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NC State vs. Syracuse by the numbers: Defense and special teams carry the day

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Brett Carlsen

Box Score

Plays
Total Yds
Yds/Play
Yds/Carry*
Yds/PassAtt
NCSU
68 307
4.5 4.0
5.6
Syracuse
79
345 4.4
3.3
7.3

(Yds/carry stats are calculated after removing sacks from the equation.)

In terms of both total yards allowed and yards allowed per play, this was the best performance by NC State's defense since conference play started. It's the first time State has held a conference opponent under 5.0 yards per play this season, and the Pack only did it once in 2013 (allowed 4.9 YPP to Duke).

Fueling the strong effort was NC State's success at the point of attack against Syracuse's alarmingly banged-up offensive line. The Wolfpack was able to bottle up the Orange ground game--with an assist here to Wil Baumann for pinning the Cuse deep on several occasions and making them more predictable as a result--and limited Prince-Tyson Gulley to only 28 yards on 15 carries. The Orange did not have a running play longer than 16 yards all afternoon.

That's quite a contrast to the 2013 meeting between these teams, when Gulley needed only nine carries to rack up 133 yards. The Orange also had runs of 57, 55, and 29 yards in that contest. Offensive lines are important!

The Pack's front also heaped a lot of pressure on AJ Long, who wasn't too bad under the circumstances but ended up sacked a season-high eight times. The heat helped create the two huge turnovers in the second half that turned the game the Pack's way. Coming into the weekend, Syracuse had given up nine sacks all year.

And State had only 15 sacks as a team heading into the game. The team hadn't had more than three in a single game. Needless to say, the Pack also set a season-high with 13 tackles for loss (the previous high was eight, done against Presbyterian and Louisville).

All told, 16.5% of Syracuse's snaps from scrimmage ended in a tackle for loss, including 16% of the Orange's pass attempts. In the eight games prior to Saturday, State compiled a TFL rate of about 8.5%, so they were nearly twice as disruptive as their usual selves against the Orange. Yep, that'll make a defense look a whole lot better.

Offensively, NC State racked up more than two-thirds of its yardage in the first half, then opted for a nap. The Pack only went three-and-out on one of their six first-half drives, though half of the six ended in punts anyway. State went three-and-out on all of its third-quarter possessions, piling up a grand total of 12 yards in the process.

It wasn't until early in the fourth quarter that State finally managed to get its offense on track to some degree--a six-play, 42-yard march began with 14:43 on the clock but ended in a punt from the Syracuse 43. The only other State possession to travel more than 10 yards was the 35-yard scoring drive late that effectively put the game out of reach. After squandering a lot of good field position early, that score was opportunism at the best possible time, at least.

As for special teams, the most telling thing to me is that Wil Baumann's 45-yard average on punts actually understates how well he played. Three of his punts came on the Syracuse side of the 50, making those about accuracy rather than distance. And he delivered in both categories anyway, landing four punts inside the Cuse 20 with zero touchbacks while also launching three punts of 50 yards or more. He is currently fifth among FBS punters in yards per punt.

Nik Sade was perfect on field goals and extra points and all six of his kickoffs went for touchbacks. Doesn't get any better than that.  He's perfect on his last five field goal attempts going back to the Louisville game.