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November 24, 2008

Monday morning quarterback: N. Carolina

There is no question that NC State established themselves as the best football team in the state of North Carolina this past weekend. Throw the overall records out, the Pack defeated all four Division I-A teams in the state, culminating with a 41-10 beat down of arch-rival North Carolina at Kenan Stadium last Saturday. Here is the latest edition of Monday morning quarterbacking.

Key moment of the game:

UNC was hanging around despite being outplayed for much of the first 2.5 quarters of the game before the floodgates opened, thanks mainly to three key plays.

The first came when NC State was up 17-10 in the third quarter, and NC State had driven to the UNC 36-yard line but faced fourth and one. Coach Tom O'Brien decided to go for it. Redshirt freshman quarterback Russell Wilson rolled right but nobody was open. Wilson continued to run, but he was also running out of room, when at the last moment, freshman fullback Taylor Gentry popped open on the sideline. Wilson threw the pass in Gentry's direction just before running out of bounds, and Gentry made a nice catch to give State a first down at the 28-yard line. Three plays later senior running back Andre Brown scored on a 2-yard run to give State a 24-10 lead with 1:28 left in the quarter.

On the ensuing kickoff, senior punter Bradley Pierson kicked off a line drive that UNC tight end Richard Quinn caught. Quinn was six yards into his return when NC State senior safety J.C. Neal reached in and ripped the ball out, forcing a fumble that Neal would eventually pick up and return to the UNC 21-yard line.

On the next play, Wilson fired a rope to sophomore receiver Owen Spencer over the middle and into the end zone for another touchdown, and the rout was on as NC State led 31-10.

Three Things That Worked:

1. Offense
The 466 yards of total offense by NC State represented the first time the Pack got over the 400 mark on the season and was 82 yards better than their previous season best of 384 yards in an overtime win against East Carolina. The 187 yards rushing were 28 yards better than the 159 State ran for against Duke. The 279 yards passing were a new career-high for Wilson, and was 21 yards better than the previous best for the team of 258 against William & Mary. Also, there were no turnovers.

2. Defense
The 203 yards of total offense allowed was the first time all year an opponent had been held under 300 yards of total offense. The previous best effort by State's defense was 303 yards allowed against William & Mary. UNC ran for 56 yards, marking three straight games of under 100 yards rushing allowed, and also a new season-best. The previous lowest rushing total allowed was 94 against Duke. Only Maryland threw for fewer yards, 126, than UNC's 147, and that was because the Terps were too busy running for 203 yards to worry about passing it. Did we mention five turnovers forced by the defense?

3. Special Teams
They forced a turnover, making it six total in the game, to account for the big play on special teams. UNC had made a living off making the big plays on special teams, but that did not happen against NC State. Freshman receiver T.J. Graham had a 41-yard kick return in his lone attempt. Pierson did not come close to having any of his three punts blocked. The only hiccup was a missed 39-yard field goal by redshirt sophomore Josh Czajkowski in the first quarter.

Three things that did not work:

1. Coming out of the game completely healthy
We have to nitpick after a game like that, but one thing you hope for in a blowout win is that you also come out of it healthy, and NC State will have to see how junior Clem Johnson reacts to a sprained ankle. Johnson has emerged as a key player in the secondary. He had six solo tackles in the first half, which still emerged as a team-high, before going down in the second quarter. If Johnson cannot go against Miami, that will be a blow. The tackling had been noticeably better after Johnson replaced freshman Justin Byers in the starting lineup.

2. Taking full advantage of opportunities
Truth is, the 41-10 score could have and perhaps should have been a lot worse. NC State did not take advantage of redshirt junior defensive end Willie Young's interception at the end of the first half in UNC territory at the 39-yard line, nor did they seize on Graham's long kickoff return to the UNC 40 to start the second half. If NC State scores on those two possessions, it would have been long over probably before the onslaught came later. The Pack also dropped touchdown passes and missed a field goal.

3. Blocking Mark Paschal
Give credit to the UNC linebacker. He played hard and was all over the field Saturday, and Paschal finished with a game-high 13 tackles before leaving with an injury in the third quarter. He also hurried the quarterback twice.

Breaking down the position battles:

NC State's OL vs. North Carolina's front seven
Wilson was sacked twice and hurried five more times, but overall he looked fairly comfortable in the backfield for NC State. As for the running game, the duo of Brown and redshirt junior Jamelle Eugene were hit in the backfield just once all game long, not a good sign for UNC's defense. Overall, NC State wins here.

NC State's front seven vs. North Carolina's OL
UNC had a hard time containing Young. He finished with two sacks, another tackle for a loss and an interception. Redshirt junior defensive tackle Alan-Michael Cash had a sack as well. NC State did not however get into UNC's backfield a whole lot in the game, just credited with one pressure by redshirt sophomore Audi Augustin and only four yards of losses by sophomore running back Shaun Draughn. Young alone though gives NC State an edge.

NC State's WR vs. North Carolina's DB
Spencer was open a lot in this game, and redshirt sophomore Jarvis Williams made a huge play in the first quarter, a 55-yard catch and run, to help set the tone early. NC State had four receptions by their receivers over 20 yards, two by Spencer, one apiece by Williams and redshirt freshman Jay Smith. Win for NC State again here.

NC State's DB vs. North Carolina's WR
UNC All-American wide out Hakeem Nicks , a junior, has been a nightmare for defenses this year, but NC State contained him fairly well. Nicks had, by his standards, a modest effort of four catches for 56 yards. Other than a 27-yard reception by UNC sophomore receiver Greg Little on the Heels' lone touchdown scoring drive, the Carolina receivers did not produce a big play that mattered, and that was the key for a successful afternoon by the Pack's secondary.

Quarterbacks
Wilson was 17-of-28 passing for 279 yards and two touchdowns with no picks and ran 11 times for 50 yards. He left the game as the undisputed favorite to be first-team All-ACC at quarterback.

UNC's duo of sophomore T.J. Yates and junior Cam Sexton were a combined 14-of-28 passing for 147 yards and three interceptions, and they left the game leaving the Heels wondering who starts against Duke in the season-finale.

Running backs
Draughn actually ran fairly well when he was not fumbling. He finished with 13 carries for 56 yards, a respectable 4.3 yards per carry, but also two turnovers. Sophomore Ryan Houston also played his role well, powering out the short yardage and scoring UNC's lone touchdown on a five-yard run. He finished with 27 yards on seven runs.

However, Brown and Eugene were better this afternoon. Brown ran 20 times for 81 yards and a touchdown, and Eugene added 12 carries for 56 yards and two scores. NC State was able to make a bigger commitment to the running game, which helped the Pack gain an edge in this match-up.

Tight ends
Quinn did not catch a pass and fumbled a kickoff return. NC State redshirt freshman George Bryan caught a 17-yard touchdown pass, his fourth score of the year, and fifth-year senior Anthony Hill added a pair receptions for 15 yards, one of them a third down conversion for a first down. Clearly, NC State had better tight ends on the field.

Special teams
Czajkowski did miss a field goal, and UNC's Terrence Brown had an impressive afternoon punting, 43.2 yards on three kicks, compared to just 34.0 on three punts by Pierson. However, the big plays on special teams belonged to NC State, mainly the fumble by Quinn which turned a game that was closer than it should be into the rout that it was supposed to be.


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