NC State football received new life from Clemson’s win over Wake Forest early Saturday and took advantage of it by dismantling Syracuse, 41-17.
It’s time for a final look at the contest with some Monday morning quarterbacking:
Key Moment Of The Game
There was an explosion in the final six-plus minutes of the first half that saw NC State turn a scoreless game into a 28-7 halftime advantage.
Each of the four touchdowns (and for that matter the one by Syracuse) was an explosive play to some degree, but one stood out.
Why Syracuse would entertain kicking off to NC State sophomore running back Zonovan Knight is questionable. He had a 100-plus yard return for a score the previous week at Wake Forest and nearly ran another back in that game.
For his effort, he was the ACC Special Teams Performer of the Week.
Knight could repeat that honor this week.
After Syracuse’s star running back Sean Tucker broke off a 55-yard touchdown run to make it 14-7 NC State with 3:16 to go in the half, Knight returned the Orange’s kickoff 97 yards for a score.
That TD made certain that Syracuse was not coming back in the game.
Three Things That Worked For NC State Football
1. Explosive plays: The first NC State touchdown was set up by a 49-yard pass from redshirt sophomore quarterback Devin Leary to redshirt junior receiver Thayer Thomas. Then came a pick-six from Thomas’ younger brother, sophomore linebacker Drake Thomas.
That was followed by Knight’s kickoff runback. On the next Wolfpack possession, Leary connected with redshirt sophomore Devin Carter on a 58-yard pass to set up a touchdown with eight seconds left in the half.
The final points for the Pack came on a drive that included passes of 27 and 26 yards. Leary finished with 303 yards passing on just 17 completions.
2. Defense for 52 plays: Syracuse ran 54 snaps on offense in the game. In 52 of them, it piled up a mere 133 yards.
The Wolfpack had 14 tackles for loss on those 52 snaps. That calculates to about 1 out of 4 snaps for Syracuse in the game resulted in a negative play, including five sacks, the second most the Orange have allowed in a contest this year.
3. Handling business: It took probably longer than head coach Dave Doeren wanted, but the bottom line is that NC State football did what it needed to do: score a comfortable win.
When Thayer Thomas reached the end zone on an 8-yard pass, the Pack led 38-10 with 2:15 left in the third quarter. Given that Syracuse is a one-dimensional offense focused heavily on the run, that was an insurmountable gap to overcome in the fourth quarter.
Three Areas Where NC State Football Struggled
1. Defending two Syracuse plays: Nearly half of the Orange’s 236 total yards came on a pair of touchdown runs: a 55-yard scamper by Tucker and a 48-yard QB draw from Garrett Shrader.
Allowing explosive running plays for touchdowns is not ideal, and it happened twice in this game.
2. Penalties: It is the second straight week that NC State football was flagged double-digit times. The Pack had 12 penalties for 96 yards, and twice the Orange were able to get a new set of downs when it should have been off the field due to a Wolfpack flag.
3. First quarter: It looks harmless in hindsight, but this was a scoreless first quarter, and the Pack had just 56 yards of offense through the initial 15 minutes. Five of its penalties for 47 yards also occurred in the first.
Syracuse only had 12 total yards, but managed to win time of possession (8:26 to 6:34) because NC State gave the visitors multiple first downs on flags.
NC State football’s offensive line vs. Syracuse’s defensive front
Syracuse is one of the nation’s leaders in tackles for loss, tied for 25th in the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) level averaging 7.18 per game, but it had just four on NC State.
The Orange is tied for ninth in sacks per game (3.27), but had only two Saturday.
This was a win for NC State.
NC State football’s defensive front vs. Syracuse’s offensive line
As noted above, NC State controlled the line of scrimmage on Syracuse. This was a major victory for the Wolfpack.
NC State football’s wide receivers vs. Syracuse’s secondary
Carter and Thomas both hauled in their long passes downfield, and second-year freshman Porter Rooks caught two passes for 44 yards. Thus it was a solid evening for the receivers, although senior Emeka Emezie was unusually quiet with one catch for seven yards.
NC State football’s secondary vs. Syracuse’s wide receivers
Syracuse only had 66 yards passing, and its longest completion was just 16 yards. That said, while this was a win for NC State, it should be noted in the Orange receivers’ defense that Shrader had an inaccurate day throwing the football.
Shrader looked like a quarterback who had little confidence each time he tried to throw a pass. He completed 8 of 20 for just 63 yards and had a costly pick-six.
Leary looked like a quarterback who was very confident every time he threw it. He completed 17 of 24 passes for 303 yards and two scores.
There was a sizable difference in the effectiveness of quarterback play Saturday.
Tucker finished with 13 carries for 105 yards and a touchdown. During the game, he set a single-season school record for rushing yards. Yes, a lot of that production came on one play, but his other 12 carries still netted a solid 50 yards.
NC State’s duo of Knight and junior Ricky Person Jr. had a good evening, combining to rush 20 times for 87 yards and a score. But they were also effective in the receiving game. Person had a 27-yard gain on a screen, and Knight had a 26-yard pick up.
Throw in Knight’s kickoff return for a score, and NC State had a better all-around day from its running backs.
NC State easily had a better afternoon here. Redshirt freshman Christopher Toudle tied for a team-high with four catches, including a 14-yard touchdown. Redshirt sophomore Trent Pennix added two receptions for 21 yards.
NC State won because of Knight’s score, but it was not redshirt junior Trenton Gill’s best effort. He had a surprising number of kickoffs fall short on touchbacks. Only one of his eight went that way, and he also had one go out of bounds.
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