Dave Doeren’s second year as the head coach of North Carolina State can be summed up in one word: successful. After finishing a mere 3-9 in his first year with the program, Doeren coached his team to a 5 win turnaround, good enough for the second best win improvement from the previous year in the FBS (only behind Mississippi State). The Wolfpack went 3-5 in ACC play after starting the year 4-0 out of conference, and then closed out a successful campaign with a nice win over Central Florida in the Bitcoin St. Petersburg Bowl. This huge turnaround could not have been accomplished without the strongly consistent play of junior QB Jacoby Brissett, a transfer from Florida playing in his first year for NC State. He amassed over 2600 passing yards and over 500 rushing yards, with 26 total touchdowns and just 5 interceptions. Brissett’s uncanny ability to evade pressure and make critical plays gave his team the chance to win plenty of games this year, and compete at a fairly high level. NC State started off the season picked to finish 5th out of 7 teams on the ACC Atlantic Division, and finished the season 5th overall, if you look at total record (in and out of ACC play). They were expected to have an average year, with improvement from the one before. In the end, however, they had an above average season, with some impressive play at the finish.
In the nonconference section of State’s schedule, there were not any super challenging games. The Wolfpack wisely scheduled a little easier, seeing as how they would have some difficult games once ACC play set in. They quickly got off to a 4-0 start, taking down Georgia State, Old Dominion, South Florida, and Presbyterian pretty easily. Then, the ACC season started off with a matchup at home against the number 1 team in the nation, Florida State. The Wolfpack started about as strongly as possible, and quickly took a 17 point lead before blowing it in the second half, in the first of many FSU comebacks. They lacked the ability to close the game, and some inexperience showed as a couple of key turnovers turned the momentum away from NC State. After playing so well against such a good opponent, it looked like the Wolfpack was destined for a good season in conference play. However, the next game, at Clemson, was the worst game of the year for State – by far. They were completely manhandled by the Tigers, and lost 41-0. State would later lose to Boston College and at Louisville, both difficult matchups for them. Then, they picked up their first ACC win in nearly two years as they won at Syracuse. This win turned the tides for the young team from Raleigh. After a loss against a faster and better Georgia Tech team, NC State picked up another ACC win in a home game against the dismal Wake Forest Demon Deacons. State dominated this game en route to a 42-13 victory. A couple weeks later came NC State’s signature win of the season, in which they marched into Chapel Hill and dominated the Tarheels, winning by 28 points. This win was the defining moment of the season, and it is what many State fans would say made the season successful. A huge win over their biggest rival was State’s greatest accomplishment. Later, NC State added to the success by winning an exciting game against Central Florida, a 9-3 team at the time, in the St. Petersburg Bowl.
Thus ended a successful season for NC State. Expectations were never too high in Raleigh, but NC State got what they wanted from the football team. After one of the worst seasons in program history, the Wolfpack went 8-5 and won a nice bowl game. They closed out the season winning 4 of their last 5 games, and rode the hot streak to the end. At times they looked overpowered, and at times they looked overpowering, which is what they are hoping for in the future. It is this future that the Wolfpack can now look forward to. They have Brissett for one more season, and should be able to polish him up into one of the better dual threat quarterbacks in the ACC. He is a solid quarterback and possesses many skills as a leader and a player. Around him, the Wolfpack have one of the most balanced offenses in college football. The rushing attack was huge this year, as State, led by Shadrach Thornton and Matt Dayes, totaled 2659 yards and 26 touchdowns on the ground this year, leading to the best rushing season in school history. Passing, Brissett had 2606 yards and 23 touchdowns. This shows the great balance and ability of both aspects of offense. Another feature, not only of the offense, but of the whole team, is the youth and majority of underclassmen. NC State featured 21 freshmen on a much improved defense by the end of the year. These guys will stick around and make the Wolfpack defense a strong force in the years to come. In fact, 85 of the 117 men on the roster were freshmen and sophomores, which is astounding. These guys will improve a lot with more experience, which was already showing by the end of the season. The Wolfpack also boast a solid recruiting class for the next two years, which will help out even more.
Overall, NC State had a successful season, finishing better than many expected of them. With the second best turnaround in College Football, and a very good and competitive QB to lead the way, as well as tons of young guys with room to improve, there is plenty to look forward to in Raleigh.
Georgia Tech (8-2, 5-2 ACC) was a 3.5 point favorite going into Saturday’s matchup against the NC State Wolfpack (5-5, 1-5 ACC). The game in Raleigh promised to be a great matchup, and one that would see an explosive Georgia Tech offense against a streaky Wolfpack team, both offensively and defensively.
The first quarter delivered on these expectations, as GA Tech took an early lead on a quick touchdown, before NC State made it a 13-7 game on two redzone scores, one of which being an athletic, leaping touchdown by Jacoby Brissett. For the time being, it appeared as though NC State had the momentum, with the home crowd behind them. The momentum changed hands quickly at the end of the first quarter, then entering the second. The Yellow Jackets had a long rushing TD to close out the first quarter, making it 14-13 at the end of 1. It seemed like the game could continue this way, and anyone watching was in for an exciting shootout. However, when the second quarter commenced, DJ White had a 38 yard pick 6 for Georgia Tech, and then the defense again contributed on the ensuing Wolfpack drive, as a 43 yard fumble return touchdown made it a 28-13 game. The Yellow Jackets were in complete control from there on out, and went in to the half winning 35-16.
