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Film Room: Wake-up call

This was a game that happened.

NCAA Football: North Carolina State at Wake Forest William Howard-USA TODAY Sports

So close. This one hurt. The game against Wake Forest could have and should have gone better. NC State just wasn’t the better team Saturday night. Not because they got soundly beaten by Wake, but because they didn’t play up to their potential, just as we discussed ad nauseum in the run-up to the game. If the Wolfpack had played their most technically sound game possible, they would have won. They didn’t, so they didn’t.

As always, let’s go to the video tape.

1. a. The story of the night, third and long situation, Sam Hartman has all day, and converts. Here it was for a touchdown. It’s frustrating when Tony Gibson dials up a blitz on third and long, it just puts so much pressure on the secondary. You’re not doing them any favors when going up against one of the best passing teams in the country.

1.b. On this play, however, Tanner Ingle played it relatively well. It seems pretty clear he was pushed off.

1.c. ingle pleads his case, we all agree.

1.d. The reverse angle pic seems to indicate.. ah hell, forget it.

2. a. Long third and long pass, the defense brought a fourth rusher with a LB spy. Seems unnecessary for third and 10, but okay. The lack of penetration really hurt.

b. It also doesn’t help when the linemen bump into each other. Just gives the QB more time to pick you apart. Not sure why they’d go on a cross there.

c. The WR has a good break after the catch, and Jakeen Harris makes a bad angle of pursuit for the stop. This leaves daylight ahead for the huge gain.

3. This initially looked like a good stuff, but ultimately a bad seal and allows the walk-in TD.

4. a. Interceptino. I don’t even know how he Houdini’d this one.

b. Maybe the ball was a few inches off target, but still a well thrown pass by Devin Leary. The DB just sniped it.

c. Can’t really do anything about that, hats off to a good play, good read on the pass and jump on the ball.

5. But then an interceptino for NC State, a good play on an ill-advised pass from Hartman. This was one of those where if he DIDN’T catch it everyone would be mad. The three man rush did force Hartman out of the pocket here, and resulted in him making this mistake. However, most of the game when the Pack was closing in for a surefire sack, he’d roll out and make something happen. If we’re looking a three step tier of QB’s on NC State’s schedule who can do that, the list is Malik Cunningham, Sam Hartman and Sam Howell, in that order. So now I’m worried about the last game of the year, considering the implications of it.

6. a. Here is a fumble, yet I’m still not sure how that happened. Like the interceptino above, Wake just had a way of manifesting turnovers. Dave Doeren did say before the game that Wake is really good at ripping the ball out to create fumble opportunities. They had recovered 10 through the season leading into the game.

b. During the return, I gotta say I’m not a fan of the unnecessary high step. Jerk.

7. God I hate the mesh offense. I feel like I’d be totally fine if Wake becomes a hated rival moving forward. We’ve had a vacancy ever since Cancer left. I’m getting upset again watching these clips.

8. a. Bam’s first big kickoff return was merely a prelude to the one that would come later. Just a great play.

b. This first block to Bam’s right set the tone right away.

c. Bam has a few big blocks in the traffic here, but he got one big (maybe from Drake Thomas? Can’t tell). Watch the lead blocker up ahead of him as he’s coming out of the crowd. Bam gets a block on Wake Forest #28, and another on #22. This allowed him to skirt to the outside and turn the corner with the jets on.

9. Emezie TD. One of the frustrating things about this game was the two minute drill worked well repeatedly. If that was working then why not just use that and go up-tempo? Giving Wake’s defense time is what they wanted.

10. Carter TD, two minute drill again. State has used this play with Carter running the post route before and it’s worked very effectively. They flip flopped with plays that repeatedly weren’t working with ones that consistently were. That’s why this game was frustrating, it was hard to gauge the strategy.

11. a. Bam KR TD. Gotta admit, this felt great.

b. blocks

I had a great feeling at this point, an odd sense of confidence. My SSUPO was waning, and I thought the defense was going to settle in just as they have ALL SEASON long. I had faith in the team to deliver, as they had all year. That’s all they needed to do. This was the ultimate point of the SSUPO article. It doesn’t mean they’re going to win every time, it means they’re playing to a consistently high level that I feel I’ve been sufficiently proven not to be continuously scared.

12. But then.... those feelings rush back in when they go and give up a fourth down pass. So now I’m all discombobulated and don’t know what to think or feel. I’m a mess. All I know is getting caught flat-footed on a critical pass play like that, in a game like this, at a moment of the game like that, is pretty inexcusable. As soon as I saw him get turned around, almost surprised the pass was coming, I knew it would be a completion.

