Bottom line up front, let’s call it for what it is. NC State got flat out beat by Clemson on Saturday. After reviewing the game, it doesn’t appear to be because of scheme, but the Wolfpack simply lacked the players to stack up against Clemson, and they didn’t have the dudes. This applies to offense, specifically. The NC State defense can stack up against just about anyone, but there’s only so much they can do. When they would get consistent stops, the offense would go three and out, forcing the defense back out there. But let’s dive into it.
Let’s go to the video tape!
1. On Clemson’s first drive they drove nearly the length of the field. But when it mattered most, the Pack got a third down stop. Mobile QB’s have largely been neutralized in the Tony Gibson scheme. Payton Wilson played the spy through most of the game, and here he brought two buddies along to make sure DJ Uiagalelei was down. Another split second and DJ might have noticed that Will Shipley had slipped open to the goal, a quick flip to him would have resulted in an easy score. State holds Clemson to just a field goal and we’re feeling pretty good.
2. NC State’s first drive started with two Jordan Houston runs that netted -1 yard. A(nother) false start penalty pushed the Pack third and long, resulting in this beauty of a throw to Thayer Thomas.
I’m sure I’m not alone when I initially got worried that Devin Leary had been hit so hard and his helmet popped off. But when he got up and quickly nodded his head I thought, “okay this team is different tonight, they’re here to play.”
KJ Henry is just nasty. This was an initial preview of what would be the theme of the night. The Clemson front four were living in the NC State backfield all night. The Pack’s Bryson Speas got dusted on his block and Henry had a free shot at Leary. This was scary. But also look at Anthony Belton at LT. He’s moving his feet for dear life to protect that edge. He does do the job of keeping his guy off Leary but it’s clear he was overmatched.
KJ Henry is an NFL DE. He just blew past Speas with a straight shot to Leary. Kudos to Devin for staying in there knowing the hit was coming. That can’t be easy, it seems like it would be human nature to recoil to brace for impact.
Shout out to Mike Glennon with a really good breakdown of this play.
Some big boy, NFL caliber throws from Devin Leary on Saturday. None more impressive than this one. The timing, the anticipation, the ball placement, all while knowing he was about to take a big hit.@InsidePackSport@PackPride@TheWolfpacker pic.twitter.com/aIJDd76GcJ— Mike Glennon (@Mike_Glennon) October 3, 2022
Moving forward, NC State’s next third down went to Devin Carter. He ran a slant with a slight rub from his teammate to get open for an easy pitch and catch. The pocket held for Leary.
A third down run by Leary led to a fourth and short conversion, setting up this play, a HUGE pass to Devin Carter! The pocket holds, Carter gets a step
We’ve been talking all season long about the lack of explosive plays. It’s a combination of scheme and execution. We have not seen a long pass play work this well all season, and this was the perfect time to pull it off. The safety commits to Thayer first, giving Leary the one on one opportunity he was hoping for. On previous long throws, he hadn’t been putting enough loft under it to allow his receivers to get under and catch it. Here he threw it perfectly to drop in Carter’s basket.
Hype levels were at all time highs at this point. But then three straight runs inside red zone lead to a FG and tie game. If there’s one place to complain about the play calling, this is it. A great drive is scuttled by poor red zone play calls. This first and goal play was blown up immediately. The biggest issue is the State RG bumped Henry on his way to try and block downstream. The problem is Henry is 6’4 255lbs, a simple bump will not cut it. Apart from that, you can see the Clemson LB’s hedging to their right even before the ball is snapped. These guys are too well coached and trained, they knew all of State’s tendencies. Even if Henry hadn’t blown the play up there were several other players crowding the line of scrimmage to halt the play short of the goalline.
Now on 3rd and goal, I really don’t know what to make of this call. Maybe if you’re within a couple of yards, like <3-4, but a designed QB draw up the middle from 9 yards out was a nonstarter. State settle for a FG to tie the game.
3. Early in the second quarter, the NC State defense gets another third down stop and nearly sacked DJ. Very good penetration around the edge. I believe that’s Jakeen Harris, because we know Tony Gibson sure loves his third down safety blitzes. DJ gets rid of to save the yards.
4. Next drive, Leary almost had Rooks in the slot. Was it knocked out? Was he held? Doesn’t seem like it. At least they’re throwing on not-3rd down. I know Rooks hasn’t gotten a lot of game reps. That’s kind of on the coaches, but it’s hard when the best slot receiver in NC State history is playing in front of you. Still, we need people to make the plays when their number is called, and this was a clear drop.
Next ball was batted down. Not only did the pocket collapse but Anthony Belton literally got bowled over by Clemson’s Myles Murphy. If Leary held the ball for another half second it’s a sack. Punt.