The second half was much of the same. Georgia Tech’s defense stifled the NC State attack, and their fast offense had two more touchdowns in the third quarter. By the time the final quarter rolled around, NC State had lost all momentum and the game was completely out of reach. Georgia Tech took a 56-16 lead with 10 minutes to go in the fourth, on a redzone touchdown pass, putting one final strike on the scoreboard. The Wolfpack would come back to get in the endzone once more, but that was not nearly enough, and came about three quarters too late.
Other than the first quarter of the game, NC State looked like they had throughout the first 4 ACC games. The offense struggled with consistency, and the defense was gashed repeatedly for long gains. After allowing just 38 rushing yards the week before, NC State’s defense had gaping holes in it this week, and it allowed a mind-blowing 479 rushing yards in one game. Quite frankly, it was a horrendous showing not just for the defense, but for an offense that turned it over three times, and was outscored 42 to 10 in the final three quarters of gameplay. Jacoby Brissett, who has been safe with the ball all season, threw two costly interceptions. One of these was at the Georgia Tech one yard line, and led to one of the strangest plays college football has seen all year, as Georgia Tech intercepted a batted around ball and ran it back before fumbling away the ball on the other side of the field.
Georgia Tech, unlike NC State, came out ready to play and kept the energy going for the entire game. They threw the ball only eight times for 70 yards, but the ground game was fantastic. Led by 157 yards from Synjyn Davis, the Yellow Jackets picked up a whopping yardage total to go along with 5 TDs on the ground. They looked like a team with a plan, and one that executed the plan well, which led to a clobbering of NC State.
Coming off this game, NC State has two games remaining, as they look for one more win to make it into a postseason bowl. The Wolfpack take on Wake Forest next week, in what is their best chance at a bowl game, before closing out the season with a visit to Chapel Hill to play longtime rival North Carolina.
Turnovers: GA Tech 2, NC State 3
Rushing Yards: GA Tech 479, NC State 155
3rd Down Conversions: GA Tech 8-10, NC State 6-12
Time of Possession: GA Tech 36:30, NC State 23:30
The cries of victory echoed far and wide from the NC State locker room on Saturday night, and rightfully so. The Wolfpack earned their first ACC victory in nearly two years – and the first under head coach Dave Doeren – against Syracuse, winning by a score of 24-17. The Wolfpack improved their 2014 record to 5-4, and came one win closer to a bowl game in the process.
In the last four weeks or so, ever since NC State’s 4 game skid began, the defense and special teams has been under heavy scrutiny. However, this all changed on Saturday, when the Wolfpack defense held Syracuse to a mere 38 rushing yards on 37 carries, while throwing in 8 sacks in the win. The defense contributed the turning point of the game, when Pharoah McKever, a WR turned defensive back, returned an interception 82 yards for a touchdown, giving State a 17-14 lead over the Orange. The kicking game was strong for NC State as well, as Nikolas Sade was 3-3 on field goal attempts and gave his team a 9-0 lead early in the game. Special teams played their part for State also. Punter Wil Baumann was called upon 8 times for NC State, and landed 4 of those inside the 20 yard line, which kept Syracuse from having great field position all game.
The Wolfpack were not able to sustain a full drive long enough to score a touchdown at the beginning of the game, as three drives resulted in only three points. The momentum seemed to shift to the Orange when AJ Long threw for a touchdown going into the half, then on the first possession after halftime, which gave Syracuse a 14-9 lead. When Syracuse got the ball back again in the third quarter, it seemed as if they were going to score another touchdown, for a third straight possession. They made it to the redzone, and a score seemed imminent until McKever picked off Long for his first ever INT, and first touchdown. The momentum turned towards the Wolfpack, and it stayed on their side for the remainder of the game. Late in the fourth quarter, Jacoby Brissett threw a swing pass to the outside which was taken 18 yards and into the endzone by Shadrach Thornton, one of State’s key offensive playmakers. NC State took a 24-14 lead, and closed out the game with a 24-17 victory.
NC State’s defense came out strong, and stifled the Syracuse ground game throughout the victory. AJ Long was forced to throw a lot, and attempted some difficult throws. He ended the game 22-42 for 307 yards and 2 TDs, while also throwing 2 INTs, part of three total turnovers by Syracuse. Meanwhile, Jacoby Brissett and NC State were able to control the offense well, as the Junior QB was 20-32 on the day, throwing for 186 yards and a touchdown, without a turnover. In what was a very evenly played game all day, NC State harnessed some momentum and played their way to the first ACC win on the season.
Key Stats –
Rushing Yards: NC State 121, Syracuse 38
Turnovers: NC State 0, Syracuse 3
Time of Possession: NC State 31:18, Syracuse 28:42