Quarterback Ryan Finley said after the game that he should have managed the clock better on N.C. State’s last drive but either through confusion or official error, N.C. State lost about 7 seconds after Bra’Lon Cherry’s 14-yard first-down catch.
Cherry appeared to get out of bounds after his catch near the ECU sideline with 24 seconds left. The referee signaled to stop the clock. It’s unclear if the signal to stop the clock was for the first down or if Cherry got out of bounds (the ESPN broadcast cuts away from the ECU sideline after the initial signal).
Finley, and N.C. State’s coaches, operated as if Cherry was ruled out of bounds and the clock wouldn’t start until the snap. If they had known the clock was going to start, they would have spiked the ball.
Instead, the clock started while N.C. State was lining up and Finley didn’t snap the ball until the 17-second mark. Finley missed running back Matt Dayes on a pass on the subsequent play which left 13 seconds. After another incompletion to Dayes (which was probably a good thing), there were 8 seconds left.
Finley found Cherry again over the middle. He caught the ball with 4 seconds left and probably should have slid down as soon as he caught it (he had enough yards for a first down). The clock would have stopped momentarily for the first down. If everything went perfectly, N.C. State might have been able to spike the ball and attempt a game-tying field goal.
With the 7 lost seconds available, N.C. State would have had more options.
▪ In somewhat of a mystery, Finley’s passing totals from the play-by-by in the official scorebook – and after I charted them – add up to 259 yards, not the 254 he’s officially credited. The error seems to be in the first half on a play when Cherry fumbled.
Finley completed 9 of 12 passes for 166 yards (he’s credited with 161) in the first half and finished 20 of 31 for 259 yards with one touchdown. He also ran for a 15-yard TD.
Just like the William & Mary game, Finley excelled in the short passing game and he was more efficient throwing to his left.
Finley was 13 of 18 on pass attempts less than 10 yards and completed 10 of his 14 total attempts to his left, including two deep shots to receiver Stephen Louis.
Louis’ 80-yard touchdown was Finley’s best throw (which went about 35 yards in the air) and the quarterback’s only passing touchdown.
Finley was 6 of 12 on pass attempts to his right and 1 of 4 on attempts longer than 10 yards. Notably, he missed a wide-open Dayes on a sideline pattern in the second quarter for a sure touchdown — a drive that stalled the next play when Cherry fumbled a screen pass.
Finley had one other missed touchdown in the third quarter on a wheel route by Jaylen Samuels. It wasn’t a bad throw by Finley but Samuels was open and with just a little more air, it would have been six points. That’s the series that ended with the fake field goal attempt.
▪ Samuels finished the game with a team-high five catches for 41 yards and four rushes for 16 yards and a touchdown.
There was some grumbling about his touches but he was targeted in the passing game eight times — with one drop (on the second-to-last drive), one overthrow (the missed TD) and one pass-breakup. He was shaken up early in the fourth quarter after taking a clean shot in the ribs from ECU safety Dashawn Benton.
Samuels was on the field, unofficially, for 46 of N.C. State’s 63 snaps or 73 percent of the plays. That’s still better usage than last year.
Plus, coordinator Eli Drinkwitz tried to run Samuels at quarterback, he had two carries for 0 and 3 yards from a “wildcat” formation, but ECU wasn’t buying it.
For the game, Samuels’ snaps broke down by position as: slot (35), H-back (6), RB (3), QB (2).
▪ This is going to come off as blaming Matt Dayes, when he ran for 103 yards, but the bottom line for N.C. State to be really good is Dayes has to be really good.
Dayes had a 54-yard run to open the third quarter and he finished with 103 yards on 14 carries, which works out to 7.4 yards per pop. Looks good but on his 13 other carries he had 49 yards (3.7 per pop). He was particularly ineffective in the first quarter with five carries for 11 yards.
Again, Dayes didn’t lose the game, far from it, but for N.C. State to reach its potential, and steal some of the games left on its schedule, Dayes has to be exceptional. That just wasn’t the case on Saturday.
▪ N.C. State’s defense misses Mike Rose. The defensive end led the Wolfpack with 10.5 sacks and 15 tackles for loss last season. Junior Bradley Chubb was expected to fill his role as the primary pass rusher but Chubb’s main contribution on Saturday was lining up offsides on third down to extend a scoring drive for ECU.
N.C. State had one sack (split by linebacker Airius Moore and defensive end James Smith-Williams), and six quarterback hurries, on 43 pass-attempts. That’s not enough pressure, especially since pass coverage is not the defense’s strength.
Speaking of pass coverage, N.C. State uses a lot of zone underneath, which ECU quarterback Philip Nelson picked apart, particularly in the second half. Nelson was 17 of 18 for 129 yards in the second half. It was clear he was picking on N.C. State’s linebackers, Jerod Fernandez in particular, in coverage over the middle.
The troubling sign for N.C. State was how effective ECU was in using motion, and seemingly confusing N.C. State’s defense. Clemson, Louisville, North Carolina — and any other team that’s interested in winning — is going to watch what ECU did and use that against N.C. State. The scary proposition is those teams have more all-around talent than ECU.
▪ On the topic of controlling what you can control, penalties hurt N.C. State again. The Wolfpack was flagged for eight penalties — including one on the coaching staff for sideline interference.
You can’t beat yourself. You have to work the margins and N.C. State hasn’t quite figured that out four years into Dave Doeren’s tenure.
On that front, N.C. State athletic director Debbie Yow said before the season that Doeren would not be coaching for his job this season.
Things can change, especially if Doeren turns in another 3-9 season, but it’s worth noting that Doeren’s contract runs through the 2019 season. The buyout would be $2.52 million if he were to be replaced after this season.
Yow’s contract goes through the 2018-19 academic year. She has said she will retire when this contract is up. You can extrapolate from there her interest in making a coaching change in the 7th inning of her career.
Again, I don’t know what will or won’t happen, those are just the numbers involved.
It’s also prudent to consider there are 10 games left.
Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio