November 26, 2011

Keys to the game - revisited

NC State had a comeback to remember on Saturday afternoon when it clinched a postseason berth with a 56-41 win over Maryland at Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh.

The Wolfpack improved to 7-5 (4-4 ACC) while the visiting Terrapins fell to 2-10 (1-7 ACC) in front of 55,323 fans.

Here are the Keys To The Game - Revisited:

Emotionally regroup

What we wrote: NC State needs to have a killer instinct this week and finish off the season strong. The coaches, players and fans don't want to face the fallout from losing to injured and downtrodden Maryland, which brings a 2-9 overall record into Carter-Finley Stadium.

NC State has to play hungry to get a seventh victory and become eligible for the postseason. The combination of playing for a bowl game with the electricity of playing at Carter-Finley Stadium should help the Wolfpack regain focus this week and finish off the job.

What happened: It definitely didn't look good early for the Pack, who were pressing too hard in the first half according to coach Tom O'Brien in the post-game press conference.

However, the Pack regrouped emotionally after falling behind 41-14 early in the third quarter. The Red and White went on to score 42 unanswered points and record the biggest comeback in school history while many fans didn't give the team a chance.

Wear down Maryland's defense

What we wrote: The Terrapins defense has been wrecked by injuries and off-the-field issues, and has continuously started different lineups throughout the season. Maryland hung tough with Wake Forest in the first half last week, tied 7-7. However, the Demon Deacons exploded for 24 second-half points to pick up the 31-10 victory.

NC State's passion for a victory should be at a high for this season at the start of the second half. The impact should be felt while the Terrapins start to wear down from having a lack of depth on defense.

What happened: This might have been where the Pack did the best job on the day. NC State ran an astounding 96 plays against the Terps and controlled the time of possession, with a 34:53-25:07 advantage.

It was evident at the end of the game that the Terrapin defense, which forced all four of its turnovers is the first half, was beyond worn down at the end of the game and had no answer for NC State's offense.

Pound, pound, pound

What we wrote: This game is for the NC State offensive line, which outside of having to block Maryland star junior defensive tackle Joe Vellano, should be poised for a big game.

Teams have been running the football down the throat of the Maryland defense throughout the second half of the season. Boston College rolled up 372 rushing yards on 62 carries, with running back Rolandan Finch tallying 243 yards and two scores on 39 carries Oct. 29. Virginia followed with 220 yards on 45 carries, with star back Perry Jones rushing for 139 and two touchdowns on 22 carries Nov. 5.

What happened: NC State rushed the ball 41 times and tried to pound it, but ran for a total of just 133 yards, good for an average of 3.2 yards per carry. O'Brien noted after the game that running back James Washington wasn't his normal self - some tough running at the end helped him total 90 yards rushing - but the Pack was effective with its short passes taking the place of a rushing attack and Tony Creecy totaled 101 all-purpose yards, thanks to eight receptions.

However, the Pack was effective on the ground when it mattered the most; the team gained 69 yards on the ground in the final frame after rushing for 64 yards in the first three quarters.

Don't give Maryland anything easy

What we wrote: Redshirt junior quarterback Mike Glennon snapped a four-game streak of throwing an interception against Clemson. He had thrown six interceptions between playing at Florida State, North Carolina and at Boston College.

The 6-foot-6, 232-pounder has a strong arm and has been relatively patient in the passing game this season, but has accumulated 12 interceptions on the season. NC State hasn't lost a game this season when the defense forces at least three turnovers, but that also goes hand-in-hand with the Wolfpack offense playing error-free football. Maryland doesn't need any assistance today.

What happened: As we mentioned earlier, this was an epic fail for the Pack in the first half and on Maryland's first drive of the second half. However, the Pack tightened up after that and Maryland began giving the game away with turnovers and costly penalties. It certainly was the tale of two halves for State today.

Matchups to watch

What we wrote: Maryland offensive line vs. NC State defensive line: Both Maryland and NC State have battled injuries this season on the lines. Maryland has allowed 15 sacks and 4.8 rushing yards per game, but are breaking in new starters at left guard and center. NC State fifth-year senior defensive tackle J.R. Sweezy should have a favorable matchup on the interior.

What happened: Maryland kept mobile quarterback C.J. Brown pretty clean by allowing just two sacks, but the home team came through with six tackles behind the line of scrimmage. Sweezy finished with four tackles, including one for loss, and forced a fumble while defensive tackle Markus Kuhn chipped in a tackle behind the line of scrimmage and Darryl Cato-Bishop notched half a sack.

What we wrote: NC State wide receivers vs. Maryland cornerbacks: Maryland benched senior cornerback Cameron Chism, in favor of fellow senior Trenton Hughes. Sophomore Dexter McDougle starts on the opposite side. NCSU seniors Jay Smith, T.J. Graham and Steven Howard, and redshirt junior Tobais Palmer, will be looking to have a big game against Hughes and McDougle.

What happened: Glennon enjoyed a big day and tied the school record for touchdown responsibility (6) and also tied the program mark with five scoring throws. However, it wasn't really the wide outs that did the majority of the damage, although fifth-year senior Jay Smith did tally six catches for 63 yards and a score. Most of the aerial attack was spurned by tight end George Bryan (8 catches for 79 yards and a score) and running back Tony Creecy (8 receptions for 52 yards and two scores). T.J. Graham also hauled in four passes and Tobais Palmer tallied a touchdown through the air.

Stats to watch

What we wrote: 10: Number of games between Maryland and NC State that have been decided by 10 points or fewer over the last 11 contests.

What happened: O'Brien said after the game that the seniors on the team would not be denied this win and, based on the player's post-game comments, they were intent on making Maryland feel it. It looked like it would be another game with less than 10 points differential on the final tally, but cornerback C.J. Wilson's pick-six with 27 seconds to go gave the Pack a 15-point victory.

What we wrote: 20: NCSU seniors who will be honored during pregame ceremonies. Eight of the seniors are expected to start against Maryland.

What happened: As mentioned earlier, a lot of the post-game comments centered around getting this one for the senior class and ensuring a bowl game. Mission accomplished.

Play of the game: The comeback never would have been possible without a key fourth-down conversion from Glennon to Bryan. On fourth-and-12 with time in the third quarter ticking down, Glennon found his tight end for a 16-yard completion. The Pack finished the drive with an 11-yard touchdown pass from Glennon to Creecy on the first play of the fourth quarter.

Run of the game: NC State forced a Maryland turnover on their first play of the drive after cutting the lead to 41-28. After starting with the ball at the Terps' 26, two short passes moved the Pack to the Maryland 11. After dropping back and finding nobody open, Glennon tucked the ball and headed towards the goal-line. It looked like he even got in, although he was ruled down inside the one and he snuck it in on the ensuing play to close the gap to 41-35.

Pass of the game: It's been a rough year for Bryan, who has been receiving extra attention from opponents all year, but he performed like the two-time All-ACC tight end that he is today. He snared a seven-yard touchdown pass from Glennon in the fourth quarter with just over two minutes left that extended the Pack's lead from one point to 49-41.

Hit of the game: After the Pack took a one-point lead in the fourth quarter, Maryland was looking to respond but Brown was dropped for a one-yard loss on first down. The next play, Sweezy absolutely blew up a Davin Meggett run in the backfield for a loss of three with a nice hit. An incompletion and punt followed for the Terps.

Special teams play of the game: With Maryland out to a 14-7 lead, it appeared like the Terps would make it a three-possession game with a 40-yard field goal from Nick Ferrara. However, Kuhn broke through to get a hand on the kick and it never had a chance. Manning returned the loose ball 21 yards to the NC State 43.

Offensive player of the game: Although Glennon had a rough start, he was poised and very good after the break. He went 20-of-30 for 183 yards and three scores after the break while he tied school records for touchdown responsibility (6), touchdown throws (5) and set career-highs for pass attempts (55) and completions (36) - both stand among the Pack's top-ten all-time performances.

Defensive player of the game: It was kind of surprising to look at the final stat sheet and see that Manning tallied just seven tackles. He was all over the field and also tallied 0.5 sacks, 1.5 tackles for loss, two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery and a quarterback hurry. It's a different defense for the Pack when Manning is not in the game.

Special teams player of the game: Freshman punter Wil Baumann was called on to kick four times and averaged 39.2 yards per attempt, with a long of 51 yards.

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