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Revenge of the Film Room aka Clenched Cheeks Edition @ ECU

Might be the least fun win ever

NCAA Football: North Carolina State at East Carolina James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

I tried to tell you to hold on to your butts, did you do it? Pretty sure I didn’t breathe for the last half hour of that game. I really did not feel the need to sweat out a game 1 win, but here we are. Credit to ECU for bringing everything and the kitchen sink to win that game. If they play like that they can contend for the AAC. Good for them, I guess.

This game should not have been as close as it ended up being. There’s a few inflection points that could have totally changed the narrative we’re carrying into next weekend, we’ll get to those.

Let’s go to the video tape! But do we HAVE to?? YES! I think...

1. ECU started the game with a 20 yard pass and I was like uh oh. But then, T-Bake silenced the crowd on the second play of the game with an interception. It has been far too long. Please. Bone. Me.

The ball was just underthrown. The NC State defense, especially the secondary, really played well. Tyler Baker-Williams was sitting in the receiver's hip pocket to snag that.

2. ECU scoring play. Le sigh. After I just complimented the secondary, Holton Ahlers dropped the ball right in the middle of the zone and the safeties got juked out. Cyrus Fagan took a bad angle, he’s probably shaking the rust off after missing most of last year with injury.

3. State scoring drive. Devin Leary hits Carter on a short post for a first down. Leary saw he had single coverage so it was easy picking. When these types of decisive throws are made it makes the offense look so good, but this game was often not as smooth.

Next, he hits Thayer Thomas up the seam. The pocket holds, giving him plenty of time to step up and make a strong throw. These seam throws always seemed to work when done last year, but weren’t used often enough. This was a tight tight window and Leary puts it on a dime.

Then, Thayer scores his 21st career TD, tying Jerricho Cotchery for the second-most TDs in NC State history. Great route by Thayer on the slant. Leary got the LB to bite on the play action, opening up the passing lane. This kind of play has become so normal for Thayer, he just makes it look easy. It’s just so odd that he ended the day being the leading receiver with only 4 receptions for 58 yards. After this there wasn’t much flow to the passing game for longggg stretches.

4. Punt block by Jasiah Provillon! Special Teams coach Todd Goebbel and Tony Gibson dialed up the right play at the right time. They overwhelmed the ECU offensive line and Provillon got right to the ball.

Great recovery in the scrum by Sean Brown. With such depth on the team you have the benefit of putting skilled players on special teams. You need to get those guys on the field so this is an area to get them playing time and use it to your benefit by being able to make big plays.

5. We don’t talk about Shyheim Battle enough. He’s just always there, doing great work. Here he’s in the right place at the right time to intercept an overthrown pass by Ahlers.

Bone me again. Twice in one day is twice as nice.

Gibson called up a blitz. Ahlers has to dance around and tries a bit too hard to make something happen, ends up sailing the ball. But as good as these 2 picks were, NC State got 0 points off those takeaways, punting within 5 plays on both of the ensuing possessions.

Dave Doeren noted in his press conference that they need to capitalize on those opportunities, but exactly how they go about that is leaving us (impatiently) waiting.

6. After the punt block TD and Thayer’s TD, NC State looked ready to close the door on ECU by putting together an impressive 12 play, 85 yard drive for a touchdown late in the first half.

Leary hit Devin Carter on a nice pass up the middle. Demi Sumo gets a nice block to hold the pocket just long enough for Leary to throw. I like how Leary feels the rush coming and slides backwards to give himself space to set his feet.

This Leary chest pass... I just don’t know what he was thinking. I mean, I know what he was thinking, he was trying to make a play and felt like it was on him to make it happen.. but bruh this is not the way to do it. Take the sack. This gave off Chaz Surratt vibes. Not great to be compared to a guy that switched from QB to LB. The announcers said this was a “big time play” to avoid taking the sack, but I would respectfully disagree.

The good thing about Leary is his ability to shake off one play and move to the next. Right after narrowly averting disaster, he hits Houston on a short screen pass that goes for 17 yards.

The offense started on their own 15 yard line, and after getting a first down across midfield felt like a perfect time to take a shot down field. Leary zings the ball JUST outside of Devin Carter’s finger tips.

I wouldn’t put this fully on Carter, that’s the first instinct. From the other angle, it seems like Leary led him a bit far at an angle to the sideline. He also had so much zip on it that just a bit more touch/arc would have helped his man out. That being said, it still hit Carter in the hands while in bounds, so you’d like him to come down with that, for a few reasons: Carter is the best candidate to be that guy at WR1 this year. If he’s going to be the primary option, these are the plays he needs to make, even if that is definitely a tough pass to catch. Also, it’s not just because he would have walked into the endzone, but successfully landing these types of plays will finally convince the coaches they need to call more of these shots throughout the game. These big shots are too few and far between. It becomes self fulfilling, they try once or twice a game, and if they don’t work the coaches can say, “see? this is why we play it safe.”

