Where the heck did that come from? Maybe it was the bye week, and the chance for the team to relax a bit and start from scratch. Or maybe it was there all along, and it just took the right opponent.
Whatever the reason, this was a different Hoos team than we saw all year. The Hoos dominated from the opening kickoff and pretty much had the game out of reach early in the 2nd half. The final score of 33-6 shows just how dominant they were, but there are other numbers that show it even better.
The Hoos outgained the Pack 446-216. That included 248-19 on the ground. They also forced 5 turnovers and turned it over just once. They held the ball for nearly 37 minutes.
Despite the big win, there are still concerns. The main things that had hampered the Hoos during their losing streak were turnovers, penalties and special teams errors. Well the turnover problem was corrected in a big way. The Hoos, who had just 1 interception on the season coming into the game, picked State QB Mike Glennon off 3 times.
But the Hoos had 10 penalties for 72 yards, so that is still a problem. And the special teams were still poor. NC State had 3 big punt returns. Two were called back on penalties. One of those penalties was part of the play and likely aided the big return. The other was behind the play, and did not impact the long return. It should be noted that both penalties were drawn by TE Jake McGee, who has become the best special teams player on the team. The third long punt return ended with a fumble and a recovery by the Hoos.
The Hoos also missed a 23 yard FG and had one punt return for minus-1 yards. The Hoos only returned one kickoff, which was after a safety, and it was an 18 yard return. That set up field position at the 45 yard line, so it isn't too bad. The Hoos also allowed NC State to recover an onsides kick in the fourth quarter, when everybody knew it was coming. That should not happen. Special teams remains a big weakness for this team.
The offense was able to run up almost 450 yards by mixing up run and pass. The QB position, which had struggled all season, was better. Both Phillip Sims and Michael Rocco got to play, with the two basically alternating series. Neither QB was great (they combined to be 20-35 for 198 yards and 2 TDs), but both were acceptable. The push that the OL was getting against a very good NCSt front 4 was making the ground game very successful. When we are running the ball like that, our offense is so much more potent. Play action works much better, and teams are forced to cheat a little bit against the run, giving more time to the WRs.
So, the losing streak is over. The Hoos are now 3-7. A bowl game is still possible. Let's not kid ourselves though, NC State played very poorly. Teams aren't going to turn it over 5 times. And the penalties that saved us on their punt returns won't always be called. We still have things to fix.
As always, some notes:
- The Hoos DL was tremendous in this game. The group had all 6 of the teams' sacks and all 8 of the TFLs. They added a forced fumble, fumble recovery and an INT. Of all that, 2.5 TFLs, a sack and the INT came from true freshmen. The forced fumble along with 2 sacks and 2.5 TFLs came from Chris Brathwaite, a sophomore. And 2 sacks, 2 TFLs and the fumble recovery came from juniors. Just 1 sacks and one TFL came from senior Will Hill. In other words, the future is bright for the Hoos on the DL. Very bright indeed.
- True freshman Maurice Canady had his first start, and garnered ACC co-Defensive Back of the week. Canady had an interception along with a team leading 7 tackles. In truth, though, sophomore Demetrious Nicholson was the better DB in the game. Tra had one pass defensed and 3 tackles, but also had great coverage on a number of deep passes that Glennon was unable to complete. Canady has looked better and better as the season has gone on. Canady and Nicholson are going to make a very good CB duo for the next 2 seasons.
- Even the safeties are looking better. Anthony Harris had an interception and 6 tackles. Brandon Phelps had 4 tackles and 2 passes defended. I still think that Rijo Walker warrants a look at Phelps' spot, because I still see Phelps out of position far too often. But he certainly looked better, especially in pass coverage.
- I've mentioned the DL and the DBs. The only defensive unit left is the LBs. Obviously, we know what to expect from Steve Greer and LaRoy Reynolds. Both were fantastic this week. But sophomore DeQuan Romero was also fantastic in his first career start. Romero had 6 tackles and was all over the field. I have to admit, I was wrong about Romero. He'd been a DE in high school and I didn't think he had the athleticism to be a true LB. I'm excited about his potential.
- True freshman Demeitre Brim forced a fumble on special teams, and he's gotten more and more snaps on defense. Brim will be fighting for a starting spot at the WILL position next season, with Reynolds' departure. His speed will be an asset there.
- Kevin Parks was, once again, the leading rusher on the team. He led the team with 25 carries, to Perry Jones' 11. Jones had 6 receptions. Jones is a very good football player. He can block, he can run, and he can catch. And, as we saw in the first quarter and we've seen a few times before, he can even throw. But, as I've been saying all season, Parks is a better runner and deserves the lion's share of the carries.
- Michael Rocco also had 5 carries for 36 yards. I don't know if the runs came from game situation, or if he has been coached to look to run more often, but those runs were big. For everybody saying that Sims was the better athlete, watch some of those runs. Rocco is a good athlete for a QB and can absolutely use his feet when a play breaks down.
- The WRs still drop far too many passes. Not all of the drops were great throws, but all were catchable. Jake McGee dropped a potential first down and Darius Jennings had a couple of drops. These are the guys who have been making plays this season, so I'm giving them the benefit of the doubt. But we've dropped far too many passes this year.
- On the other hand, there was Paul Freedman's one handed grab near the end of the first half. It was only about 5 yards, but man what a catch that was. It is a shame that Freedman is graduating, because it feels like he just got here. Freedman is talented enough to have had a much more successful career. His freshman year was wasted by Al Groh for just a handful of snaps. Since then, he's had to split time with Colter Phillips and other TEs and has never really gotten a chance to be the #1 guy.
- I don't care what the score is; you cannot punt inside your opponent's 30 yard line. I think that should be a rule. It should be illegal to punt inside your opponent's 30. If it was illegal, then coaches wouldn't do it. That was a terrible, indefensible call and I was appalled. Both Drew Jarrett and Ian Frye have the leg for a 46 yard FG. And if you aren't confident that they can make the FG, they shouldn't be on the team. If you don't want to risk a block or simply a miss, then you go for it. Punting made no sense. A 13 yard punt was useless. It literally took NCSt 1 play to get back to where the ball was. We averaged over 5 yards per rush on the day. It was 4th and 4. Go for it. For the record, I would've kicked the FG.
- Punting later on from the State 33 yard line on 4th and 22 was better. That one is defensible. 4th and 22 is a longshot to say the least, and a 50 yard FG is pushing it even for a good college kicker. And obviously, you do not want to give NCSt the ball back in good field position. Never mind that Rashard Smith returned the punt 48 yards. Also never mind that he fumbled and we recovered.
- Alec Vozenilek has had a solid year punting the ball. His average of 41.8 yards per punt ranks 48th nationally. He has also dropped 18 out of 49 punts inside the opponent's20 yard line. However, he has struggled somewhat in recent weeks. Wake Forest had a big return on a punt, which really wasn't Vozenilek's fault as the coverage made mistakes. This week's big returns were, in part, Vozenilek's fault because the hangtime on his kicks was short. While he hasn't had a punt blocked in his career, he's had a few close calls. NCSt almost blocked a punt in the endzone early in the game which could've changed the course of the game completely. To his credit, he did recover the fumble forced by Demeitre Brim on Rashard Smith's big return.