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September 29, 2008

Monday morning quarterbacking: S. Florida

The NC State-South Florida game Saturday evening at Carter-Finley Stadium was not pretty, especially from a Wolfpack fan's perspective. South Florida dominated all aspects of the game, winning 41-10. Here is The Wolfpacker's version of Monday Morning Quarterbacking.

Key moment of the game:

It's really hard to find a "key moment of the game." Simply put South Florida's dominance was evident from the first couple of drives of the game. When NC State went three-and-out on its second possession after South Florida jumped out to a 14-3 lead, in hindsight the game was effectively over. The Bulls would go on to score another touchdown to make it 21-3. In South Florida's first three drives, the Bulls had just three third down plays, and all three were third down and one plays.

Three Things That Worked:

1. Big plays
This year NC State has had problems getting big plays or stopping them. This game though they held their own in that department. South Florida defensive coordinator Wally Burnham remarked after the contest that he had never seen a game where a quarterback, in this case NC State redshirt junior Harrison Beck, completed only nine passes but had 239 yards passing. That's an average of 26.6 yards per completion.

2. T.J. Graham's kick returns
Overall, true freshman T.J. Graham continues to show he has a nice future returning kickoffs for NC State, and it probably is just a matter of time before Graham busts one loose for a touchdown. He averaged a healthy 27.2 yards per return, and that included a long of 47 yards. Graham has raised his season average to 23.4 yards per return, and in his last three games is averaging 26.1 yards a kick return.

3. Third quarter play
South Florida had a comfortable 31-10 lead at halftime, so perhaps the Bulls were taking their foot off the pedal some, but NC State's third quarter performance was better than the first half. They forced South Florida to punt for the first two times of the game on their first two possessions and held them to a field goal on their final drive of the half. State also went into South Florida territory on both of their first half possessions, including an 11-play, 84-yard drive that ended when Beck threw into triple coverage on a fourth and goal play. NC State outgained South Florida 121-77 in the third quarter.

Three things that did not work:

1. Defense
The numbers speak for themselves. South Florida had 514 yards of total offense, 29 first downs, ran for 239 yards, threw for 275 while completing 21 of 33 passes (63.6 percent) and converted 7 of 14 third down opportunies. South Florida had a 35:47 to 24:13 time of possession edge. In this game, the absence of redshirt junior defensive tackle Alan-Michael Cash, redshirt sophomore linebacker Nate Irving and redshirt sophomore safety Javon Walker showed.

2. Offensive consistency
The big plays were nice, but NC State had next to no consistency on offense. After an impressive opening drive, the Pack went three and out on their next two possessions. While Beck had several long pass plays, he only completed 9 of 32 passes and had three picks. NC State converted only one of its first four third down conversions, then were successful on four of its next six, but did not convert any of their last five.

3. Cutting out mistakes
Twice bad snaps, one on a punt and another high and mishandled by Beck, led to safeties in the second quarter. There were sure to be some defensive missed assignments. State lost the turnover battle 3-0. With all the injuries, NC State needed to minimize mistakes, and that did not happen.

Breaking down the position battles:

NC State's OL vs. South Florida's front seven
South Florida only had one sack, although they did have six hurries, and four tackles for losses. NC State's trio of running backs, senior Andre Brown, redshirt junior Jamelle Eugene and sophomore Curtis Underwood ran 21 times for 84 yards, an average of four yards per run. State's offensive line was not great, but they were not a major problem overall either against South Florida's front seven.

NC State's front seven vs. South Florida's OL
No sacks for NC State, and really not much pressure on South Florida's Matt Grothe all game long. Then there was the running game. Overall South Florida's offensive line was very physical against State's front seven and won the battle handedly.

NC State's WR vs. South Florida's DB
Give NC State's receivers credit. They got open down the field quite a bit on South Florida's defensive backs. Redshirt freshman Steven Howard caught a 41-yard pass and sophomore Owen Spencer caught passes of 48 and 36 yards. Graham too once got open deep but Beck could not connect with him. Still though NC State's wide outs only caught six passes in the game, and South Florida's defensive backs broke up seven passes.

NC State's DB vs. South Florida's WR
South Florida's receivers exploited NC State's secondary. They got open, often times wide open, and Grothe found them because he had little pressure around him. State broke up just a pair of passes, and one of those was by junior defensive end Shea McKeen.

Quarterbacks
Grothe probably played the best game any quarterback had against NC State this year, completing 20 of 29 passes for 259 yards and a touchdown without a pick and adding 68 yards rushing on nine carries. Beck tried hard, and he took some hard hits, but overall was inconsistent.

Running backs
South Florida's Mike Ford, Ben Williams, Moise Plancher and Jamar Taylor combined to run 32 times for 149 yards, an average of 4.7 yards per run. State's running backs were not bad, but South Florida's were noticeably better on this Saturday night running the ball. Give Brown kudos for catching passes of 49 and 36 yards however.

Tight ends
Redshirt freshman George Bryan was not quite as effective in the passing game this week, catching just a seven-yard pass. South Florida's Cedric Hill gets the edge with his two catches for 27 yards.

Special teams
NC State had a long snap result in a safety on one punt formation, and a couple of times South Florida looked like they were close to busting a long return on the Pack. The bad snap though gives the edge to South Florida, although Bulls kicker Maikon Bonani did miss a field goal. NC State missed two opportunities when South Florida had high snaps on punt formations, but the Wolfpack did not have a heavy rush on either play.



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