NC State's first conference win is going to have to wait at least another couple of weeks. The Wolfpack never led in Louisville on Saturday afternoon, but they acquitted themselves well overall considering they came in so shorthanded. Louisville had more weapons, clearly, and the Cards ultimately were the one making the key plays in the right places. That was enough to give them a 30-18 win.
NC State had some chances in the fourth quarter to make the outcome far more tenuous for Louisville, but a combination of lackluster coaching and poor execution prevented the Pack from putting any serious pressure on the Cardinals.
With the score 20-9 in Louisville's favor, State put together a crucial 12-play drive in the early portion of the fourth quarter that got the Pack all the way down to the UL one yard line. That's where State got a bit too cute, and the offense ended up stalling out by getting in its own way.
Still, a field goal there made it a one-possession game, and the team would have had plenty of time for a game-tying drive with a stop by the defense. Unfortunately, the defense didn't get that stop until Louisville reached field goal range. Worse, the coaches frittered away their last two timeouts at the end of that drive.
Louisville was in a 3rd-and-17 situation around the Pack's 28 when it finally looked like a stop was going to happen, which is when State's coaches burned those timeouts back-to-back, super double fixing whatever apparently required it prior to that UL third down play. Let me be totally clear about what happened, mainly so I can be sure I still believe it: Louisville was set to run a 3rd-and-17 play; NC State called timeout. The two teams came out of that timeout and lined up again; NC State called timeout.
Eventually, after all the timing outing, the Cardinals ran a safe play that gained minimal yardage and settled for three, leaving the Pack with a two-score margin to make up and no way to stop the clock. The Pack did make up one of those scores rather quickly--a big pass play to Bo Hines got the offense in business on the Louisville side, and Jacoby Brissett hit David Grinnage over the top for the tight end's second score of the day.
There was 2:21 remaining after the Grinnage TD, the score 23-18 in UL's favor. NC State was in a must-recover-onside-kick situation because those ever-so-useful timeouts were but tearful memories, gone like so many farts in the wind. Louisville handled the onside attempt easily, and Michael Dyer subsequently put a bow on the proceedings by breaking a third-down run for a long score. Even if Dyer were stopped there, though, NC State would have had the majority of the field to cover and well under 30 seconds in which to do it.
Louisville didn't play a great game, but the Cardinals avoided turnovers and also took full advantage of DeVante Parker's return. Parker was over 100 yards receiving by halftime as the Pack's secondary really struggled to match up with him. (Both Juston Burris and Jack Tocho had a big pass breakups on throws targeted at Parker in the second half, however.)
While Will Gardner missed some throws badly, none of them ended up in the hands of an NC State defensive back; the Cardinals' passing game was effective enough to force State to respect it, which helped Dyer to a huge day in his first start at running back this season. Steady hits from Dyer and Parker were enough to sustain Louisville, especially with its outstanding defense there to serve as safety net.
The book on this one was those two guys, NC State's mangled mess of a fourth quarter from a decision-making standpoint, and a lack of big breaks in the underdog Pack's favor. Louisville was willing to offer only so much help, while State wasn't greedy enough when it did have opportunities. The Pack's got two weeks to stew about it before a trip to Syracuse.