NC State played from behind nearly from start to finish in the Pop-Tarts Bowl, and while its rally in the third quarter was a good one, the Wolfpack didn’t have enough big plays in it to deliver this win.
A big part of the Wolfpack’s back-stretch flourish this season was turnovers, and Kansas State simply was not obliging, which forced the Pack into a more difficult position than it has been used to of late. This Wolfpack team is not one really designed to play from behind, and while it did its admirable best, without an assist from the other team, it was ultimately an effort in vain.
NC State’s defensive effort was not great in the first half as K-State’s experienced offensive line set the tone and staked the Wildcats to a lead that would keep its freshman quarterback from having to take chances. That was a big key for sure—without ever having to play from behind, K-State never had to press that passing game, with a freshman QB missing its top two receivers. The Wildcats were able to make that mostly a non-factor.
The Wildcats’ ground game was the story for the first half, and while NC State found a way to respond with a couple of second quarter scoring drives, its inconsistency on that side proved a big problem. The first half of this game felt a lot like the first half of State’s season, right down to the dumb false start penalties.
NC State did come out with a much, much better effort in the third quarter, but its endlessly nagging inefficiency on the offensive side proved decisive this time. The Pack should have left the third quarter with the lead but did not, and you can’t keep a good Kansas State team down forever.
K-State had a punt return and then a screen pass called back on penalties, and in hindsight it would have been far more helpful if those penalties hadn’t happened, but hey, so it goes. Those called-back scores allowed the Wildcats to instead put together a touchdown drive that took the better part of the fourth quarter, draining the clock inside three minutes and effectively putting the game away.
NC State’s offense put up 399 yards but managed only one touchdown and a couple field goals—rarely good enough, in general, and certainly not good enough tonight. Trent Pennix’s fake-punt heroism provided a real highlight, but wasn’t enough to turn this thing all the way around. Kinda felt like it was for a minute there, though.
Kansas State put together the better performance overall, and its offensive line was a clear difference-maker for a team hoping to put a first-time starting QB in a spot to be opportunistic. Mission accomplished there, no question. That made a huge difference.
Sometimes you just gotta tip your cap.