September 25, 2010

Keys to the game revisited: NC State at Georgia Tech

Although the game started with some strong defensive performances, the Wolfpack and Yellow Jacket offenses eventually got going. After Asa Watson blocked a punt that Jarvis Williams scooped up for his first touchdown of the season, the Pack would take a 7-0 lead and never look back. The Pack proved to be too much for the defending ACC Champions and won 45-28.

The Pack moves to 4-0 for the first time since 2002 and are 1-0 in the conference.

Here are the Keys to the game revisited:

Get off to a fast start

What we wrote:Option football has always been successful, but one downfall that has stood the test of time is that they usually struggle in trying to come back when behind. Iowa had a nearly ideal start against Georgia Tech in last year's Orange Bowl. The Hawkeyes scored twice early to build a 14-0 lead, but then committed the sin of throwing a pick-six touchdown to Yellow Jackets cornerback Jerrard Tarrant. However, going up 14-0 early can frustrate a squad so dependent on running the ball, and Iowa went on for a 24-14 victory. It's a great offense when leading, but not suited to coming from behind. A strong start by NC State will take Georgia Tech out of its comfort zone, and a big cushion might even force the Yellow Jackets to pass more than they would like to.

What happened: Both teams started a little slow on offense, the Pack fumbled on their first possession and Georgia Tech could not gain a first down. The game eventually got going, though, and the blocked punt by Watson that led to Williams' score gave the Pack a 7-0 lead. Josh Czajkowski chipped in a field goal on the next drive, after missing his first attempt that would have been good for the game's first points, but the Pack would never trail in this game. Georgia Tech drew the score to 10-7 in the second quarter, but it would never get closer than three points as the offense routinely responded when Georgia Tech could damage the Pack's defense.

Capitalize on Georgia Tech's fumbles

What we wrote: Georgia Tech senior quarterback Joshua Nesbitt is talented at running the triple option, but he's also shown the first three games that he'll put the ball on the ground. The precision of the offense can get goofed up by an A-back slipping, or getting hit by a defender. Nesbitt has sometimes pitched without looking. Georgia Tech has fumbled seven times, and have lost three of them. Nesbitt also has one interception. NC State has done well this year on winning the turnover battle, and some lucky bounces could play a key role in deciding Saturday's game.

What happened: As expected, Georgia Tech put the ball on the ground four times and the Pack was able to recover the ball twice. The Yellow Jackets did a much better job of taking care of the ball in the second half, all of the fumbles came in the opening two quarters, but the damage was already done. The Pack recovered a loose ball on Georgia Tech's second offensive drive of the game and looked like they were in position to capitalize, but Czajkowski missed his first field goal attempt. The Pack would repeat the events on their second recovered fumble, with Czajkowski missing another field goal from the same distance, 31 yards. The Pack did a good job of scooping up half of the loose balls, but to not convert on either opportunity is disappointing.

Bottle up Anthony Allen on the interior

What we wrote: Georgia Tech senior running back Anthony Allen played pretty well the last time he faced NC State. The then-Louisville running back rushed for 85 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries, and caught one screen pass for 26 yards in a 29-10 victory for the Cardinals on Sept. 29, 2007, at Carter-Finley Stadium. The B-back will likely be knocking heads with NC State fifth-year senior middle linebacker Nate Irving a few times. Allen has rushed for 232 yards on 37 carries, but has yet to score a touchdown. He popped a 48-yard run against Kansas en route to 89 yards on 11 carries. Allen also tallied 115 yards on 20 carries against North Carolina. The A-backs haven't produced many big plays, other than Orwin Smith's 73-yard touchdown run against UNC. They might not hurt the Wolfpack as much as a steady diet of Allen and Nesbitt.

What happened: The Pack completely shut down the dive play. The Yellow Jackets' starting center went down early in the game, and their top back-up was scratched before the game, so it's easy to understand why Allen only gained 335 yards on 14 carries. The Pack's defensive tackles were a force in the middle of the field and dominated the short-handed interior of the Georgia Tech front line.

