I was willing to be optimistic that the wet fart State let out in Greenville was an anomaly. Teams play bad games. It happens, especially in week one in a hostile environment against a severely underrated team playing its biggest game in years. A single instance of such a thing can get a pass, but Saturday really let a measurable amount of air out of the balloon on offense, and it left things considerably more ominous than you would like with Clemson looming in two weeks (I hate it when they loom. It’s so rude).
It’s important to look at these things through the right lens so they can exist in the proper context. State covered a lofty spread against an unbeaten Big 12 team. That’s pretty sweet and in your average season would be celebrated for being that. But this is not your average season. State isn’t out here to beat Texas Tech, it’s out here to win the ACC, which adds a bit more scrutiny to games like this. Winning the league means beating Clemson, and this offense doesn’t look capable of that right now.
This is still a really good football team because it’s great on special teams and utterly terrifying on defense. It has also run the ball a little better than expected against a couple solid rush defenses. But State is struggling mightily to move the ball through the air. Leary is 32/56 with a touchdown and a pick right now against teams with a pulse.
There is a lot wrong here, but I think the biggest concern is the lack of a number one guy on the outside. The receivers are struggling right now. Leary hasn’t been as sharp as you’d like, but State isn’t creating a lot of separation and it’s doing a poor job of making contested catches as well, both of those things sans Thayer Thomas of course. Throwing away the Charleston Southern game, Thayer Thomas has 8 out of 18 catches made by wide receivers this year versus FBS competition. Nobody else has more than three. State needs somebody other than him to step up in the worst way.
Leary only had 121 yards passing against Texas Tech. There are some things hidden in that though. A good chunk of his throws were right around the line of scrimmage, so some of this was by design. It seemed like State thought they had an advantage in space just based on the way the plays were called. But Leary did get two clean shots down the field and missed on both, badly to Lesane in the first quarter and narrowly to Smith in the third. The latter turned into a contested ball because it was underthrown and Smith couldn’t make the play on it. Emezie could clean up some of those narrow misses last year. State doesn’t have that guy now.
I’m certainly not worried about Devin Leary though. He’ll be fine, but he needs somebody to start getting open and making some plays. I like Smith here so far. I think he’s shown the most as a guy who can put pressure on the defense, but he still has just two catches this year. We also haven’t seen State use Carter much in the way they used Emezie the last two years. I don’t think he matches the skillset necessarily, but his size can create some matchup problems.
It’s also important to give Texas Tech some credit here. That’s a good DB room they’ve got. The Red Raiders defense is 18th in the country in completion percentage. In the week two game against Houston, that defense held Clayton Tune to his worst passer rating since, well, Texas Tech in week one of 2021.
On the flip side, State looks better running the ball than I think a lot of people expected. They aren’t lighting the world on fire, but Sumo-Karngbaye has really given the ground attack a jolt. He still makes freshman mistakes, and it just happens that those were glaringly obvious on Saturday, but he’s averaging 5.8 yards per carry through three games. He has remarkably great vision and patience for a young back and he’s pretty good at running through contact. State has really found a star here.
The Pack will win games this year because of defense and special teams. It’s already happened twice. With the emergence of Sumo-Karngbaye boosting one of the team’s biggest concerns, State could really have it all if they fix the passing game. It will definitely improve, and Texas Tech figures to be one of the better pass defenses they’ll see this year. I’m not sure I see where they make an immediate jump in productivity though, but hopefully some of these younger players can start to emerge.