If you’re Dave Doeren and you’re imagining the best-case scenario for your team in its season-opener, it undoubtedly includes the following: winning the point of attack, winning the turnover battle, and keeping mistakes to a minimum. NC State did all of that and then-some against South Florida.
Maybe the most encouraging sign is the fact that State committed only three penalties; sloppiness was a big problem for this team last season, and addressing it was an emphasis during the offseason. So far, so good.
You never want to help the opposing team, but particularly in games like this, you want to help your overmatched opponents help themselves out of the ballgame. It wasn’t a decisive factor in the outcome, but the mistake differential definitely compounded the degree to which this game slanted in State’s favor.
(Rushing totals adjusted for sacks.)
Cade Fortin came out on tilt and was so bad that he was replaced in the first half. That sort of thing isn’t predictable, and partly the result is a credit to State’s defense, but dude was just plain off. USF quickly slipped underwater as a result. If the Bulls weren’t going to get a shot in the arm at QB, then they were definitely toast. How bad the passing game revealed itself to be just sealed their fate more quickly.
When a defense begins to take more risks with pressure because it’s confident both in its cover guys and in the opposing quarterback’s poor execution, that not only simplifies the gameplan but also leads to some exponential gains. As State began to hover in the box and press Fortin’s bad day, the bigger mistakes from USF started to show up.
NC State ended up picking off three passes by USF quarterbacks—one thrown by Fortin, two thrown by Tim McClain—as the Bulls played from behind the entire night and had little support from the ground game.
Pressing advantages and stacking them to make the other team look like it’s gone haywire is always the ideal. NC State did that on Thursday night.