Pick up the blitz

What we wrote: Georgia Tech tries to confuse opponents with its new 3-4 defense under former New York Jets and Virginia head coach Al Groh. The Yellow Jackets try to blitz their linebackers from various angles, but not to the extent that NC State has been doing this year. Georgia Tech might not have any stars on defense this season - junior outside linebacker Steven Sylvester is off to a solid start with 14 tackles, two sacks and two forced fumbles - so there are areas that NC State can attac. Protecting redshirt junior quarterback Russell Wilson is the top priority for the Wolfpack. The back seven of Georgia Tech's defense is experienced other than freshman cornerback Isaiah Johnson, and three of the reserve defensive backs have past starting experience.

What happened: Russell Wilson was sacked three times and faced a steady stream of heavy pressure, but the Pack did a pretty solid job of giving Wilson time to exploit the defense. All three sacks came in the first half, so some halftime adjustments prevented the Yellow Jacket defense was inflicting much more damage on Wilson after the break. Georgia Tech did tally six tackles for loss, but the Pack was able to take advantage of the pressure Al Groh's defense brought and Wilson threw for a career-best 368 yards.

Matchups to watch

What we wrote:Georgia Tech wide receiver Stephen Hill vs. NC State cornerbacks C.J. Wilson and Justin Byers: Georgia Tech tries to lull opponents to sleep and then free sophomore Hill down the field for a big play. The 6-foot-5, 200-pounder leads the way with six catches for 75 yards and one touchdown. GT has thrown only 27 passes on the year, completing 10 for 204 yards. Redshirt junior Byers or redshirt sophomore Wilson will need stay mentally sharp and be ready for the occasional shot down the field to Hill, who is really the only receiving threat the Yellow Jackets have.

What happened: The Pack's defensive backs forced Hill into being a non-factor. Hill did not record a catch in the game, and the majority of Nesbitt's five completions were underneath routes that receives turned into big gains due to poor tackling on the Pack's part.

What we wrote:NC State tight end George Bryan vs. Georgia Tech's outside linebackers and safeties: Georgia Tech has had trouble with tight ends in the past, and new 3-4 defense could create some interesting matchups. Bryan has a team-high 10 catches for 101 yards and one touchdown, but is due for a breakout game. The opportunity could come against the Yellow Jackets.

What happened: Bryan only had one catch, but it was a phenomenal one-handed catch that went for 22 yards. Wilson spread the ball around very well, finding 11 different receivers for the second game in a row. Wilson is not one to force the ball to certain players, and he took what the defense gave him. Although Bryan didn't put up huge numbers, it might have been due to Georgia Tech's defense. Wilson found holes in the defense, though, en route to his 368 yards through the air.

NC State offensive player of the game: Wilson is the clear winner here. The quarterback had a career day, connecting on 28-of-41 attempts for a career-high 368 yards and three touchdowns. He made one mistake that Georgia Tech turned into a pick-six, but that proved to be something the Pack would overcome.

NC State defensive player of the game: Nate Irving was an absolute beast on this Saturday. The middle linebacker was a huge part of stopping the runs in the middle and totaled a career-best 16 tackles. Irving recorded nine solo stops, 2.0 sacks and 4.5 tackles for loss. He came up with big plays on third- and fourth-down all day.

NC State special teams player of the game: Asa Watson's blocked punt was called the play of the day in the post-game press conference by O'Brien. The coaching staff knew that the Yellow Jackets were breaking in a new punter, and the goal was to put as much pressure on him as possible. Watson's blocked punt led to the first points of the game and immediately took the crowd out of the game.

Play of the game: O'Brien called Watson's blocked punt the play of the game after the game so we'll agree with coach here. It gave NC State a 7-0 lead after a missed field goal and the Pack would never trail.

Run of the game: Mustafa Greene kept his scoring streak alive, running it to four games in a row that the freshman has recorded a score. Greene scored the final points of the game with 4:08 left on the clock to give the Pack the final tally. There were some longer runs, but this was the only touchdown on the ground and iced the game for the Pack.

Pass of the game: NC State nearly let the Yellow Jackets get back in the game when they put up two touchdowns in less than a minute during the fourth quarter. Wilson and the Pack responded by driving down the field and capped their touchdown response with a 23-yard strike to T.J. Graham. This play extended the Pack's lead back to ten points when the home team was really threatening and the crowd was starting to get back into the game. Graham shielded the defender from the ball and held on for dear life as he came down to the ground, but held on for our pass of the game.

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