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November 7, 2011

Monday morning quarterbacking



NC State responded to a poor effort at Florida State with their strongest performance to date during a 13-0 win over archrival North Carolina Saturday afternoon at Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh. Now it's time for a final look at the game with some Monday Morning Quarterbacking.

Key moment of the game:

There were two big plays in this game that in hindsight probably sealed the outcome. NC State led 10-0 at halftime, but UNC had the first possession of the second half. They responded with what was their best drive of the contest at that point, getting four first downs to reach the NC State 32. Going no-huddle, redshirt sophomore quarterback Bryn Renner decided to go for it all and threw into double coverage for senior tight end Christian Wilson in the end zone.

Wolfpack star sophomore corner David Amerson was one of those covering and made the interception. He took it out to the NCSU 33. Two plays later, redshirt junior quarterback Mike Glennon threw a pass to his classmate Tobais Palmer. What was a short gain turned into a big one when Palmer exploded through an opening and ran down the sideline for what would be a 54-yard pick-up. That set up freshman Niklas Sade's second field goal and gave the Pack a 13-0 lead.



Three things that worked:

1. Defense
The numbers speak for themselves. UNC had just 165 yards of total offense, only three yards rushing, and turned it over three times. The Heels converted just 4 of 14 third downs and misfired on their one attempt on fourth down. The final, most important stat was on the scoreboard: zero points.

2. Winning the field position battle
UNC's assignment got even more daunting when they could not swing field position throughout the game. The Heels started at the 10 or inside it five times, and once more they started inside the 20. Their best starting field position was at their own 44. NC State started in UNC territory four times, and outside starting at their own six once, State's next worst starting field position was the NC State 23.

3. Junior running back James Washington
For the third time in the past five games, Washington has rushed for over 100 yards. He ran 27 times for 110 yards in the contest. Despite his heavy workload, Washington was stopped behind the line of scrimmage just once. He also had the run of the afternoon when the Pack was backed up the one time all afternoon with a 24-yard run from the State 5 to the 29 on a third and 11.



Three things that did not work:

1. Putting UNC away
The Heels never proved to be a threat in this game, but the Pack probably could have turned this contest into something similar to the 2008 rout had they been able to put the Pack away. NC State three times started drives in UNC territory and came away with no points to show for it, although one was the game's final possession when State let the clock run out.

2. Passing game
Outside of Palmer, who caught five passes for 94 yards, the performance by the passing game was a bit anemic. Glennon was hot-and-cold all afternoon, completing 16 of 33 passes for 164 yards with a touchdown and interception. State struggled to get anything downfield. The longest completion to a receiver not named Palmer was the 12-yard touchdown pass to senior T.J. Graham.

3. Covering senior receiver Dwight Jones
The good news however is that while Jones caught his nine passes for 72 yards, he did not get a big play. The one that would have been a huge catch, a potential 74-yard touchdown in the second quarter, was wiped out by a holding call. Nevertheless, State was not able to limit Jones' touches, as he matched his season-high in receptions.



Breaking down the position battles:

NC State's OL vs. UNC's front seven
The results were mixed. On one hand, Glennon was sacked just twice, and the line did block for a 100-yard plus performer. On the other hand, UNC had six quarterback hurries, twice as many as State, and the Pack's running backs ran for just 3.6 yards per carry (133 yards on 37 carries).

NC State's front seven vs. UNC's OL
No contest here as the Pack piled up four sacks and held UNC's 1,000-yard rusher, redshirt freshman Giovani Bernard to 47 yards on 18 carries, an average of 2.6 yards per rush.

NC State's WR vs. UNC's DB
NC State's receivers continue to struggle to get open at times, especially downfield. Palmer had one of his best games of the year, but the rest of the receiving corps caught nine passes for 60 yards, an average of 6.7 yards per catch.

NC State's DB vs. UNC's WR
State was able to keep Jones in front of them and then neutralize the rest of Carolina's receiving corps. Only one other receiver caught a pass, and that was junior Erik Highsmith, who had two receptions for 26 yards.

Quarterbacks
This game was anything but a showcase for quarterbacks, but Glennon wins the battle because he made less mistakes. The combination of Renner and redshirt junior Braden Hanson, who subbed for Renner when the starter suffered concussion-like symptoms, was 16 of 30 for 162 yards and three picks. Renner was also fortunate to not turn it over on a first quarter fumble that resulted in a huge loss.

Running backs
Washington was clearly the best running back on the field this afternoon. He was complimented by redshirt freshman Tony Creecy, who ran 10 times for 23 yards.

Tight Ends
UNC's tight ends were more involved in the passing game. Wilson caught two passes for 29 yards and redshirt junior Nelson Hurst hauled in a 9-yard catch but also had a bad drop late in the fourth quarter when UNC was driving. State fifth-year senior George Bryan caught an eight-yard pass, but he got more open in this game than he has in previous contests.

Special teams
Wolfpack freshman punter Wil Baumann was far better than his 37.9-yards per punt average would indicate. He pinned UNC at the 10 or inside four times, and his hang time limited UNC to just one return of three yards. Carolina punter C.J. Feagles struggled mightily, averaging 34.9 yards thanks to a lucky roll on a 53-yard punt. The difference in the punters swung the special teams battle to NC State.


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