NC State moved to 7-3 on the season on Saturday with a destructive defensive effort and a suddenly explosive run game, which powered the Pack to a 26-6 win over Wake Forest. It was an absolutely stifling defensive performance, as has been the case the last three weeks, and State found some consistency in the run game on offense. It was a great afternoon and I would recommend it to a friend.
Defense just dominates
It was clear immediately that State liked the matchups in this game. The Pack played a lot of cover 0 and cover 1 in this game. Apparently, this is not the Deacons receiving corps of old. A.T. Perry is not walking through that door, and neither are the mysterious pass interference rules that seemed to follow him. The Pack was not concerned about getting beat down the field in this game, nor should it have been. State was excellent in man coverage. Aydan White has been great all year and Saturday was his most visible game. Battle has been beat a few more times this year, and teams have targeted him more because Aydan White is so good, but Battle was awesome on Saturday as well.
It’s never a good sign for a team when the opposing defense is so comfortable with man coverage and minimal help. Wake’s receivers got little separation in this game, and State’s exotic pressures wreaked havoc on a QB unit that was uncomfortable all day. The Deacons run game was, well, it was, well you see guys, the thing is, it was very bad. The matchup in the trenches in this game bordered on comical. State just overmatched Wake Forest. It could be loosely defined as bullying.
I thought this was a good example of how the 3-3-5 has worked for State. It’s largely courtesy of a large, immovable defensive line that can eat double teams. These guys don’t get enough credit because “running lanes clogged” is not a stat, but make no mistake that it does not work without guys like Savion Jackson. Anyway, here’s the example.
This is QB counter from Wake, basically the same play State blew open with Armstrong below. On this play, the job of the Wake Forest left tackle is to drive Savion Jackson, who is at defensive end closest to the bottom of the screen, down the line of scrimmage as far away from the play as he can. He accomplishes very little. Jackson and Clark are basically immovable here. Jackson gets sealed a little because he attacks the gap, but he fights back over, while Clark gets double teamed by two interior linemen who might as well have been trying to down block a house. These guys are hard to move, and when you can't move defensive linemen, it's hard to find running lanes. If Jackson gets washed down here, there is some space between him and Caden Fordham, the linebacker who takes on the running back. Wake was just overmatched.
Offense runs the ball
State ran the ball with some efficiency in the first half on Saturday, and Armstrong’s running ability made a huge difference. First, QB runs even out box counts. This is a six-man box for Wake Forest. On a traditional run play, you have five blockers here. With Armstrong carrying the ball, there are six, and State runs a QB counter with the RB and the guard.
This an excellent down block from Belton at left tackle. On a counter play to the left, the left tackle and left guard double team the play-side defensive tackle and drive him away from the play. They really succeed here. Look how far he gets moved. McKay is the pulling guard and he crushes on the kick out block. This is a great play from the o-line. It helps get Armstrong one on one in the hole with the linebacker, who kind of just does a terrible job all around.
This was a good game for the offensive line, and it needed to be, because State was going to depend on the ground game. Here’s another really well-blocked play. State opens a huge lane here.
When State motions KC out of the backfield, he drags the weakside linebacker with him, and then State runs inside zone to that side. McMahon and Carter are supposed to double team the defensive tackle, and because there is no weakside linebacker, there is nobody to release to, so they lock this tackle up. McMahon is frankly very good. This one almost busts open, but it probably asks too much of Pennix to try and get to the linebacker. It’s also a good play by the Wake linebacker to be on time in run support. Raphael gets to the linebacker untouched, though, and he almost gets by him.
One more from the offensive line, because they need to feel the love after a year where they’ve been criticized a lot.
This is just outside zone. McMahon dominates this backside defensive tackle. It’s a bit easier to reach block when the tackle is lined up head up like this. The left side easily drives out the play side defenders, and Anthony Carter gets to the linebacker. A hole opens in the A gap. More on this later this week, but State needs to get a little better vision from its backs. It’s hurt the running game. Raphael should hit this hole in the A gap.
The flowing linebacker (24) has a decent chance to make this play, but the reads on outside zone dictate that’s where the ball should go, and by hitting that hole, McMahon has a chance to disrupt that linebacker, in which case Raphael is in wide open space. By cutting this all the way back, you’re cutting directly toward an unblocked safety. It’s a seven-yard gain, so it’s not like a bad play or anything, but it’s a bit of trend with the running backs that has led to some very bad plays earlier this year.
State schemes for Armstrong
Brennan Armstrong is back, and he had a really nice game on the ground. He is still a quarterback who threw for over 4,000 yards just two seasons ago, but he was kind of all over the place accuracy-wise in his first stint this year. Robert Anae had a great day though. State simplified things for Armstrong and catered more to his strengths as a runner, and it was very effective. This was a very well-coached game, easily the best of the year. Let's take a look at the first touchdown
This a flood concept, which is a general term for overloading one side of the field with routes to put pressure on that side of a zone defense. On this play, State has three routes that are ran outside of the seam, and it’s trying to get the levels of Wake’s zone in conflict.
Lesane’s post route is just a decoy basically. Its role in this play is to influence the strong safety. State wants to get him working toward it to create a throwing window for Gray behind him. That’s why the stem on Lesane’s route is straight downfield, while Gray’s angles toward the boundary. It's a post wheel combo, and it makes Lesane the first immediate threat, and a look from Armstrong can help hold that safety as well.
State did a great job keeping things simple and not asking Armstrong to stand in the pocket and make too many reads. They played to his strengths and what he has shown this year. That’s what this was. This is three reads. If the safety holds and the shallow zone DB does not run with Gray, it should be there. If either of those things aren’t the case, he can dump this into the flat to Pennix. If the edge defender runs with Pennix into the flat, Armstrong can run. It gets the quarterback on the move and it’s a half-field read, so it’s a pretty simple setup for an explosive and it’s not asking a quarterback to stand in the pocket who has struggled with the prospect of such this year.
Here’s another. This is a sail concept, which is a type of flood concept, where Vereen runs a straight go route to pull the deep safety away from the play, Lesane runs a shallow out, and Collins runs a mid-depth out.
The goal here is to remove the safety and then create a high-low read for Armstrong. The defender he is reading here is number 14, who has the responsibility of the flat in the underneath zone. He's stayed low and close to Lesane to break on that route, and you can see how much space the combo of that and Vereen occupying the safety (circled at bottom below) leaves for Collins in the middle.
If this defender sits on Lesane’s route, he can hit Collins. If he sinks towards Collins, it’s an easy throw to Lesane. All of this while moving the pocket gives Armstrong the option to take off should things break down.
I really don’t think Armstrong is suddenly some different quarterback. He’s just being put in better situations right now. For example, he basically misses on the throw to Collins, but all 6’5 of Dacari Collins is able to sky and get the ball. A few plays later, he takes off too early.
KC’s short out is wide open here. Armstrong is staring right at it, but tucks his head and runs when he starts to feel the pressure. McMahon got beat, and that doesn’t help, but this was an easy throw if he stands in for one more second.
Armstrong is going to continue to be who he is, but fortunately, that's good enough to win if State can continue to get him in the right spots and run the ball. He is capable of some big time throws, and the touchdown to Gray was a pinpoint ball. Creating opportunities for these while still catering to what makes him dangerous worked on Saturday, and he had a great game. I don't want it to be lost in this article how much I admire this guy's resolve and maturity. In no world was this the season he was expecting to have, but his willingness to throw his body around against Miami sent a message to some people, and he has made the most of his opportunities the last few weeks. I love that that's the mentality leading this team.