A 14 yard pass to Darryl Jones set the Pack up near red zone. Then, Demi Sumo-Karngbaye went to work! All respect to Jordan Houston but I wouldn’t be surprised if we see Sumo as RB1 pretty soon. I would guess Houston has earned some more time in the job for now, but keep an eye on that in the next couple weeks. Charleston-Southern/UConn are one thing, but it’ll be interesting to see how they both do against Texas Tech to inform who gets the nod vs Clemson.

The word going into the week was “URGENCY”, to enter the game ready to attack. It seemed like the players were ready. But I’m not convinced the coaches received the same memo on offense, because after this drive things ground to a halt in the second half.

7. Random section: As expected, the run defense was largely stout. They did give up some chunk plays, and the Pirates still averaged 4.3 yards/rush, but largely held ECU in check.

Wanted to show some respect to Jordan Houston, he showed flashes and ran with his usual vigor. He had 18 touches for 80 all purpose yards. It’ll be interesting to see how it shakes out between him and Demi, we’ll probably see more split time between them as Houston is more proven in the passing game and you know Tim Beck loves his screen plays.

Big shout out to Shane McDonough’s first outing in a Pack uniform. The transfer from Towson was a clutch pickup by Doeren to fill the large shoes left by Trent Gill. Here he dropped a perfect kick inside the 1 yard line. 6 punts for 265 yards, 44 yard average and a long of 52 is a great premiere. Although part of me wishes he won’t be needed to kick as much in subsequent games, as that’s indicative of the offensive struggles.

The Wolfpack defense almost got a safety out of it on the ensuing play, but then Keaton Mitchell shed some tacklers and shook Shyheim Battle out of his shoes as he burst for 28 yards. Cyrus Fagan saved a 99 yard touchdown run. I’d say let’s try to not let that happen again, mmk?

8. When Ahlers made passes like this a few times throughout the game, it felt like he was cutting apart the State defense, but that’s not true. This was really good coverage, he was forced to throw a VERY accurate pass to set up first and goal. Hat tip to him.

I said out loud before this play they were gonna pass. I know it’s easy to be an armchair coach, but it just felt like that goalline pass was predictable, State should have seen that coming especially since ECU’s run game wasn’t as reliable as their passing attack.

9. Giving up that touchdown had all NC State fans thinking “here we go again” but they responded with a nice long drive to first and goal. They needed a tight 3rd and long conversion to Thayer to keep the drive alive. ECU rushed two with the other two linemen on a delay. The scouting report for ECU going into the game was that they like to disguise coverages, and they did a pretty good job of it, but here Leary put it right at the spot to get the first down.

Leary hit Keyon Lesane with big first down 24 yard pass pass. These plays are in the book, Leary can find the gaps, use them, please. This formation through ECU for a loop, Lesane lined up on the right and made his way to the left sideline right in between the defense.

We heard so much hype about Julian Gray in the offseason and this was his one touch for 6 yards. I understand there’s so many weapons but you gotta be better with working people in. That’s why they’ve put him on kick returns, to keep him involved.

My old man bones just felt a crunch. That seems uncomfortable. Oh, to be young.

This just seems like a busted play, yet Provillon was open if Leary had gotten his head around and set earlier. Not sure which imaginary back he was faking it to because Houston was long gone and ECU had busted through.

They did not put Houston in a position for success here. He’s not the dude for this scenario when you need a ground and pound play. Also, not sure what the o-line was doing, they got no push, and ECU went full out run-stop. That’s like in NCAA Football when you pick the goalline defense play with all the arrows pointed to the center and by the time Houston got there there was nowhere to go. This was a disaster from the start, with the fumble being the topper. A field goal here might have sealed the game, but a touchdown surely would have. Score here and the discourse leaving the game is much different.

10. Defense holds and gets the ball back with good field position with a great Thayer punt return.

The Pack gets right back to the goal line with this ABSOLUTE BEAST MODE RUN BY SUMO! Again, one more yard for a score there on a run like that and the tenor of the game flips. This is why I feel like NC State largely outplayed ECU, even if they feel like their fans have been chirping the last few days about like they won the game.

NC State will be fine this season, but the play calling needs to improve. They over thought the situation, thinking they had momentum with the run game. They had first and goal and with 4 straight runs with Sumo to try and punch it in.

Goalline shotgun formation... Is a choice... just seems like it gives an advantage to the defense since you have to travel that much further to get back to the line of scrimmage. Also, the o-line must have been gassed because this was not their best series.

1st down nowhere.

2nd down nowhere, this one was quite close. #11 from ECU got a hit that probably saved the TD.

It wouldn’t be a true NC State game unless things got hella weird. Just as NC State was hiking the ball, the refs jumped in and said they had to reset the ball placement. I can’t say I’ve seen this before. The problem is Leary had already crossed the goalline with a QB sneak. So that play was burned.

