. The rest was all that Person.


22. This touchdown pass by Leary was honestly phenomenal. As I’ve been saying, Leary is quite good while on the move. He is very comfortable throwing while going to his right.

It initially seemed like a broken play, as he motioned to nobody when Person went the other way. Then it looked like an interception as he threw it into double triple quadruple coverage.

Great catch by Toudle to hang on.

It was an incredibly ballsy throw, but coming off of that fake punt, the team knew a field goal would not be enough.

It ended up being called back with a weak sauce ineligible receiver penalty called on the LG, #54 Dylan McMahon. He’s nowhere near the play, but yeah, he’s sort of meandering five yards past the line of scrimmage. He should know better than to do that. I still don’t think it’s a good interpretation of the rule, a rule that’s always kinda nagged me. Mike Golic, Jr, was right when he said, “that’s a tad ridiculous.” He made a good point that this era of RPO offense allow wiggle room for linemen to go a few yards up field, this seems like it was in that gray area.


23. But once AGAIN, the team is resilient, they shake off that penalty and come right back. This was a designed run for Leary, something we have not seen a lot of this year. Mostly because the coaches are still nervous about running a guy that broke his leg last year. But it’s high time in the season to open this side of the offense up. He’s not going to run for 1,000 yards, but adding a mobile component will help this offense. We know Tim Beck has these plays in the book given the previous QB’s he’s worked with. In game six, his longest run of the season shouldn’t be this 14 yarder. Let’s go.

Also, look at Person seeking out the block for his QB. This was followed by Grant Gibson, and Leary finished it off.


24. The Wolfpack had now taken a three point lead, 27-24, right at the beginning of the fourth quarter. This was by no means a comfortable lead (no Pack fan is ever comfortable), but it did seem like State had gotten all the momentum in the game. They had a fake punt, ran for a first down, threw for a TD that was dumbly called back, then ran for a TD on the next play. The drive itself lasted just 3:37, but spanned the break between the third and fourth quarter, so it was a lot longer in real time minutes.

You’d think this would have given the defense enough time to rest up and protect the lead. Unfortunately, Miami came back out and put together an 11 play, 75 yard drive for a touchdown. After that big boost from the offense, plays like this really really really need to be avoided.

Honestly not sure how the hole was this big, or how there was that much open in the middle of the field.

The defense has done well to recover from these types of chunk plays. On this drive, however, they got cut up by multiple plays less than 10 yards at a time. The eventual touchdown was honestly a great pass by Van Dyke. Turns out this guy was a good recruit for a reason. It really hurts that he talked smack then is able to throw up the W at the end, but whatever.

Aydan White just gets behind Rambo on the slant and it’s over from there.


25. Even after losing the lead again, give credit to NC State for coming back and working their way down field. Even though Leary has struggled with down field accuracy, this was an absolute strike to Anthony Smith. Leary was also given tons of time to throw one of his best passes of the year.

The coaches know that Smith is a burner. They want to get him more involved, and I think next year could be a big year for him. This 44 yard pass was his single reception of the night, but I feel like we might be seeing more.

Smith makes it look easy when he blows by defenders.


26. As soon as I congratulate him on one of his best plays of the season, he goes and does something like this. First of all, they sent Bam out as a receiver while Miami blitzed, so he was getting sacked here, the numbers didn’t add up.

I mean.... what?

It was absolutely killer to get sacked and kill a good drive like this. He ended up being called down for a sack so it didn’t matter. But to throw the ball up like this... I mean... why?

It is still his first full season as a starter, but this is not the first time he’s done this. Just eat the sack. If that had been intentional grounding, you’re out of field goal range and have to try a fourth and a mile conversion. Worse, if it’s an interception then you’re really in the hole.


27. To make matters even tenser, Chris Dunn wanted to see if we could crap our pants just a little bit more than we already were by banking in a field goal.

This was after benefitting from a 5 yard running into the kicker penalty by Miami. Dunn sold it well.


28. Although they didn’t do it the last time out, the defense stood tall at the most critical time. They got a Miami three and out, forcing them into a -5 yard drive.

