Monday morning quarterbacking: NC State at Florida State

Matt Carter, Editor
The Wolfpacker
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Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports

NC State may have received the breakthrough win it has been seeking for two-plus years with a 27-21 victory at No. 12 Florida State. Now it’s time for a final look at the contest with some Monday morning quarterbacking:

Key moment of the game

Florida State had cut NC State’s lead to 20-16 with a 37-yard field goal by sophomore Ricky Aguayo with 14:08 left in the fourth quarter. The Pack’s offense took the field at its own 25 with an opportunity to put itself in a commanding position, and it did just that.

Junior running back Nyheim Hines, who had entered the fourth quarter with 12 rushes for 29 yards, ran six times for 43 yards on the drive, but the most memorable moments came on two passing plays.

The first was redshirt junior wide receiver Stephen Louis climbing the ladder to catch a 10-yard pass from redshirt junior quarterback Ryan Finley at the Florida State 35 on third-and-nine. The second was senior H-back Jaylen Samuels taking a well-executed shovel pass 14 yards for the touchdown.

NC State took a 27-16 lead that was too much for Florida State to overcome. The drive took 10 plays and lasted 4:58, wearing out a FSU defense on a hot, humid afternoon in Tallahassee.

Three things that worked

1. Red-zone defense

One of the chief reasons NC State won this game was that it held Florida State to field goals instead of touchdowns in the red zone. The Noles had to settle for four field goals in six trips to the red zone. One of the other two times inside the 20 resulted in a missed field goal.

2. Winning the trenches

The only sack NC State gave up was when redshirt sophomore wide receiver Jakobi Meyers’ reverse pass trick play went awry and Meyers was flagged for intentional grounding. Finley’s jersey was a lot cleaner after the game than his counterpart, FSU freshman James Blackman, who was sacked four times and hit countless others.

3. Finishing in the fourth quarter

NC State outgained Florida State 73-25 in total yards in the final frame. The Noles had only one first down compared to six for the Wolfpack. NCSU rushed for 54 yards in the final 15 minutes, nearly doubling its total of 56 yards in the first three quarters. Florida State, partly because of play calling while trying to come from behind, had negative-one yard.

Three things that did not work

1. Shutting down big pass plays

Two of Florida State’s field goals were set up by long passes from Blackman, who throws an impressive deep ball. Blackman connected with junior Auden Tate on a 51-yarder and redshirt sophomore George Campbell on a 60-yarder, both passes putting FSU in the red zone.

2. Covering Tate

Tate injured his shoulder on the 51-yard bomb, but before that he had nine receptions for 138 yards and a touchdown. He became the third opposing player this year to eclipse 100 receiving yards against the Pack and the 10th in the past 16 games dating back to last season.

3. Avoiding late miscues

NC State could have saved its fan base a lot of heartache by not having a bad shotgun snap in the end zone for a safety and then having its punt blocked, leading to all five of Florida State’s points in the fourth quarter.

Position-by-position battles

NC State’s offensive line vs. Florida State’s front seven

This was probably the line’s best performance of the season. It gave Finley ample time to operate, and after a slow start in the run game it opened wider running lanes in the second half.

Florida State’s offensive line vs. NC State’s front seven

The vaunted Wolfpack defensive line stepped up the challenge on Saturday. Senior defensive end Bradley Chubb (seven tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble) played his best game yet in a Pack uniform, and senior tackles Justin Jones and B.J. Hill added one sack apiece.

NC State’s wide receivers vs. Florida State’s secondary

This was by far the biggest test that NCSU’s much-improved receiving corps has faced yet, and it answered the challenge well enough. The star was Meyers, whose 71-yard touchdown in the second quarter highlighted his first career 100-yard receiving day (five catches for 112 yards). It was a quiet afternoon though for sophomore Kelvin Harmon, who was held to one catch for 16 yards.

Florida State’s wide receivers vs. NC State’s secondary

NC State elected not to play senior corner Mike Stevens even though he warmed up. Thus the short-handed unit once again had its hands full, and it continued to go through its growing pains. Tate and Campbell (three receptions for 85 yards) in particular were challenging to cover for the Pack.

Quarterbacks

Blackman passed his first test. He was not at fault for FSU’s loss, and if he progresses he leaves Noles head coach Jimbo Fisher with an enviable problem of two talented young quarterbacks on his roster vying for a job. But the better quarterback on this afternoon was Finley, who continues to master managing the game for NCSU this season. Finley completed 22 of 32 passes for 230 yards with two scores and no picks.

Running backs

Hines dominated the fourth frame, and NCSU junior Reggie Gallaspy added a significant 30-yard run in the third quarter to set up a field goal. Florida State’s running backs though ran well, too. Freshman Cam Akers sparked the offense when he came in, and junior Jacques Patrick also did well. Hines and Gallaspy combined to rush 26 times for 123 yards, and Akers and Patrick ran 20 times for 94 yards.

Tight ends

One of the best players on the field was Samuels, who totaled 75 yards and two scores and also threw a 25-yard pass. FSU did not involve its tight end on Saturday.

Special teams

This was a slight FSU win. Cole did have a punt blocked, and NCSU surrendered a lengthy 49-yard kickoff return to FSU redshirt sophomore safety Derwin James after its safety. That said, Aguayo’s missed 30-yard field goal was a key moment in the second quarter.

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