With Saturday’s 20-6 win over Miami, NC State has firmly entered the they-can’t-keep-getting-away-with-it zone. What an infuriating prospect it must be to reconcile what happened on Saturday night if you’re the Canes. Miami moved the ball more efficiently all night. It had more yards, it had nearly twice as many first downs, and it lost to a team whose leading rusher was its backup quarterback. NC State is finding a way. There could be only one way to win a game, and it feels like State would have found it the last two weeks.
Defense Breaks Miami's Heart
Defensively, because we’re definitely starting with the defense, the Pack just made all the big plays. Believe it or not, this was actually State’s worst performance as a rush defense this season. That’s true. A game where it gave up 6 points was its worst showing against the run this year. Mark Fletcher was the third back to post a 100 yard game against State this year, following only Audric Estime of Notre Dame and Jordan Waters of Duke. Estime recorded 80 of his 134 yards on one run fit bust and Waters had 83 of his 123 on one play. Teams have blown a few open but nobody has consistently ran on State. Fletcher averaged 5 YPC for the game and still averaged 4.5 if you remove his longest run. This is a complement to Mark Fletcher. I was super impressed with the quickness of his cuts and his vision. They have a good back.
The Canes were running the ball rather consistently. It did not matter. Miami broke the NC State 30-yard line five times on its first 10 drives of the game. State gave up six points on those drives. The Canes averaged one lonely little point per redzone possession. The only time the ball made it into the endzone was when it was being intercepted by Aydan White.
The Pack got an endzone interception, a 4th-and-1 stand, and forced three field goal attempts on those five drives. That’s the story of the game. State wasn’t significantly better over the course of this game. It just made more game-altering plays and fewer mistakes. That was their MO last week, and it was this week too.
State had two monster sequences in the shadow on its own goal posts. This was very close to a Canes touchdown.
This is the kind of stuff that has beaten State this year. Miami did a lot of it. There was a lot of RPO and play action in this game for the Canes, and it worked a fair amount, but Fordham rescues this here. He crashes but he finds the running back here and stays with him. If Fordham is a step slow here, Miami is in the endzone or at worst has a first and goal on the one. It's a still a productive play, but it’s great individual effort and recognition to save this from being 6. A play later, on 3rd and 1, Miami false started. Make a play, catch a break.
On the 3rd and 6 that followed, Miami also should have scored a touchdown, but another great individual play from a linebacker denied them paydirt.
This is wide open. State is in a zone here and it’s rushing four guys. This is an RPO from Miami, and the Canes run a corner route from the slot with a slant underneath. Van Dyke pulls the ball out when Scott crashes down and the play works perfectly to create the throwing window. The corner route briefly occupies Robert Kennedy and Scott is too shallow. The slant is right there, but Jaylon Scott just BeeJay Anyas this ball 10 yards backwards. Two touchdown-saving plays from linebackers on play action. Utterly massive sequence.
I wanted to highlight this individual effort as well. This play isn’t going anywhere regardless, but holy moly Savion Jackson.
Jackson does not get near enough credit for how good he is against the run. He just knocks the guard off balance with a punch and then the athleticism of a 300-pound guy to shoe string this is something. A pancake is an offensive lineman stat, but Jackson should get one of those syrup bottles for planting this guy. One way to stop the run is by simply deleting the blocker in front of you.
Now on to the 4th and 1 stop. We just talked about Savion Jackson and Jaylon Scott. They are the key operators on the biggest play of the game if not the season.
Jackson gets double-teamed here. He gets a great punch again off the line and 600 pounds of human cannot wash this guy down the line of scrimmage at all. Jaylon Scott beats his block to the inside and is the first to hit the running back. Finally, Travali Price is giving up some serious size to the F-250 Miami has installed as the lead blocker, and he is not moved at all by him. State clogs this play like it’s a toilet and the Pack has just polished off $50 worth of Taco Bell. What a play by three relatively underappreciated guys on this defense.
Give Payton Wilson all the accolades. There is no praise he can receive that he doesn’t deserve, but there are some baaaad men on this defense not named Payton Wilson.
MJ Morris Struggles
This was Morris’ worst game. That’s not really meant to be as strong of a statement as it sounds. He’s played seven games, and was pretty good in many of them. He’s taken a lot of hits though, and he seems to be fighting through some pain. One thing I loved about Morris last year was how calm he was. He had pretty good pocket presence for that young of a quarterback. He’s looking a little erratic and unsure of himself right now.
I think everyone should still be very high on Morris. There is a lot of talent here, and I think we’ll see it come back to life when he can settle down a little more. The game still needs to slow down for him. This is who he can be.
This is such a good play. It’s an RPO, and Morris reads the linebacker, who is pretty low at the snap and stays down. Peak loses the edge badly though, and when Morris pulls the ball, he has a defensive end in his face. He stands in and throws a very accurate ball. Heck of a play.
