‘Simple execution’ costs NC State in loss at Wake Forest
A fumble at the goal line, an interception in the end zone and mishandled, bobbled, uncaught passes... drops: “Simple execution, that was it.”
Shawn Boone said the words, applying it to NC State’s defensive failures, but it’s the serve-all explanation for what the Pack (7-4, 5-2 ACC) lacked in its 30-24 loss to Wake Forest.
As the Wolfpack chased the lead on the road the entire game, tying the score four different times but never leading, the team was never as sharp as it needed to be.
“You make some plays, you miss some and I experienced that tonight,” wide receiver Kelvin Harmon said. “There was no excuse, it was just flat out drops.”
Stephen Louis was ruled out for the game day-of because his “ankle just wasn’t good enough to play,” Dave Doeren said, so it was on Harmon, Jakobi Meyers, and freshman Emeka Emezie to finish plays in the passing game.
His first start in Winston-Salem was not Ryan Finley’s most accurate. The starting receivers collectively were not as effective at playmaking as they were in many moments at other times this season, either.
Finley completed 34 of 52 passes for 327 passing yards and one game-ending interception.
Rookie Emezie caught five of the seven passes thrown his way at Wake Forest, after making just six catches for 65 yards in the 10 previous games this season (against Louisville and Pittsburgh, he played only on special teams). In the biggest appearance of his young career, Emezie finished with 67 yards on his five receptions, catching his first career touchdown before losing one game-altering fumble with 1:51 left to play.
“He’s brokenhearted, as you’d expect him to be. He was as excited as you’ve ever seen a kid after his first touchdown. You feel for him, it’s obviously not intentional,” head coach Dave Doeren said. “He didn’t have good ball security, you could see him swinging it as he was going in. He’ll learn from it. Too bad it was that play, it was the play that could’ve put us up by one (point).”
While the offensive ‘oops,’ were more obvious, the defense simply felt the Demon Deacons had their way most of the night.
Wake Forest (7-4, 4-2 ACC) amassed 334 total yards of offense on 56 plays, making the most of its plays to NC State’s nearly-double 94 in the game. Wake Forest averaged 13.0 yards per catch and 6.0 per play.
“We couldn’t get after (quarterback John Wolford), so they had a lot of passing yards,” Bradley Chubb said. The unit struggled lockdown on the Deacs’ run-pass option, despite knowing well how the line blocked for the system and their playmakers.
But, the look of the offense and the blocking on the line was something Doeren’s team expected. It’s part of why the team shifted Boone, moving him to safety to help eliminate missed tackles at the position, Doeren said. The way Wake Forest ran the football the last few games led NC State to make the change, hoping Boone would be able to help limit the ground production. While Matt Colburn II (who averaged more than 160 yards per game in his last three outings) was minimized to just 38 rushing yards, the exploitation in the passing game made the difference.
Chris Ingram’s fill-in start at nickle for Boone put the freshman defender in a regularly-targeted position -- but Doeren insists it was because of Wake’s tendencies, not a rookie target on his back. Regardless of reason, Tabari Hines caught all three of WF’s receiving touchdowns as Ingram dove after him into the end zone while Hines had a career night with 139 yards and the three scores.
Senior safety Boone made the biggest defensive play of the game, a third-quarter interception to redeem a fumble by Jaylen Samuels one play earlier at the Pack’s own 41-yard line. But that isn’t even worth mentioning, he said, given the outcome.
Louis’ injury is one thing and Nyheim Hines’ permanent exit with 9:23 left to play in the third quarter is another, but the moments were still there to be capitalized on and simply weren’t.
“We had enough players to win the game, we just didn’t make enough plays,” Doeren said. “That’s the bottom line.”
For a team that flat out knows it can play better and has the resume and improved season to show for it, another (of many) losses in Winston-Salem was nothing other than inexcusable -- even with newcomers in key roles and injuries nullifying the Pack’s typical contributing cast.
“As a team we didn’t execute -- offense, defense -- we’ve got to just take it, go on to next week,” Chubb said. “I can’t pinpoint one thing, but we’ve just got to go into next week with a full head of steam.”