5. With 10 minutes left in the second quarter, the defense almost got Clemson off the field but a running into the kicker penalty helped extend their drive.
Then, Derrek Pitts had a great pass breakup on third down but was hit with a horrendous DPI flag. Honestly a horrible call on a play where it appeared he used good technique.
When the State defense gets you in third and long, the blitz is coming. They got very good pressure and DJ was hit as he threw. He had an open man in the endzone, without that pressure this might have been a touchdown.
6. Clemson’s Andrew Mukuba was called for targeting. After the ejection Clemson subbed in a freshman into the game, so NC State needed to throw right away to take advantage, which they did and complete to Keyon Lesane. Good zip pass on the slant. The pass made my heart skip a beat since it went into heavy traffic. Lesane extends it with a hard run for a first down.
Here, Leary sells a great fake and hits a pass to Thayer rolling out. Clemson fully bought the run. You might think, “okay well clearly the pocket isn’t reliable so let’s keep doing stuff like this to open it up.” Yes, good thinking, but as you’ll see even that strategy doesn’t work later on. We should all just be glad Thayer Thomas is here, as he’s NC State’s most reliable receiving option by a country mile.
The offense narrowly avoided EPIC disaster with an attempted RB pass trick play, which frankly is not worth showing.
Leary gets time to set his feet and fire at Porter Rooks heading to the endzone. Clemson is all over him and gets hit with DPI, leads to first and goal.
The first run sets up play actions to Ced Seabrough for his first career TD. All those runs up the middle at the goalline in previous games had Clemson not thinking State would pass here. Use the TE’s more, please.
At this point, NC State has the lead 10-6 and we’re all feeling pretty good. Little did we know Clemson would go on to outscore the Pack 24-3 in non-garbage time minutes.
7. Cyrus Fagan was seen walking alone to the locker room with a minute before halftime, that was not a good sign. The next Clemson drive saw them drive down the field under 2 minutes to score a TD. NC State’s strategy of filling the zone with coverage was a sound approach, as DJ had not shown previously he could make progressions. Turns out he was able to get that going this game, and his receivers did him plenty of favors by smartly finding the gaps in the zone. They began doing this throughout the game to great effect.
Every time Will Shipley runs, it hurts right here (points to heart). When you hear about high valued recruits, it’s often hard to imagine what they’ll be like in game action. I’ve been very impressed with just how hard of a runner he is, and it appeared he was wearing down the Wolfpack defense with his runs.
And again. Crowd wanted a late flag but Payton Wilson pushed him out beore the sideline.
NC State almost got a pick on this play, but almost isn’t good enough.
SO close. Clemson ended up scoring on this drive so a pick here would obviously have been huge.
This 27 yard pass to Shipley was very good pass by DJ. This was a sneaky wheel route, not sure if it was planned or not but it worked out well as it was nearly a touchdown. The ball looked like it was a fumble with the ball going out the endzone for a possible touchback, but those aren’t the calls you’re going to get in this environment. The offense will have bigger problems in the second half.
DJ had a day and a half to throw this ball. There was good coverage all around with the exception of missing Shipley sneak out. DJ placed the ball well over the top.
“We were in a three-deep with two hard corners and they run a flat route, the corners should be all over that. That should never have been caught by Shipley. That got busted right there. The cornerback had his eyes in the wrong spot. You can’t do that and win games like this.” - Dave Doeren in postgame press conference
DJ scored on QB sneak the next play. Really could have used a stop on this drive, as they took the lead for good here.
This drive was death by a thousand cuts, which summarizes the feeling of the night. Clemson took the momentum back going into halftime. NC State got the ball back with two timeouts and 50 seconds left but there as a 0% chance Dave Doeren was going to push the ball in that scenario. We can moan about conservative play, but that’s just who he is we know dis. The thought there is his team will get the ball to start the second half. Welll, about that...
8. After halftime, State gave up two big sacks to sink the drive. Not sure what the success rate is for NC State in first drives after halftime, but it doesn’t seem like it’s good.
Clemson shifted their DL offset the OL, forcing them to block moving right, opening up the left side the rushers. Demi Sumo-Karngbaye picked up one of the blitzers but once Chris Toudle released then Leary was on his own. He did a great job holding onto the ball, not sure how he did that, but a fumble there would have been huge. Hugely bad.
On the last play, Clemson got Leary on a blitz. Now, on 3rd and a mile, they get the sack on only 3(!) rushers. KJ Henry works through a double team and Myles Murphy again blows by Belton. When Leary is running for his life constantly, with 8 dropping into tight coverage, I’m not sure if there’s some magic playcall to fix that.