13. The ensuing TD. Sam Hartman just has all day. If I’m going to criticize for blitzing on third down above, I have to be willing to live with the three man rush on third down here. I don’t know, the point is there’s no perfect answer. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. The three man rush did have other moments in the game where they were effective. But maybe using Vi Jones as the fourth rusher for more of the game would have been the best way to hedge it. If you give a guy like that much time to pass, eventually someone will get open.

14. a. This might the best interceptino of the year in the ACC, and near the top nationally. Just a phenomenal play. Consider the situation. The defense has already given up 31 points through almost three quarters. Hartman throws a bomb to the endzone 45 yards in the air. The pass is on target. This is a surefire touchdown if Tanner Ingle doesn’t make a spectacular play on the ball. The defense didn’t quit, kept fighting even against a potent offense. I like to see that. That gives some sort of solace in defeat.

After Ingle makes a great play to knock the ball loose, Derrek Pitts snags a one-handed grab to take the ball away.

b. The real question is, what is on Pitts’ shirt?? The world needs to know.

Can’t quite make it out. Might be a memorial shirt for a loved one? “Always..My Brother”?Hard to tell.

c. The reverse angle shows the Ingle knockout and Pitts immediate reaction to the loose ball.

d. Securing the ball, controlling the feet, with the celebration. Amazing play. These guys kept fighting. He deserves the bone.

e. The Ingle knockout again. He timed it so well.

15. Going back to Wake, this was an easy TD for them. When they were clicking, everything seemed to come easy for them, with NC State needing to seemingly work for every yard. This is a classic misdirection play that seems to work every week in college football. It seems like this was on Jaylon Scott. Not sure if he was going on a designed delayed blitz. On third and goal, that would be frustrating. I’d almost rather him be the one to have made a mistake there, since that’s a teachable moment. If it’s a scheme problem, then I got nothing. Just get the stop and force the kick.

16. The NC State offensive line struggled all game, this was not their best week. Leary makes lemonade for a nice first down.

17. a. Emeka Emezie TD. I think we are all so happy for him, he was the dude in this game.

b. He’s come so far. As a reminder, “Emezie was in”. And yes, I had this saved on my desktop since that day as a freshman in November of 2017 (!!) in the hopes of being able to shove it in their face as a ball don’t lie situation. Alas, ‘twas not to be. But at least he got to ball out against them.

November 2017, NC State @ Wake Forest

c. Back to the present. The reverse angle shows a pass high above the defender where Emezie can get it. Great play and great hands by him to secure it. I hope NFL teams are smart and pick this dude up.

d. And if it’s working, then go RIGHT back to him on the two-point conversion!

e. The two-point reverse angle shows a different flavor throw. The back shoulder Leary to Emezie combo is something I have cherished and will miss next year. So often, two point conversions are a crap shoot and the Wolfpack made it look easy here.

At this point, NC State had cut it to three with under eight minutes to go. Again, the feeling of confidence was there. Here we go defense, just need that one big stop.

18. a. But sigh, no. Just a back-breaking penalty on third and long. First of all, why blitz? It’s leaving Chris Ingram on an abandoned island. It’s third and 13, force them to make a play. As for the penalty, it seemed like the ball dropped a bit short and that caused A.T. Perry to come back slightly and it created the contact. After looking at it a few times, Ingram was trying to make a play on the catch but wasn’t expecting Perry to stop suddenly. But then again, he could have, you know, just gotten his head around and interceptino’d it back.

b. This led to a Wake TD. NC State maybe should have just let them score quick at this point to get the ball back since it seemed like the TD was inevitable. This whole drive, and the game, really, was death by 1,000 cuts. This drive was 13 plays, 75 yards eating up 6:20 down the stretch in the fourth quarter. The defense was pretty gassed by this point.

19. a. Even still, NC State kept fighting. On the next drive, Leary makes a very good first down when they needed it most.

b. Look at the timing of the cut on Thayer’s post route, with the ball on time. These plays are in the book, clearly. There seemed like there were more opportunities to pick apart what Wake was doing defensively, but the offensive play calling didn’t adjust well enough.

20. a. NC State made it to first and goal and went back to Emezie on the fade. This clip shows clear defensive holding on Emezie. Did the referees call it? Of course not. It’s hard to be that guy complaining about the ref’s, but the calls did not seem evenhanded.

b. A closeup shows it plain as day. It’s not like there was a referee 5 yards away with a direct line of sight on the play or anything. Oh wait.

c. On the next play, I was glad Carter got in for the score but part of me wishes this was Emezie getting the makeup call on a close TD at the goal line.

d. Carter was in, dammit.

