While N.C. State’s offense moved along nicely Saturday, piling up yards and points under the direction of quarterback Jacoby Brissett, the Wolfpack’s defense did a lot of chasing and missing.
The Wolfpack had 495 total yards in beating Old Dominion 46-34, wearing down the Monarchs in the second half with a mix of strong running and Brissett’s passing.
Wolfpack coach Dave Doeren said he kept challenging and exhorting his defensive players, telling them, “The offense is rolling. You can see it. Just get them the rock.”
The problem was Old Dominion didn’t give up the “rock” very much. Senior Taylor Heinicke was cool in the pocket and accurate with his throws, and running backs Ray Lowry, Gerard Johnson and Cam Boyd punched out yards.
The Monarchs had 306 yards of total offense in taking a 21-18 halftime lead, finishing with 504 yards. Their punter never left the bench as Heinicke handled Old Dominion’s only punt – a 53-yarder in the fourth quarter – and the Monarchs converted 15 times on third- or fourth-down plays.
“Our biggest disappointment is just our tackling on defense. That’s something I know we can do better,” Doeren said.
Missed tackles were a season-long malady a year ago as the Wolfpack went 3-9. With games against Florida State and Clemson coming soon, the defense will need to shore up its tackling and become more physical to be competitive.
Doeren said the Monarchs’ offensive game plan was a sound one, forcing the defensive staff to make rapid adjustments.
“We could not get off the field on third down in the first half,” Doeren said. “Going into the game, schematically, they hadn’t run as many run plays as they did tonight. They were running the ball different, schematically, and their tendencies were backward from what they were.
“We played better defense in the second half. Not great but better.”
Doeren said sustained drives by the Pack, with time-consuming use of huddles, helped rest the defense. One defensive change, he said, was bringing in the safeties to help against the run, leaving the cornerbacks to play one-on-one in the fourth quarter.
Early in the final quarter, the Wolfpack finally forced the punt after cornerback Jack Tocho denied receiver Zach Pascal on a throw down the right sideline.
“When the coach tells us to step up, it’s not really a challenge,” said Tocho, a sophomore from Charlotte. “It’s more like, OK, now you really have to focus and do your job.”
The Wolfpack got a boost from freshmen such as safety Josh Jones and 6-foot-6 defensive end Pharaoh McKever, a converted receiver who Doeren believes can be an effective pass rusher with his range and quickness. On Old Dominion’s last snap, a hard-charging McKever forced Heinicke into a poor fourth-down pass that fell incomplete.
“We have a great group of leaders (and) seniors who push the lower-classmen and look for us to make plays, too,” said McKever, a redshirt freshman from Tabor City.
The Wolfpack’s offense made plenty of plays. Running back Shadrach Thornton said the “big uglies” – his name for the offensive line – opened holes and the Wolfpack got a couple of good bounces. In the third quarter, Thornton dropped a pitch for a fumble but quickly scooped up the ball and turned it into an 8-yard gain to the Monarchs 2. On the next play, Thornton scored.
“The football gods are looking out for us right now,” Thornton said, smiling. “They know we put in too much work to lose.”
The Wolfpack is 2-0, both comeback wins, heading into its first road trip – at South Florida. Thornton noted Old Dominion is trying to establish a program but said the same could be said for the Wolfpack.
“We’re trying to show our Wolfpack fans and everyone around here we’re the real deal,” he said. “These are the kind of games that can make teams great later on. We can say if we’re down in the fourth quarter, ‘Hey, we’ve been here before.’ We know how to go out and get the win.”