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Film Room! aka The Kids that Never Quit XXXXL edition

How can you even put this game into words?

NCAA Football: North Carolina at North Carolina State Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

This game...where to even start. At some point, NC State was due a game like this. This year’s team was fighting to the end in their previous ACC losses against Miami and Wake Forest. Having a game where things went right early, then very wrong, and then flipped to going very, very right seems like a fair adjustment from the universe.

Let’s Go To The Video Tape !

1. a. NC State ends unc’s first drive with a third down sack. Look how hard Tingle hits Sam Howell, and the guy just shrugs it off. It wasn’t until Daniel Joseph used his full weight to pull him back that he was brought down. I am very glad this will be the final time we have to see Howell, that dude is tough. They played games with the injury report all week, but it did seem like he wasn’t 100% and still showed his toughness.

b. That sack led to this amazing blocked punt, recovered for a touchdown. Pretty sure this was the first blocked punt of the year, and what a time to do it. Credit to CJ Riley and company for jumping on the ball after Jordan Houston blocks it.

c. The reverse angle shows how cleanly Houston got through there. Riley gets credited with the recovery but several players were throwing themselves at it. Redshirt freshman Demarcus Jones, II, was right there, along with Justin Dunn. These are guys we don’t often hear about, but are buying in just as much to help the team with every ounce of effort as the headliners.

d. Another angle shows he got it with one outstretched arm. Riley and Vi Jones all blow their blocks up on the punter’s right, as does Demarcus Jones on the left. NC State does not often bring the heat like this, but it was the perfect time to do it. There was one too many bodies to block. It was odd the unc blocker didn’t try to block the outside rusher since he was giving up an unimpeded path to the punter.

e. Jordan Houston was pumped, as we all were.

2. It seemed like unc kept tearing off huge runs, it was frustrating. There was some very fishy blocking by the heels on that play, I’ll leave it at that.

3. a. NC State made it a point to establish the run early in the game, personified by this Ricky Person run. The whole crew helped propel him forward. Two extra blockers came down to add to the train.

b. Person was running it down their throat for a hot minute. The line of scrimmage is at the 20, center Grant Gibson meets his blocker at the 17, and takes him all the way down to the 7 yard line. Also, right tackle Bryson Speas finds a guy to block at the 18 and this makes a lane with Gibson’s block.

c. After a false start penalty moved the Pack back five yards, Devin Leary threw an absolute strike to Trent Pennix for the TD. Pennix runs a great rout, making a sharp cut after passing both the LB and the corner. He spins the corner around and Leary sees him right away. Basically as soon as he passes by his right shoulder and makes his cut it’s going to be six. Having so many weapons on the team causes the defense to need to spread in multiple directions.

d. Having Pennix FINALLY find a reliable role in this offense has been a breath of fresh air. It took so long that I was beginning to wonder if he’d ever regularly get in there. I like that Leary didn’t wait to throw the pass, it wasn’t squeezed into the line and left Pennix plenty of room. That’s impressive since there wasn’t a ton of room to begin with as the play started on the right hash.

4. a. The word coming in was that unc likes to run counters. Here, they run a counter for a huge gain. Jakeen Harris has a touchdown saving tackle. He had to recover because the Pack brought seven dudes on a blitz. The unc left tackle shoves Devon Betty into Tingle, taking out two State players at once. The rest of the defense bought the unc line shifting right and it was too late as British Brooks broke off a 40 yard run.

b. Credit to the defense for not giving up. It led to a third down stop on a Howell run, unc settles for a field goal. On third and short I think everybody knew Howell was going to try and run it there. It does seem like if he’d tried to cut it around the left tackle he’d have had an angle, but good thing he didn’t.

5. a. unc was pinned deep in their own territory and the NC State defense got a stop for a three and out. Based on their previous punt at a similar place in the field, the Pack brought the heat once again. Vi Jones gets the block and SOMEHOW it bounces right into the unc tight end’s hands and he takes it forward for a first down.

Dave Doeren quote from after the game:

We blocked the second punt and it bounced back. Have you ever seen someone block a punt and the other team gets a first down out of it? Like the opposite of getting bounces our way.

Just dumb luck on a bad bounce, what’re you gonna do, the ball is oblong shaped so it’s weird like that.

Oh wait...umm, holding, anyone?? See it, on the right? Is there a referee in the house??? You, sir, I see you, you passed right in front of the camera, you’re (allegedly) looking right at the play.

This play was so confusing even the gamecast couldn’t make heads or tails of it:

It’s hard not to imagine how the game could have been totally different on that one play. If the Pack had scored there, going up 21-3 might have been enough to take the heels mentally out of it. But no, the door creaked open a bit.

b. On the very next play, NC State brings four here and the unc left tackle misplays it, leaving a hole exposed to his right. Jaylon Scott gets in there for the sack.

