Pack unable to overcome slow start, mistakes to earn bowl eligibility

November 20, 2016

NC State’s defense played well when its offense didn’t and the Wolfpack offense gained steam as the defense lost its force.

The result: a 27-13 loss to Miami on Senior Day, yet another missed opportunity for a win by a team that points to basic mistakes after the clock winds down.

A fourth-quarter drive, that started with NC State trailing 20-10 encompassed the type of frustrating play that has become the marque of the 2016 season.

On first-and-10 at Miami’s 24-yard line, Ryan Finley fail to connect with a wide-open Jaylen Samuels, who had a clear path down Miami’s edge of the field to the endzone. Finley passed to Nyheim Hines on the next snap for eight yards, then Matt Dayes ran 16 yards into the endzone. But NC State was backed up 16 yards on the third down because of clipping.

One bit forward, twice as much back.

Four plays later, NC State was up to the Miami four-yard line and lined up to convert its fourth fourth down of the day, but a false start penalty turned fourth-and-one into fourth-and-six, forcing the three-point, drive-ending play.

“There are three different things there, bottom line,” head coach Dave Doeren said. “You have to be able to hit the open man and whenever you do hit the open man, you have to be able to catch the football. Its fundamentals. The clipping penalty was a tough call, but we can’t do anything about it. It was on a line of scrimmage player who’s allowed to block low. (The official) saw an illegal block, so that’s his call. The false start’s a focus thing, that can’t happen. A lot of the things we’re talking about are fundamental things.”

The fundamentals were poor for the Pack from the start, not just in that painful final scoring drive.

“In the first half, we dropped five passes which lead to our inability to have success on third down,” Doeren said. “When you’re in a drive and you call a play, it’s protected and you throw it and you don’t catch it, that kills the situation. All those things add up.”

Even as the offense struggled to execute in the first half, the defense held the Hurricanes the three first quarter points -- holding the Hurricanes at State’s 13-yard line for three points of damage instead of seven.

A shutout second quarter by the Pack D, featuring another big stop at the six-yard line that became a missed field goal attempt, gave the NC State offense the chance to even the score by halftime.

But Miami scored on a three-play, 75-yard drive to open the second half as the Wolfpack defense relented well before the game ended. Doeren said poor tackling in the final 30 minutes of play hurt the team -- more failed fundamentals.

“We just had trouble wrapping up,” defensive tackle Justin Jones said. ”(We needed to) put a focus on wrapping them up and tackling them to the ground, or at least holding them so we could get the ball out and get a turnover or something. There’re never enough plays (made) if we don’t get the swing of the game going back our way.”

Miami went to its “bread-and-butter attack,” safety Josh Jones said. Hurricanes tailback Mark Walton rushed for 128 yards and the difference-making period of play was the one NC State said it had prepared for.

“Obviously we didn’t do enough, we could’ve gotten a stop at the end of the game and we didn’t,” said the safety, who lead the game with 15 tackles. “We just didn’t finish on defense. We played well in the first half and then in the third quarter, (Miami) came out and scored two touchdowns. We knew they were a third quarter team, that’s what we preached all weekend.”

There is no solace in a mere four penalties in the game, given that they were each committed at crucial times. Converting 75 percent of fourth downs doesn’t matter when none of them earned the Pack points and the one failed conversion came closest to the goal line. Defensive stops aren’t praiseworthy when they only last half the game and aren’t possession- and point-earning turnovers.

Even having senior running back Matt Dayes become the first Wolfpack player to rush for more than 1,000 yards since 2002 is seemingly irrelevant, bittersweet to the rusher himself, when a loss is as repetitive as this one is for NC State and keeps the program from having secured a postseason yet.

“It’s tough right now because there were a lot of mistakes made out on the field and a lot of missed opportunities, that’s why it hurts so bad right now,” Dayes said. “It’s correctable, we focus on these things all the time in practice. We’ve just got to come out and do it in the game.”

“Our guys are good enough to do that and have been,” Doeren said.

Now in the last week of the regular season, the Wolfpack believes that even though its mistakes are in basic areas of the game, the errors can still be fixed with just six days left of guaranteed play.

“We’ve got to continue to finish, to keep that momentum,” Josh Jones said. “We had a lot of close games this year, it’s kind of heartbreaking if we don’t make a bowl game. But we will make a bowl game, we are going to beat UNC.”