Then this toss to Sumo might have scored but ECU called a (late) last second timeout. It’s hard to tell whether the ECU players held up after hearing the whistle. I don’t think the play at full speed would have been as easy as it looks.

Doeren said after the game that with all the goalline plays that had been unsuccessful to this point, they felt they had to call new plays since they’d shown other looks they couldn’t repeat. But why not pass with your amazing QB? This was the stuff that frustrated fans during the Drink era and here we are again. Also again, the o-line got handled, there was no lane to run and Sumo got sumo slammed from the jump for a 4th down stop.

p.s. refs, if you’d like to throw a flag for unnecessary roughness, feel free. The whistle was blown dead and ECU kept piling on to drive Sumo into the ground.

p.p.s. ECU really out here tweeting this play like they won. Good for y’all.

11. Momentum flipped back to ECU as they started charging out of their own endzone down the field. They stalled at midfield and went for it on 4th down. This was a clutch pass breakup by Aydan White. ECU went from their own 3 yard line to the State 45 and stalled, good recovery by the defense.

12. But just as quickly, 2 plays later Leary throws a rare interception. That pick has just much to do with him as it does the play calling. They went SO run heavy in the second half, he’d barely thrown a pass for what seemed like an hour. He was not in any rhythm. He threw only one pass on the previous drive, and had not thrown a completion since that pass to Lesane in #9 above. That was at 2:25 of the 3RD QUARTER! Almost a full quarter passed. I understand the series that transpired in between were unique and it seemed like Sumo was rolling, but you have keep your QB’s hand hot.

That being said, it was not a good pass by Leary. He locked into Thayer early, the DB read his eyes the whole way, and Leary shorted the pass. He could’ve put that one lofted to the sideline for a big gain. Credit to Houston for a big block, though.

13. These are the situations the team absolutely needs to learn to avoid getting themselves in. Allowing a team to gain a new lease on life, helping them to stay in the game. ECU comes right back after the big interception return and scores a TD in 4 plays (well, they did shotgun at the goalline too, okay but still).....

but the football gods said, “not today” and the kicker missed the PAT. He just shanked it, sometimes you get lucky, what can you say.

Some pretty good surrender cobra reactions:

A dude fell into the stairs during the kick, probably out of shock. I hope he’s okay.

And here we have found the ECU football/Duke basketball fan. I wonder if he beefs with the more common ECU football/UNC basketball fans...

14. Now, NC State gets the ball back under 3 minutes left yet can’t get a first down. ECU had one timeout left, two first downs and the game is iced. After everything we’ve talked about, NC State had so many opportunities to change the opinion leaving the game. Get some easy first downs here without giving ECU another chance of life and we wouldn’t have this feeling of frustration. Well, we’d still be frustrated but not nearly as much.

The Pack went back to Houston on first down who lost 3 yards. Then, Leary threw an uncharacteristically inaccurate pass. The line held the pocket, he had time to throw, and Lesane was open. A good pass there was a surefire first down and you get closer to icing the game.

But as if it wasn’t confusing enough seeing Leary so “off”, how about a screen pass on 3rd and long? You gotta have a go to play that’s better than that in order to seal the game. This just felt like trying to be too cute, or just conceding the drive and relying on the defense too much. Not a fan.

15. Again, ECU is given another lease on life. Ahlers delivers an on time pass leading to looong YAC to put ECU in FG range. This guy was so fast, and just straight up burned Isaiah Moore to turn the corner. It went from a potential tackle short of the first down line to a 37 yard gain instead. I’m guessing he is not in game shape yet after missing the back half of last year with injury.

After this, the defense regrouped to stop two ECU runs short. It seemed like they’d stopped them behind the kicker’s FG range, but then gave up a 9 yard run by Ahlers to yet again give them hope...

But the kicker missed the field goal. Hopefully this guy’s okay, he had a rough day. For his sake, I hope his fans don’t treat him the same way Wolfpack fans treated Bambard because this is rough stuff.

After peaking at 96%, NC State came really close to disaster, way closer than it should have been.

Conclusion: To say NC State escaped would be an epic understatement. The Wolfpack scored 14 offensive points, and 0 in second half. Leary went 5-11 for 59 yards and a pick in the second half. He was 12-22 in the first half, so not a ton better but that’s a better amount of attempts for the ball to be in his hands. ECU had 5 minutes more time of possession., there’s merit to them feeling like they lost the game vs State winning it.

During the game, I hated that whole second half experience. 1/5 stars, do not recommend. But after going back through it, the game was a fine line away from being put away/blowout. I feel better about it, I doubt Leary has as much of an off game again, and the rest of the mistakes seem correctable. A win’s a win, and it’s possibly the best case scenario to have a wakeup call game happen during a win. The questions on the playcalling remain, and likely will remain for this year. I’d rather not have to go through the “let Devin cook” thing again, so just open things up a bit more, okay?