After the blocked punt mishap, the above sack led to a three and out, good recovery by the defense. The NC State offense had its own three and out. unc came back with a lengthy drive, threatening to score.

c. Ugh, this wacky pass somehow converts. Howell is hit as he throws and the receiver is open because he’s watching for the ball and sees it’s going to fall short. Jakeen Harris (#6) was expecting to track the receiver into the endzone and had to cut back last second when he realized. Look at the ground Vi Jones makes up to get a hit on the receiver but the guy held on. Another one of those fortunate plays for unc.

d. Howell with the play action QB sneak for the TD. Misdirection counter, well played to be honest since it got the whole defense to bite in one direction, and by the time they turned back it was too late.

6. a. Bam huge run on the screen pass, things were looking up! But then they turned VERY quickly. An ill-timed sack took the Pack out of FG range, leading to a missed kick.

b. Then to start the second half, unc strips Ricky Person for the fumble. He should have just gogone down but he usually goes well with breaking tackles. He was just out on an island with no blockers, that’s a bad break.

c. Howell TD, gets flipped over on his way in. That dude is tough, I am glad to be rid of him. Gibson brings six on a safety blitz. Jakeen Harris almost has a clean shot but the RB picks it up. Harris tries a last second arm tackle but Howell slips it easily.

d. Another unc TD, a very good throw by Howell. Very Leary-esque, actually. Shyheim Battle has been so good all year. He was there step for step with the receiver. He just doesn’t get his head around.

e. I know he’s trained to play the receivers hands and try to break up the pass, but it seems like he could have picked it off if he’d looked. I think the receiver might have also gotten away with a slight bump right before jumping, based on the way Battle’s feet went wide at the end.

7. a. After going down 10, NC State responds with a nine play, 73 yard drive ending in a Thayer Thomas TD. Looks like Thayer came back on a curl route, when he cut back up field the defender was spun out and got left behind. Thayer found just the right angle to weave through the traffic to find paydirt. Around the seven yard line, Thayer makes a cut to blow past #20 Tony Grimes. The 5-star DB had choice words for the Pack after the game that I won’t entertain in this space. Thayer darted in as the opponents treated him like he was wearing a green jersey in practice.

b. Leary steps up in pocket as Bam picks up the blitz. That block saved a sack, and Devin has become so good at keeping his eyes down field when there’s chaos around him.

c. Jumpman! I maintain my man-crush on Thayer Thomas. He did the U sign at Miami and now this, he’s the best.

I kept an oddly irrational confidence after this that the Wolfpack would find a way. This team is built different. Only down three going into the fourth, that should be easy, right? Right?

8. a. The Pack rush four with Drake Thomas as the spy. Vi Jones breaks through his block with the legit tackle on Howell. It’s clearly really hard to wrap him up, but Jones made sure to close on this one.

b. Peekaboo!

9. a. Gill has his punt tipped, he did not have his best day. Five punts for 144 yards, 28.8 yard average, well below his average. His long was 54 and did have two downed inside the 20, though. On this play, his protection did not seal off well enough.

b. Safetey blitzes are so dangerous, man. unc gashes the defense for a huge run. State again rushes four, Vi Jones on the edge, Drake Thomas looking to stuff the run over the middle. unc offensive line gets a good push to create a hole. Tanner Ingle JUST misses blowing the play up in the back field. But he doesn’t, that miss along with the now gaping hole in the line leaves wide open space with no safety over the middle to cover. But look at Vi Jones break off the right tackle and track him down for the tackle. This guy is a stud.

c. The defense holds on a goalline stand, forcing a FG. This was almost an interceptino, could have been a pick six, which would have obviously been huge. It was a three point game at that point so the whole game would have been flipped. You think about the little plays like this and the nearly blocked punt that could have blown the game open. But that’s okay, the heroics came later.

10. a. Moving ahead in the quarter. A Wolfpack three and out led to a 50 yard bomb of a field goal for unc.

b. Okay, why is this ball boy so hyped for this kick?? As the kids say, “whose mans is this?” I also like the coordinated nod from the refs to confirm with each other that squeaked through.

Okay, we can admit at this point things looked QUITE bleak. Down nine with 2:12, how was your SSUPO level? Had you checked out? In our darkest hour, this team did not quit, and that’s all you can ask for. Heeeerrrrrre, weeee, GO.