21. a. After the previous touchdown my wife was trying to make me feel better. She said encouragingly, “maybe there’s still time”. I said no, they have to pull off this play that’s highly unlikely. But then, Ricky Person goes and recovers the onside kick and I jump off the couch.

b. It seemed pretty clear to me. Ricky is stunned, he is all of us in this moment.

c. Credit to the guys at Red & White Network for spotting this one and the next pic.

Here, the line judge threw the bag ON the line. But the other ref marked the spot just short. What an epic play to go against the Pack.

d. The perfect camera angle doesn’t exi... oh.

In the end, it shouldn’t have come down to this or any one play. Yes, the officials did not do the Pack any favors. But NC State did not take advantage of the multiple takeaways the defense created, missed a 33 yard field goal, inexplicably did a squib kick and gave up field position which allowed a field goal (which ended up being the difference), had a crap ton of dumb penalties, and could not get off the field on third and fourth down. That won’t win against a top 15 team on the road. I have to begrudgingly acknowledge that Wake Forest is now a top 10 team, even though it still doesn’t feel like it. They have played a weak sauce schedule and drew two weak opponents from the Coastal. But they beat the teams they needed to, and they’re undefeated in conference play.

Wake Forest didn’t beat NC State. NC State beat NC State. The CFP committee acknowledged a close loss to a highly ranked team and kept the Wolfpack ranked this week, coming in at #20. That seems appropriate for how they’re playing right now.

Silver lining time:

  1. NC State still has an outside shot at the ACC Championship, albeit unlikely. It requires Wake Forest to lose to Clemson and BC and NC State has to beat Syracuse and unc. But yes, if they don’t then the streak of 42 years without a conference title continues (1979). NC State is on the list with Indiana (1967), Kentucky (1976), and Vanderbilt (1923) as the only Power 5 times not to have won or tied for a conference or division title this century. Considering NC State’s last was in 1979, they are first in that subset of non-winners. However, if you add in the combined lack of conference success in basketball and baseball, then NC State stands alone nationally. Yay! Oh wait, this was a silver linings section, right...
  2. This wasn’t a “laid an egg” game. They went toe to toe with a highly ranked in-state rival on the road and ultimately lost by three. They fought to the end, we can commend them for that.
  3. If NC State wins its final two home games, it will finish with 9 regular season wins. NC State has only ever finished with 9+ regular season wins five times, with Dave Doeren having one of those (2018).
  4. 10 wins are still on the table, though it requires a win over a unc team with nothing to play for except to ruin the Wolfpack’s senior day, PLUS a win over a Power 5 opponent in a bowl game. That won’t happen if the team plays with the sloppiness on penalties and third down defense they showed in Winston-Salem. NC State has only ever finished with 10+ wins total in a season ONCE (2002). It would be interesting to see the fans’ reactions to a 10 win season. Winning a total only see under Philip Rivers, yet there will be pangs of disappointment thinking about what could have been.
  5. As experienced as this team is, much of the core is coming back next year. Losing Ickey will be tough, for sure. Hopefully Payton Wilson returns, and Isaiah Moore is expected back.
  6. Dave Doeren has only ever finished a season ranked in the final AP poll, coming in at #23 in 2017. NC State has the chance to do that again if they win the last two.
  7. This might lead to a Dave Doeren NC State team being ranked in the initial preseason AP poll for the first time in his tenure. Carrying that momentum through the offseason and into next season could be huge. Seeing NC State ranked from the preseason through every week and in the final poll would be a major milestone. I believe the only time this has happened is in the Lou Holtz era in the 70’s.
  8. Lastly, Wake Forest isn’t guaranteed to repeat their success from this year again next year. They will again have a soft non-conference schedule, playing VMI, Vanderbilt, Liberty and Army. They get their annual cross-division “rivalry game” with Duke. Don’t be surprised to see some “here come Wake Forest!” headlines if they start 5-0 through that sled. But they get unc again, this time in an actual conference matchup, along with the division opponents, all of whom should be improved next year. Wake Forest took advantage of an aberration in the conference, something that NC State should have also done. Well, they did, to a lesser extent, but looks like they'll come up just a bit short. Wake Forest isn’t on the level of Syracuse’s one-off stellar season, they’ll still be a tough out, but I like the infrastructure of NC State’s returning players, even if Wake is bringing back Hartman.
  9. In conclusion, the sky hasn’t fallen. NC State has been good all year. They were good on Saturday, just not GREAT, which they needed to be. And they’re built for depth and for continued success. One hopes this will be a learning experience for what it takes to win at the higher levels.
  10. We’re all okay.