They’re trying to pass the ball downfield, they’re not throwing a lot of screens. They’re not doing what they did last year and trying to continually establish the run to no avail. They’re doing their best, just getting beat. Soundly.
Once Clemson got the ball back, a big DJ run set up a TD. NC State limited his running, but every so often he’d escape. We’re starting to see the full DJU package the last few weeks. Turns out he just needed to lose the weight of a second grader to do it.
He wasn’t ready for primetime last year, but runs like this show his increased strength and confidence. He runs through the contact and keeps charging into the open field.
Clemson TD. Really giving off the signs that this game is slipping away at this point. Clemson’s TE’s are very very tall. This is a variation on the same play NC State used to score their (only) TD earlier.
Drake Thomas went off the field slowly after holding his knee, getting hurt on the kickoff. He came back but it was scary for a minute.
9. NC State ran a variation on the play from ealier, resulting in good catch by Thayer. Leary put the ball high to be out of reach of the defender. The ball was knocked loose, but Thayer’s laser focus secured it back.
Reverse angle shows how good a catcher of footballs Mr. Thomas is. There isn’t another receiver on the team as reliable as him, and nearly halfway through the year this is a troubling realization. We will 1,000% miss Thayer when he’s gone.
Keyon Lesane had a good game. Not to say that 6 receptions for 37 yards is particularly great, but he showed positive signs and reliable hands.
Devin Carter dropped a pass. It ended up not mattering given the following play, but it’s still frustrating as Leary put it right on the money.
He gets it back with the next play. This was ALMOST a pick 6, but Carter snagged it and turned upfield for a positive gain. It was a good read by the corner but Leary put that hot chili pepper on it to get it in fast. Clemson brought an extra rusher and Jordan Houston undercut him to buy Leary just enough time to get the pass out. Using the RB as an extra blocker was what Wake Forest used to help neutralize Clemson’s rush. NC state cleary saw that because this was used throughout this game. Just maybe not as well executed.
Pack took an endzone shot to Carter, which was way off. This seems to keep happening, and we have been saying for weeks that maybe it’s a timing thing. But it’s clear now that State’s streaking receivers are getting no separation on the defense. And this has been the case through multiple opponents, not just Clemson. Also, this double move fooled nobody.
Then a third down pass to Houston is dropped, scuttling the drive. Yes, Houston was twisting his body around and moving his feet so it was a tough catch but in that situation you gotta grab that as the room for a first down was there.
Very good 49 yard FG by Dunn. Solid. Also, not a fake.
10. Clemson third down, blitz is coming. Isaiah Moore tackles DJ with a very good wrap up. He’s a hard guy to tackle but the Pack did an admirable job of getting him down on most of his attempted runs.
Solid arm tackle on one of the biggest QB’s in the country. He’s basically a TE playing QB. If he’d gotten past Moore there, it was nothing but green up ahead to paydirt. Probably saved a touchdown on this play.
This leads to a missed Clemson FG on 48 yard attempt. Still in it. It has been very frustrating up until now, but the difference is still only 7 points.
11. Next drive. Let’s go, need a TD here. But the run game wasn’t going anywhere. This was a common theme throughout the night.
And this pass to Seabrough slightly sailed but Clemson was there to cover it quickly even if he had caught it.
Plus, Leary spent much of the game under duress from the Clemson defensive line. Not sure if it was a miscommunication, but State seemed to have two double teams, leaving Ruke Orhorhoro open to curl around and hurry Leary.
A hurried pass is an inaccurate pass. Would have been a pass for no gain anyway. Punt.
12. On another third down, NC State’s Ayden White ALMOST got the pick. But as before, almost doesn’t cut it in games like this.
A pick there could have been a huge momentum shift, would have given the Pack great field position only down 7. But at least they stopped Clemson again, holding them to 6-14 for the night on third down. Unfortunately, The State offense was 5-14.
13. It seemed like Clemson was suffering all these injuries throughout the game. As they kept stacking up, they’re putting in true freshmen to back up. It begged the question of when NC State capitalize? Turns out never, as after a couple of good plays there’s an interception. Tip drill, the pass goes off Toudle’s hands, and Clemson grabs it. As they say, “tips and overthrows, gotta get those”. And they did.
Kirk Herbstreit is hit or miss at times with his analysis, but I felt he did a good job explaining how this interception, and other miscues aren’t always all on the QB. Toudle keeps sliding to his left beyond the point where Leary is expecting him to stop, changing the target area. It looks like Leary misses it wide but Toudle moved. It’s easy for us to dissect but all these decisions are happening split second. Toudle was the right option to throw to, as the LB was sliding over to cover Darryl Jones. It’s just frustrating since the pocket was holding up nicely on this drive until this happened.