11. a. Officially the Wolfpack drive lasted two plays, but was really setup by Jordan Houston returning this 58 yard kickoff 37 yards to the NC State 44 yard line. Houston got the look because unc really did not want to kick it to Bam, and for good reason. Houston is a guy like Trent Pennix, people who’ve had to be patient and made an impact at the moment needed.

b. When Leary was sacked again (6 times!), we were all letting ourselves think the defeat was imminent. Not sure how the offensive line got worked by this front from unc. This was their worst game of the year, they have generally been one of the most proficient units at protecting the QB in the conference.

c. But then! Emezie TD, on second and 18! The offensive line had been getting blown up all night, but gave Leary enough time to find a streaking Emezie down the sideline. This was one of the few true vertical routes ran all night. Leary put it right on the money for Emezie to make an easy, safe basket catch without needing him to stop his run.

d. This lady was all of us,

e. Emezie got clear when the safety didn’t come over to cover. unc picked a great time to fall asleep. The unc secondary had a reputation for this coming into the game, that they lacked consistent communication and gaps like this could be found.

f. Emezie waving he was open like Ace Ventura when he was at the psychiatric hospital. The safety that didn’t move over to cover was the same one (#9) that Thayer spun around when catching the pass before his Jumpman TD. Tough night for my armband dude.

g. Mr. and Mrs. Claus approve:

12. a. Everything now came to the onside kick. I stand by my opinion that Ricky Person recovered that kick against Wake Forest, but we have to move on from that (I guess). Chris Dunn pulls one of the most epic moves you’ll ever see from a kicker.

b. The closeup shows how Dunn put his body on the line. Would Sciba do that? I think not. I initially thought this take on an onside kick was taken from FSU since they pulled it on NC State to start the second half of that game. But after the game, Doeren said it’s simply a numbers game. They stack in bunches at the top, middle and bottom of the field, and look at which section gives them the advantage. unc only put two players in the middle, where NC State had three.

c. The slo-mo helps to see how Dunn upended the unc player, he probably wasn’t expecting the kicker to kick the ball and then himself come barreling into you. The two heel players crashed into each other and caused some friendly fire, allowing a window for Dunn to scoop the ball and secure it. I like #9’s surrender cobra at the end, too.

d. It is hard to say for sure the unc player touched the ball first, but it seems like he did touch it just short of 10 yards which makes it a live ball for Dunn to grab.

e. Christopher Dunn, Wolfpack legend, with the icing on the cake of his career.

13. Okay, now we’re cooking with gas. Confidence levels were soaring at this point. With Leary, Emezie, Carter and Thayer on the field, this team can go at anyone. Looking at the sequence of plays, a lot happened even though the drive was officially only three plays long.

a. On first down, Emezie had the slightest twitch and got flagged for a false start. This is rare, and kinda bogus, but yes officially it’s a penalty. The camera angle isn’t great, but you can just make out his back foot twitching. Not sure if the rest of him moved as well, they never showed the replay. So we have to just let that one go, and try again from first and 15.

Leary sails the pass over Emezie’s head. Emeka seemed open, not sure if the ball sailed on Devin or if he was throwing it away if he thought the DB was going to make a jump on the pass:

Offsides on unc negates the false start, and resets everything to second and 10:

Second down incomplete to Carter, seemed like the defender got a hand hooked behind him and got away with it. When I saw there was a flag this is what I initiallly thought it was for.

b. But no, roughing the passer on unc. This was a play that went against Cory Durden in the Syracuse game that had a similar bang-bang timing. The flag was probably from the perception that he drove him to the ground purposely with his bodyweight evern after he knew the pass was released. Shrug, we’ll take it. I also like how Leary is unfazed by being slammed to the ground and his helmet popping off, he’s just looking downfield whether the pass was completed or not. Gamer.

c. With a fresh set of downs, the Wolfpack started with an incomplete pass to Ricky Person on an admittedly errant pass from Leary. But then, DPI, finally! Of course heels fans complained incessantly after the game about the penalties but give me a break, their secondary is so handsy they could be doing pat-downs for TSA.

d. The argument could be made, and some have tried, that the pass was uncatchable, which would negate the interference. But the defender legitimately grabbed Carter, there’s no questioning this call. unc fans are just salty they gave up 30 yards on the most crucial drive of their season.

e. Emezie, again, legend.

e. Love the reaction. The relief washing over him.

f. fans. It was hard to gauge on TV how loud the crowd got after State took the lead. Can someone give an eyewitness account on the volume level in Carter-Finley at this time? Please and thank you.

g. How many other QB's in the ACC can make this throw? You’re telling me this guy isn’t a top three all-ACC caliber player? Get outta here.

h. I need all the angles.

i. Doeren has stressed training receivers to catch through contact. no better example than this. What a rough few minutes for Cam Kelly, he got overpowered by kicker Chris Dunn on the onsides, then gets overpowered by Emezie for the go-ahead score. Hate to see it. Not.

j. We ❤️ you too, Emeka.

