NC State was dead on arrival Saturday, giving up 35 first-quarter points to a focused North Carolina offense. The Wolfpack played better over the next couple of quarters, but that wasn't exactly saying much. Did provide a bit of false hope, though. UNC used its 35-point first quarter to cruise to a 45-34 victory.
The Tar Heels took control with their running game, led by Elijah Hood, who finished with 220 yards, and T.J. Logan, who went for 100 on only six carries. Hood did the tough work, while Logan provided the early back-breakers, scoring twice on long runs.
NC State needed to play a pretty damn good game in this one to pull out a win, and there were swing plays in the first half--it's just that they all went UNC's way. Jacoby Brissett missed a wide open Cole Cook for a big gain; Riley Nicholson hit Marquise Williams just a split second out of bounds, turning a punting situation into a first down for UNC. The Tar Heels hit on a long TD pass the play after Nicholson's penalty.
Brissett didn't have his best performance for UNC, and it hurt. There was the aforementioned miss to Cook, but also some misses that should have been routine, like a check-down (albeit under pressure) to Nyheim Hines that could have been a big gainer.
The Wolfpack simply made too many mistakes, and didn't take advantage enough of what Carolina gave it. The Tar Heels turned the ball over a couple of times in prime scoring position, but State took next to little from those gifts. Those exchanges made a significant difference in the game; UNC took almost no time to convert Brissett's tip interception into seven. NC State needed to be every bit as opportunistic and instead settled for a couple field goals in a couple prime opportunities.
State wasn't opportunistic, State made the big mistakes early, and State couldn't match Carolina's explosive plays. The result was UNC essentially massaging away a victory for 45 minutes. That is a pretty huge bummer, but so it goes. We'll see you at the bowl game.
But ultimately this gets back to Carolina's ground game, which set an early tone and gave the Tar Heels a big lead before NC State could recover. Elijah Hood was both explosive and tough between the tackles, while T.J. Logan made a couple huge plays happen with his elite speed.
We knew this about UNC coming in: great depth at receiver; a senior quarterback; fantastic talent at running back. The Heels' play-action movement has been tremendous all season, and NC State couldn't find an answer to it. That's disappointing, but it's not surprising.
That's not an indictment of NC State coaching; it's just admitting reality. Sometimes the other guy holds all the cards. We don't have to like it, but sometimes that's just how it works out.