14. All that being said, the Pack went into the 4th qtr only down 7 points. The defense played as hard as expected but there was only so much they can do when asked to shoulder the load drive after drive. This was a miscue, Clemson ran a good route. Even if Pitts hadn’t fallen down, he’d already given up too much space. This is a throw we haven’t seen DJ make too much, going from the right hash cross-field like that. The receiver runs a 10 yard out and DJ puts the ball in the space between him and the sideline, good placement. Kept the drive alive and got them into FG range.
The defense eventually got a good stop but Clemson made it to FG range after that last pass play so now they went up by 10, a margin that was beginning to seem insurmountable.
15. Offense needs to do something. Down 10 early 4th quarter. The Pack is the experienced one and Clemson is playing freshmen on defense, but seems like they have to claw for every yard. It’s tough to boil it down so simply, but even the guys that are getting subbed in just seem faster than State’s WR’s.
Here was the best Sumo run of night. Most were not like this.
Then a screen that was blown up so so bad. Not sure what to say about this, just forget it ever happened.
16. Here, State got lucky with a pass by DJ that JUST misses for an easy potential Clemson TD. This would have been a backbreaker.
17. All credit to the Wolfpack, they kept fighting. Leary hits Thayer with a frozen rope for a nice 24 yard gain.
These plays come along to give you just enough hope that things are going to turn around any second now.
We’re gonna show it again because there honestly weren’t a ton of great offensive plays to celebrate.
This is a pass Leary would probably want to have back, he kind of put Thayer at risk there, who took a big lick. Borderline non-call for taunting on the stare down, but again, you’re not getting those calls here. That being said, the penalties were 10 for 91 yards for NC State and 9 for 95 yards against Clemson. Most of those were unforced errors like false starts, which have been happening all year, not just in this road environment.
That last play led to a turd of a fourth down snap. I understand State wanting to be aggressive. You’re in plus territory so you’re not sure how many more chances you’ll get on this side of the field, so they went for it on 4th and 13. But then Grant Gibson snaps it before everyone’s ready. Srsly?
Gibson has played more football at NC State than almost anyone ever, literally. It’s been very frustrating seeing him have so many mental errors this season. Two turnovers and nearly 100 yards of penalties will not beat Clemson.
18. Clemson abused the NC State defense with their TE’s all night. It’s just such a tough mismatch. It really makes you wish State had utilized Cary Angeline more when he was here. That will forever be a head scratcher.
Clemson sealed it with a DJ QB sneak, Payton Wilson bit on the run.
Wilson has always had the tendency to go flying in, that’s what makes him good, but it leaves him open to over committing. Good fake by Clemson, tip of the cap to them.
As soon as Wilson saw the play fake, there was a split second where it seemed like he could get an arm on DJ, but sadly no.
19. Leary picked up a garbage time TD to make the final difference seem better than it actually was. Sure.
Oddly, the students rushed the field after winning. Clearly, this game meant something special to them, after their fans spent the week talking about how NC State was beneath them. This seemed like a sign of respect to the Wolfpack.
Back to the premise. For those wanting to string up OC Tim Beck, what was he supposed to do, honestly?
This is the situation he’s dealing with:
- His offensive line is getting worked constantly and is unable to get any sort of consistent push up front. This happened against ECU too, but State won so we overlooked it. DT Bryan Bresee wasn’t even playing, so it honestly could have been worse.
- The run game is effectively nullified due to above comment.
- The pocket is constantly collapsing due to above comment.
- The receivers are unable to get ANY consistent separation against several true freshmen being thrown into live action in the Clemson secondary, same with ECU and Texas Tech.
- When the receivers do get open, they drop passes that hit them on the hands.
So to recap, the OL got worked, there was no run game, and nobody’s open when you pass it, what’s the solution? This is not a rhetorical question, it does not seem like there was an answer that could have resulted in a Wolfpack win other than asking for the defense to do all the scoring too.
In the offseason, big upgrades will need to be found at WR in the transfer portal. This position was highlighted before the season as a potential area of concern. I’ll be the first to admit that I was one of the ones that waved it away given how well Thayer and Carter played last year. Carter doesn’t seem like a high usage guy, but the problem is that nobody other than Thayer Thomas seems like they are either.
Next week’s game vs FSU will be very telling. FSU also has a 6’7(!) receiver that could give the defense fits like Clemson’s TE’s. But if the offense isn’t able to turn things around, and quickly, this season could take a dark turn. Emeka, we miss you.