What will we ever do without you, Emeka? Having two receivers as sure-handed as Emeka and Thayer are vital assets for a team. Thayer is likely coming back, but who will fill Emeka’s giant boss-ass shoes?

It’s one of those games that will stay with many of us for years to come. It means more because of the stakes of the game (nine wins, staying alive in the hunt for the division, senior night), but doing it against THIS opponent makes it that much sweeter.

14. Of course, after all those heroics we all were worried there was too much time left on the clock. I agree with the approach, score when you can and worry about the rest after you’ve secured the points, I’m just glad they didn’t try another squib kick.

a. Howell hadn’t done a ton to beat NC State with his arm all night, so of course on this drive he starts showing flashes of dicing up the secondary, here completing a pass for 16 yards.

b. Here Howeel over shot the receiver, and his escape route was well covered by Vi Jones. The window to drop the ball in was quite tight anyway. Who does this guy think he is, Devin Leary?

c. Howell uses his legs effectively to get out of trouble and out of bounds on a five yard scamper.

d. Cory Durden had a shot at a sack but slipped, could have been a big stop.

e. Howell slips a tackle and connects on a third down conversion for 14 yards. Gotta admit this got the temperature rising. The clock was ticking WAY too slow.

f. Davin Vann knows you can’t arm tackle this guy, the unc right tackle held him at bay just long enough from being able to make a full effort.

g. Still, it seemed like Derrek Pitts was an inch from interceptino’ing it. This was a small window for Howell to fit that ball in there, honestly a good pass with all those defenders around.

h. That pass was negated after unc got hit with a penalty for an ineligible receiver downfield. Howell steps up and completes almost the same pass from five yards further back, this time for 19 yards. Man, I’m glad this guy is gone now. With NC State only rushing three and dropping eight defenders, Howell was given the time from his offensive line to wait for a receiver to get open.

i. I had no idea where this pass was going to the point of being sure NC State had to have committed some egregious penalty. No way Howell threw a pass that bad, right? He’s the Heisman winner or so I’ve been told. Must have been a miscommunication with the receiver.

j. Still, with five seconds left it seemed like they might find a way. One last miracle heave into the endzone results in Howell’s likely last collegiate pass being an interceptino to NC State. Love to see it.

k. The panic in this moment was real, thinking this ball might bounce through multiple hands and find its way into a unc receiver’s mitts in a reverse Russell Wilson scenario. That would have been a nightmare scenario.

L. Did I stop on letter L on purpose? Maybe

Final thoughts:

  1. This makes me happy:

2. We’ve been talking all season how different this team is. They’re never say die attitude shown brightest at the darkest possible moment. Emeka said it best when he said he saw the Jimmy V quote flash on the screen down the stretch.

3. The Wolfpack literally did something no other team has done anywhere else in the country all season.

4. Dave had an amazing quote when asked about his confidence level on the final drive, I just love that mentality. He knows his team is good and his QB is elite, just go and get it done.

Tim [Beck] asked me, do you want us to run the ball a little bit and I said, “no, Devin’s hot. Let’s just go score.” Didn’t want to put it on the kicker and risk whatever could happen there, so we were gonna be aggressive and take it down the field. And the way Devin plays in the fourth quarter and in clutch situations, we knew something good was gonna happen.

5. From 6:03 to go in third quarter, the NC State defense held unc to two field goals. What an amazing job by that unit to band back together and give the offense a chance.

6. Rumors are building this team is looking to run it back next year. They’ll have to know they’re work is cut out for them now that Dave Clawson signed an extension even though many State fans were lobbying for him to get an overdue promotion to a bigger program. And we know Clemson won’t stay down for long. But it’s exciting to think about the core group of guys potentially returning.

7. I have a personal anecdote about what I was going through near the end of this game, but that’s for another post.

8. Final stats for the QB’s, how is QBR measured??? Leary breaks Philip Rievers’ record for most TD’s in a season, but has that rating. I will never understand this metric.

9. I found this couple to be hilarious. Didn’t need the repeated cuts back to them, though.

10. I am still flabbergasted at what we witnessed. I’d also be okay never having to go through that again and just winning by multiple scores for the game next year in chapel hill. Deal?

In conclusion: A truly astonishing turnaround, one of the biggest comebacks in NC State football history. And it felt like it was done through skill, not fluke. NC State was the better football team. Yes, they took advantage of 30 free yards on the final drive, but that’s what good teams do. The Pack have been in the reverse situation before, giving up chunks of yards on penalties and the opponent capitalized, just go back to the Wake Forest game. Or don’t, actually. The Deacons took advantage that night, and the Wolfpack tood advantage vs unc.

Go Pack, get that 10th win, run it back next year and win the whole damn thing.