NC State football: Wolfpack’s inconsistent ground game the poster child for loss to Boston College
Eventually, NC State was going to fall short in a tight matchup.
With a chance to reach 8 wins for the 3rd straight year, the Wolfpack blew a 10-point halftime lead Saturday against Boston College, as Emmett Morehead connected with Joseph Griffin with 14 seconds left for the winning score. Time remained on the clock, but it was a formality. Eagles 21, Wolfpack 20, on Senior Day.
“I don’t really know what to say,” NC State coach Dave Doeren said after the game. “I’m pretty down for these kids. Obviously, we didn’t play well enough to win, didn’t coach well enough to win.”
Since starting quarterback Devin Leary went down with a torn pectoral muscle Oct. 8 against Florida State, each of NC State’s 2 wins — Virginia Tech and Wake Forest — could have flipped in the other direction. Even against the Seminoles, a late Jordan Travis interception (on an utterly ill-advised throw) was what prevented another blotch from being added to the loss column.
Take the 1st half of Saturday’s loss. As has been the trend since he took over as the starter under center, MJ Morris was efficient throughout the afternoon. During the opening half, the freshman was 8-of-12 for 124 yards and a score, as NC State headed to the locker room leading 17-7.
But early on, it was the run game that did the trick. During the opening 2 quarters, 5 players carried the ball for NC State (Morris, running backs Michael Allen, Jordan Houston and Demie Sumo-Karngbaye and receiver Julian Gray).
The quintet, led by Allen’s 9 carries for 66 yards, accounted for 150 yards on 22 pops — an average of nearly 7 yards per rush. Even Morris reached the end zone on the ground, on a nifty 10-yard read-option keeper that put NC State ahead 14-0.
If, and this is a big if, the Wolfpack run game can continue what it got done against the Eagles during the 1st half, this group could be dangerous (and unique) heading into the final 2 weeks of the season.
But the thing is, the final 2 quarters yielded a much more troubling outlook. During the 2nd half, NC State’s offense was unable to continue its dominance of the trenches. 22 more carries came, but only 50 yards accompanied those rushes, for a measly average of 2.3 yards per carry.
With Morris going just 4-of-12 for 11 (you read that right) yards during the 2nd half, the Wolfpack was stuck in neutral offensively. That contrast to the opening half, with rhythm being replaced with stagnation, allowed the Eagles to mount a rally.
The early successes on the ground were a welcome and rare sight for the offensive unit. Last year, despite going 9-3 and scoring more than 33 points per contest, NC State ranked 2nd-to-last in the ACC in rushing yards per game, at 126.2 yards. Through 9 games this year, the Wolfpack ranked 11th, at 124 yards. Things simply have not been easy to come by on the ground.
But the 1st half Saturday offered a glimmer of hope, until the script was flipped over the final 30 minutes.
And this was against woeful Boston College, a team that had only 1 other conference win, a 1-point home victory against Louisville last month. The tale of 2 halves trend, particularly if it includes more inconsistency in the run game and more pressure on Morris to throw it, cannot continue against Louisville and North Carolina.
What makes the loss sting even more is the fact that many seniors will never suit up for a game again at Carter-Finley. Football players whose careers were impacted by the pandemic, are afforded an extra year of eligibility, but the likes of graduate students Thayer Thomas (receiver) and Grant Gibson (center), major staples of the 24-9 run since the start of 2020, will be gone.
“They’re incredible people,” Doeren said of the senior class. “I love every one of them. I’m thankful they’ve been in my life, and I’m blessed to be their coach. I hate we didn’t get that win for them tonight. They’ve done a ton for NC State, for this program.”
Just 30 minutes stood between the Wolfpack and an 8-2 mark Saturday. Doeren could have continued 1 of his best coaching jobs yet, and the program could have remained in the hunt for a New Year’s Six appearance. Plus, a possible top-15 showdown with the Tar Heels on Black Friday could have creeped closer.
But down the stretch, the NC State run game just could not get it going, and it resulted in a close affair for Doeren and company, in a season that has been defined by them.
Eventually, the Wolfpack was going to lose one of them. This time, it did.