Morris will make some high-level plays, and then he will do something weird. That's pretty much the experience with every young but talented quarterback ever, and he is not immune to the learning curve. I thought Morris played well against Marshall and against Duke. He was actually pretty solid against Duke, but six dropped passes erased that effort. He has not had the same accuracy the last two games, and he missed some opportunities in this game.
The defenses he's facing should lighten a bit now after a really formidable three-game stretch. There is no doubt he struggled on Saturday, but he's seen the field well and made good decisions in the past. He just needs a chance to play through some mistakes. The way this game was called certainly made it seem like State was down to let him do that, and he made a big-time throw at the end of the game from inside his own endzone. I'm really not worried about Morris long term.
Raphael Ends The Game
State’s game-sealing touchdown was a memorable play for a number of reasons, the first being it was really well blocked. I think Kendrick Raphael might be the team’s best running back. He’s decisive and has pretty anticipation and vision. He struggles in pass protection, which will hold him back for now, but he’s a good runner.
For all the shenanigans that Robert Anae has pulled out to get this team some points, it’s ironic that this is just an inside zone play. But then again, there is always more than meets the eye.
When State motions Dacari Collins, it creates an additional gap that Miami doesn’t fit. This problem becomes large when Miami’s number 0 tries to blitz the C gap between Pennix and Belton, and Pennix bulldozes him into a different time zone. It’s an easy cut for Raphael and it’s a first down, but that’s when things get funny.
I am absolutely fascinated by this tackle attempt by number 20. I would like to sit down with this gentleman and interview him about this. I am dying to understand what the plan was here. He just kind of hurls the top of his body in the general direction of Raphael, not unlike an extremely drunk guy in a bar fight. This might be the worst tackle I have ever seen in a football game. The collision knocks Raphael away from the rallying Miami tacklers, and one of them falls trying to cut back. 20 would have been more effective on this play if he was literally a tackling dummy.
Robert Anae Strikes Again
Anae’s usage of personnel, motions, and formations is something I’ve really started to appreciate. Every week, State is running things that are not on film and expanding on the things that are. The Pack has zero traditional run game, and yet it’s been able to affect the game as if it does because of how it’s utilized Concepcion. It's found a way to create some explosive runs with these sweeps and pop passes for Concepcion. Defenses are aware of this, and State has built lots of play-action concepts from there.
State got Miami eating these up on a couple of occasions. Watch the linebackers flow toward the boundary on KC's motion and fake. Conceptually, this is just play action, and State runs this action a fair amount. Look at the space it creates. Anae found a thing that worked, created opportunities for it, and then built other concepts off of it. Morris probably could have hit Toudle as the second-level read too. He definitely makes the right play taking a profit, but the play call fooled every Canes linebacker.
This is a similar concept later in the game.
Miami does a better job staying home here, but the Pennix wrinkle creates a positive play. State runs the high route with Gray and the flat route with Allen, but Pennix at the H trails across the formation. It's the same play as above from a different formation, but with an added route. Miami diagnoses everything but the wrinkle, and Pennix gets five yards on a play that probably goes nowhere otherwise. State is manufacturing offense out of giving the ball to KC and pretending to give the ball to KC.
Jordan Poole's first career score was another great use of some eye candy. State went with a heavy package on 3rd an 1 with its short-yardage back and Poole, who has zero career receptions, as a lead blocker. Miami did not pick up Poole at all.
One thing I particularly liked about this game was how the play calling never turtled. State was having a rough go of it in the second half on offense, but at no point did they manage this game like they were just trying to nurse the lead. They played to win, and after a half where the offense’s most notable accomplishment was strongly considering gaining a yard, it ripped off a 97-yard touchdown drive to throw the knockout punch.
That drive started with a 3rd and 7 completion with Morris standing in his own endzone. State continued to show confidence in him even after he had a brutal game, and there’s a pretty good chance Miami wins this game if State just calls a quarterback draw there, gets three yards, and punts. This is awesome. Let the guys play the game and let them make plays. It was another dirty route from KC, and Morris hit him.
Culture Wins Games Too
Culture is something that is hard to quantify, but being 2-0 the last two weeks is probably as close as you can get to some sort of measurement of the culture in Doeren’s program. This season was in a fragile state after the Duke loss. They weren’t done fighting though.
This is why I loved Doeren’s postgame explosion after Clemson. It sends a very positive message to the team, a message I’m sure has been delivered countless times, but never so publicly and so vociferously. This team needed some juice. Everything it was doing from how it called plays to how it defended the read option seemed very uncertain. Getting these games in the win column is a testament to coaching and culture, and just like that, State is 6-3 and coming in hot.