NC State’s anemic offensive performance doomed it in Friday night's 13-10 loss to Louisville, and it’s a shame, because this was a gem from the defense. This game was the football equivalent of throwing a two-hitter with 12 strikeouts and losing 1-0.
State basically did nothing well on offense. Armstrong was poor, the receiving corps racked up two more drops, and the offensive line really struggled. This was truly grueling to watch, and it’s not hyperbole to call it the worst offensive performance in years. That's something, because there were some clunkers last year. NC State had 209 offensive yards, its lowest output since it swam to 198 yards in Hurricane Matthew against Notre Dame. It’s the worst non-hurricane output since 2014.
You can pick your poison if your State’s offense right now. Armstrong is taking the brunt of the criticism, and he has been increasingly poor, but the offense’s issues really start with its inability to run the ball and end with Armstrong.
Armstrong is the team’s leading rusher, and I suspect this is the case because State struggles so much to block base run concepts that QB misdirection plays help it manufacture a run game that otherwise wouldn’t exist at all. Michael Allen is the team’s best back, and he’s averaging 3.2 yards per carry over the last two games. This isn’t a knock on Michael Allen at all. I’d be shocked if he’s averaging more than a yard before contact.
State did some shuffling on the line in this game. Jacarrius Peak played at right tackle and McKay scooted back inside to guard. Not sure if someone got banged up or State is searching for better interior line play, but answers on the offensive line rarely come quickly. The Pack ran for a harrowing 89 yards at less than three yards per carry. Armstrong had 61 of them. The backs had 14 carries for 28 yards.
Part of me thinks people have kind of accepted this, which is why Armstrong is catching more heat than anyone. 14 carries for 28 yards is not winning you any game. That is just plainly not good enough. State has tried to maneuver around this as best it can with scheme, but when you cannot run block, you can only scheme around that to a point, especially when the quarterback and wide receivers are struggling too.
This is outside zone, a pretty standard run call that State and a million other teams use all the time. It gets exploded by two things. First, Cooper, the center, loses badly to the defensive end. You can see him get knocked backward by the end's punch. Allen's aiming point here is the outside of the tackle, but he'a supposed to bend the track to the B gap when the block gets turned outside. Cooper getting shoved into the backfield hurts the flow of the play by forcing Allen around him, and the penetration on the backside prevents a cutback inside of Cooper. Then, there's a miscommunication that leaves the backside linebacker unblocked. He's able to get underneath the releasing guard, Eason, who releases to the playside linebacker instead. Those are the two players who end up in on the tackle.
State's run blocking issues over the years have had more to do with matchups than communication and scheme. People always want to see more creativity, but if you can't block base concepts, scheme does not matter. State is still struggling here, but now it is young on the line and it's facing the mental mistakes that naturally come with playing youth.
This is just a miscommunication. This is a read option play, and Armstrong makes the right decision when the linebacker on the edge stays outside, but the breakdown on the left side of the line shuts the play down. Cooper, the center, tries to release to the middle linebacker, while Belton (74, left tackle) is responsible for the end. The Sam linebacker outside Belton is supposed to remain unblocked, and Armstrong reads him and decides to give the ball or pull it based on that read. Belton basically blocks the wrong guy here.
Regarding the passing game, the ship has sailed on Brennan Armstrong at this point. He was poor for the fourth time in five games on Friday, with the only exception being VMI. Some people were ready to pull the plug on this after Notre Dame, and that really wasn't fair, but the trajectory since then has been level at best. We’re five games deep now and the data sets are larger, and the data points continue saying the same thing.
I don’t know what State’s answer is at quarterback. If you’re adamant that it’s MJ Morris, that’s fine, but you’re making some assumptions when doing that. I do believe it’s worth a shot though, because this kind of thing is back breaking.
This is a good read from Armstrong. The blitz is coming, and Lesane’s slant will occupy the space the blitz leaves. Lesane gets held badly on the release of the route, and the referee has decided that is okay, but it doesn’t matter. The throw isn’t even really close. State likely wins if it cashes in this redzone possession. It’s just a back-breaking mistake.
All of this impotence from the offense only becomes more frustrating when you juxtapose it with the defensive performance. This was nearly Tony Gibson’s magnum opus, and it just went to waste. Louisville brought one of the best offenses in America to Raleigh on Friday, and its only touchdown drive of the entire game started on State's side of the 50. This all happened with two backup safeties starting and a third-stringer finishing the game.
I was particularly concerned about Louisville’s play-action game, but State handled it really well. It was much more disciplined on the back end. Savion Jackson was a difference maker, as he always is against the run, and you can’t say enough about the plays Payton Wilson makes for this team either. Just for the sake of your own sanity, don’t let the work of this defense the last two years go underappreciated.
That’s really all I have to say about it. There’s no point in beating around the bush here. State’s offense is bad in basically every facet. It’s bad enough that it’s sinking a team that only needed an average offense to have a really good season. It has poor quarterback play and it cannot run the ball, and, well, last time I checked, there is only passing and running. If you know of a third play, please do share.