First down, Van Dyke sacked by Devon Betty:

Second down, TFL by Daniel Joseph:

He did a great job reading the RB breaking off to the flat and spied him to stuff the play before it could go any further:

Third down, Miami just decided to concede the drive and run up the middle:


29. NC State got the ball back at their own 44 yard line with 3:46 remaining. The crowd was actively booing the home team, they were ready to revolt after that last drive. They had been looking for a reason to toss Manny Diaz to the curb all night. Unfortunately, NC State wasn’t able to assist.

On first down, they took an ill advised shot down the field. I understand trying to catch the defense off guard, but Leary has shown inconsistency with downfield passes. I know you just had good fortune with a pass to Smith on the previous drive, but why play with fire by rolling the dice a second time, here in this moment?

Second down, this was the real killer. Offense sets up in trips right. Leary did a great job moving up in the collapsing pocket. Remember back in 2019 when we kept yelling, “Devin, just step up in the pocket!”? Those days are long gone as he avoids a disastrous sack, goes on the run and finds Carter on a pick/crossing route, with plenty of green up ahead of him.

A lot of people have been critical of Carter for this game, but this play was really tough. The pass was most definitely behind him, forcing him to twist around and catch it. Should he have caught it? Yeah, probably, but it’s understandable why he didn’t. It just sucks that it came at that moment.

Third down. Okay, you went to Smith and Carter on successive plays. How about now you take things back to the basics and you focus on, oh I don’t know, your school’s all-time leader in receptions??

Oh. Okay. So when I was thinking of Emeka Emezie, you heard “screen pass to Bam Knight when the defense is showing blitz”??? The blitz ended up not coming, but that doesn’t matter because you threw a SCREEN PASS. At the end of the day, I would much rather have Tim Beck than some of the previous alternatives, but seriously. You’ve got the passes that can get 10 yards at a time. You had plenty of time on the clock to just methodically march down the field. Instead, you chose the hardest options possible. Cool, cool cool cool.

So it came down to fourth down. At this point, I was ready for it to be over. The one thing I did not expect, although maybe I should have given the last play, was a pass thrown SHORT of the first down marker.

This 2x2 formation had been used at various times throughout the game:

It was a good setup to keep the defense off guard on what to expect. Unfortunately, they stacked the box and were ready to keep everything ahead of them since it was this play or nothing.

The play was doomed to failure, but credit to Miami for making a good open field tackle.


30. To cap it all off, when they could have potentially stopped Miami one last time, they inexplicably left the middle of the field WIDE open for Van Dyke to find the TE Mallory and seal the game.

Devon Betty is still learning, and I’m sure he’ll improve with all his incoming reps considering he is now stepping in to start in place of the injured Isaiah Moore. But it seemed like he stayed with the underneath route instead of covering the TE. The RB wasn’t the threat there.


Conclusion:

NC State stepped off the bus in Starkville and seemed like they did not want to be involved in that sports ball match with Mississippi State. The game at Miami was a different story. The team was properly engaged and motivated, much like they were against BC. As it may turn out, BC is likely a much weaker opponent than Miami. The Hurricanes are a better team than their record reflects.

After reviewing the game, NC State had a mostly sound game plan to win this game. MOSTLY. The biggest head scratchers strategy-wise are:

  • (#5) Defending the fourth and 1 play, selling out on the run and giving up a huge TD play.
  • (#29) The final drive was really a cluster eff. This was capped off by the fourth down play with all the marbles on the line, not having your receiver run a route past the sticks. I really have no understanding of the play calls there.
  • (#30) Third and 16, with a chance to stop, ends with a 21 yard pass up the middle.

Other than that, it came down to execution in critical moments. Devin and Devin are both great, and will continue to do well, but had they both executed just a smidge better it could have made the difference. The offense as a whole stalled quite a bit in this game, there were 4 three and outs, 2 four and outs (getting a first down followed by a three and out), and a turnover on downs. That’s seven stalled drives, with six scoring drives.

You’d think 30 points still should have been enough to win with a great defense, but the offense went successive stretches with quick drives. Miami’s offense was playing full tilt, so the NC State defense was bound to give.

Both this game and the one against Mississippi State resulted in losses, but the two are not the same. There are lots of dynamic QB’s on this year’s schedule, with plenty more to come. Malik Cunningham is trying to do his best Lamar Jackson impression for Lousiville, so the Wolfpack will have their work cut out for them as they return home to play the Cardinals.

The sky is not falling. This team is still good, and can still be succesful. The key will be returning from this emotional loss, can they recover??