N.C. State coach Dave Doeren has the right idea.
“We have to get back to fundamental football,” Doeren said after his team’s perplexing home loss to Boston College.
The question is how do you turn an idea into reality? It doesn’t get more basic than blocking. N.C. State can’t do that right now. If you can’t block, you can’t run. If you can’t run, you can’t win — at least not against good teams. N.C. State ran for 31 yards against the Eagles, a week after being held to 14 yards by Louisville.
When you lose a one-score game, there’s an inclination to look for all kinds of reasons for the loss. The penalties, eight for 94 yards, certainly didn’t help. Ignoring Jaylen Samuels didn’t either.
But really this is pretty simple and it goes back to the loss at East Carolina. If N.C. State can’t get Matt Dayes going, N.C. State can’t be good.
Dayes had 106 yards (22 carries) at Clemson on Oct. 15. They were mostly tough yards when his team needed them the most in the fourth quarter.
Since then, Dayes has run the ball 24 times for for 58 yards, or 2.4 yards per carry. Eight of those 24 rushes have gone for zero or negative yards. That means a third of the time he runs the ball N.C. State has either lost yards or merely gotten the ball back to the line of scrimmage. That’s not good.
Doeren understands this.
“It’s next to impossible to be a good offense when you have (31) yards rushing,” Doeren said. “I don’t care who you play it’s impossible.”
Dayes was shaken up on a hit to the head early in the second quarter against Louisville last week and didn’t play the rest of the game. He returned to the lineup against Boston College and appeared to be physically fine.
He did have five catches for 33 yards, although he bobbled one perfect pass from quarterback Ryan Finley that led to a third-quarter interception.
A running back’s job is to make the first person miss and Dayes is struggling on that front. But on three of his first-half carries against Boston College, there was an obvious missed block.
On N.C. State’s first play of the game, Dayes came in motion and ran a sweep across the formation. Normally reliable tight end Clark Eyres missed a block on the edge and Dayes lost four yards.
On Dayes’ second rushing attempt, left guard Garrett Bradbury missed a kick-out block and Dayes lost two yards.
In the first half, Dayes ran five times for a total of minus-7 yards. Three of his five rushes went for negative yards.
He didn’t have positive rushing yards until he broke off a 24-yard run off the right side (with a nice block from tight end Thadd Moss) with about 6:30 minutes left in the third quarter.
Dayes finished the game with 19 carries for 45 yards. So he had the one good run and 21 yards on the 18 other attempts. Again, that’s not good.
He got the ball twice, after N.C. State got first-and-goal at Boston College’s 2-yard line on its last possession of the game and couldn’t advance the ball either time.
Finding the end zone has been an issue this season for Dayes. He has one touchdown in four ACC games and four in eight games this season. This after he scored 12 touchdowns in seven and a half games last season.
N.C. State needs more from Dayes and he needs more help from his line.
▪ Quarterback Ryan Finley was better than he was against Louisville but threw two interceptions for the third week in a row.
The first interception, after Dayes’ bobbled a perfect pass, was not Finley’s fault. The second one, in the end zone to seal the win for Boston College, was a clear miscommunication. Only Finley and receiver Steph Louis know who was wrong there but it doesn’t change the end result.
Obviously, the more N.C. State can run, the more it helps Finley, who finished 23 of 41 for 307 yards with a pair of touchdowns.
Finley continues to be better at shorter, manageable routes, 19 of his 23 completions were thrown less than 10 yards. He threw a great timing route on a slant to receiver Bra’Lon Cherry that went for a 79-yard touchdown.
Finley continues to struggle with the deeper throws. He was 4 of 10 on throws that went longer than 10 yards. All four of his completions were to his right, by the way, which makes the decision to throw an alley-oop to his left on the last drive an odd one.
Here’s Finley’s passing chart from the game:
▪ Covered a lot of ground on Jaylen Samuels yesterday. The team’s leading receiver was only targeted three times: a completion for eight yards that was undone by a personal foul penalty, a batted pass and a poorly thrown fourth-down pass.
Samuels’ production has dropped as the season has progressed. His usage was an issue last year, too.
I asked Doeren about Samuels’ lack of involvement after the game and prefaced the question by pointing out the topic is low-hanging fruit. Again, when a team loses a close game, you can slice it up a million ways and some of the answers aren’t as simple as we think.
Samuels’ success is contingent, to a point, on how well the ground game can get going and some of the play-fakes they can use off those runs. But, with first-and-goal from the 2, and Samuels on the field in the “JaySam Play” formation (a double wing), don’t overthink it. Give him the ball and, at the very least, make Boston College stop the play.
Throw your best pitch and let the other team beat your best. Die with your fastball. Samuels is the fastball. He can’t touch the ball once in a game with 41 pass attempts.
Adding insult to insult, Boston College ran the “JaySam Play” in the second quarter and Jeff Smith took it 60 yards to the house.
▪ Football recruiting is a funny business. Everyone knows N.C. State shot for the stars with five-star defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence, from nearby Wake Forest High, and lost out to Clemson.
There was nowhere near the hype for defensive end Harold Landry coming out of Fayetteville Pine Forest three years ago. Landry was considered a three-star recruit. He picked up some late interest from bigger-name programs but the Eagles got a gem.
He was the best player on the field on Saturday and it wasn’t even close. N.C. State had no chance in blocking Landry, who officially only had four tackles but drew penalties, forced a fumble and stopped Dayes on a key goal-line run on the last series.
You can’t keep everyone in state, and N.C. State is quite pleased with its defensive ends, but it’s gotta be tough to be an N.C. State coach and see Landry dominate the way that he did.
Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio