NC State held on late to outlast East Carolina, 21-20, at Dowdy Ficklen Stadium in Greenville, North Carolina, on Saturday in the season opener for both schools.
Here is a list of things that did not go well for the Wolfpack.
1. The Passing Game
The promotion of Devin Leary for the Heisman Award will be cooled off for at least one week. Leary barely completed half of the passes that he attempted and had a critical interception late.
The worry for NC State is that East Carolina provided something of a template for how to defend Leary. Rushing three defenders and leaving eight back to defend the pass makes it harder for a quarterback to find the openings. Also, at least against ECU, the Wolfpack lacked a long-ball threat. Its longest pass play was 24 yards.
Early in the game, the Wolfpack tried a throw opposite of the strong side on Leary's second pass attempt of the contest. As he waited for Carter to get open, a window to run and probably get the first down emerged. Leary stood and waited before firing incomplete to Devin Carter. If the quarterback does not run, it behooves the defense to stay back and defend. ECU did that well.
2. Goal Line Offense
NC State could not push the ball in despite getting to the one-yard line twice in the second half. A golden opportunity for the Wolfpack to put ECU away was squandered.
The first one was the result of a Jordan Houston fumble near the goal. Turnovers are killers, but they do happen. That is a cut-and-dry failure. Do not put the ball on the ground. There is no astute analysis needed.
The second failure came right after the first when the NC State defense held ECU, and the ensuing punt was returned 36 yards by Thayer Thomas. With the drive starting deep in Pirate territory, the Wolfpack has to come up with some points.
There were weird stoppages by the referees as the ball was being snapped, but, ultimately, NC State has got to put the hay into the barn.
The bizarre series at the goal line had a weird play call -- a run play with the quarterback in a shotgun on fourth and goal at the one-yard line -- and a strange tactical decision -- going for it on fourth down when taking the points via field goal would have given NC State a two-possession lead. The Wolfpack coaching staff has a lot to chew on with that period of the game.
3. Third Down Conversions
NC State converted four third-down conversions in 13 attempts. ECU was successful nine times in its 17 third-down plays.
Third-down conversions extend drives and fatigue a defense. The Pirates had the ball for over four more minutes than the Wolfpack. The NC State defense played well, but not getting stops on third-down made it harder than it had to be.
4. Fading Late
East Carolina head coach Mike Houston made some interesting comments after his team's loss. He declared that the Wolfpack was not ready to play four quarters, and he may have been correct.
More likely, his team and the play calls from his staff were better late. ECU had a nifty 37-yard completion to Keaton Mitchell on the final drive of the game -- where the speedy back was defended by a linebacker with absolutely no chance to keep up. The Pirates also did not panic in the second half, running the ball well against the NC State odd front despite trailing.
A two-possession lead may have changed the dynamic, but ultimately NC State will be right to worry about almost squandering victory in its opener.
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