There was a lot for Dave Doeren to like about Saturday’s 33-16 win over Wake Forest.
Doeren listed a few of them in his opening comments to the media after the game:
▪ No turnovers
▪ 200 rushing yards against a defense that came into the game ranked No. 12 in the country in that category
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▪ The emergence of wide receivers Stephen Louis and Kelvin Harmon
▪ The red zone defense: Wake kicked three field goals in the first half.
▪ A breakthrough for kicker Kyle Bambard, who made a career-best 48-yard field goal and both of his FG attempts.
The list of mistakes was shorter but no less important. N.C. State was flagged 14 times (one defensive offsides happened on the same play as roughing the passer penalty and did not count in the final stats) for 144 yards.
That’s a lot of penalties, the most actually, since a 2012 loss at Miami.
But Doeren said he would take Saturday to enjoy the win and then come in on Sunday and figure out what went wrong.
“We’ll come in tomorrow and we’ll be hard on ourselves tomorrow,” Doeren said after the game. “We’ll talk about and we’ll fix it. I’m not going to stay up all night, but tomorrow I will.”
What Doeren found in film study was seven penalties by his defense, five by the offense, one on special teams and one on him, actually, for a sideline infraction.
Of the penalties, four were of the personal foul variety with two coming on roughing the passer calls, one on safety Josh Jones for entering the fray too late and another by center Joe Scelfo for the same.
In theory, those are the easiest ones to “get off the film” as Doeren put it.
The trickiest to fix are probably the pair of chop blocks called on left tackle Tyler Jones and left guard Garrett Bradbury called on the same drive at the end of the third quarter and start of the fourth quarter.
After looking at the broadcast version of the game tape, it’s hard to fault either call on N.C. State. On the first, Bradbury hits the Wake Forest defensive lineman in passing and leaves him before Jones comes in for a cut block.
On its own, Jones’ block is legal but it is a penalty if Bradbury has the same defender engaged in a block. It’s a common sense safety rule to protect the defense. But in this case, which nullified a long run by Matt Dayes, the two blockers weren’t really engaged at the same time.
The second call, again on Jones and Bradbury, was actually even more questionable. The defender was actually holding onto the back of Bradbury’s jersey, while the Wolfpack guard was pulling, and then he was cut by Jones. Bradbury was clearly not engaged with the defender.
Doeren was clearly miffed after the game by those two calls in particular.
“They’ve changed the rule on cut blocks,” Doeren said. “We’ve been blocking like that since the season started and it hasn’t been called. For whatever reason tonight it was illegal and I’ll find out why and I’ll coach it better.”
The personal foul in the fourth quarter on safety Shawn Boone was the most costly. He will have to sit out the first half of this week’s game with Notre Dame as a result of the targeting element of the call.
The officials got this call right. Boone initiated contact with this helmet and made helmet-to-helmet contact with Wake Forest tight end Cam Serigne.
The targeting rule is tricky, and be interpreted differently by different officials, but you can’t lead with your head and that’s what Boone did.
The other penalties: false start (Jones), delay of game (Ryan Finley, presumably), illegal substitution on defense, pass interference (Mike Stevens) and holding (Nick Lacy on a punt return) are all fairly standard.
Doeren could probably live with those five penalties on the balance, it’s reducing the other ones that will help N.C. State going forward.
▪ Ryan Finley threw for a career-best 300 yards and again was efficient on short routes (as he has been all year) but there was more of a willingness to let his receivers make some plays in this one.
Jaylen Samuels first touchdown was a clear example of “Hey, my guy is better than your guy” kinda play. Samuels was being covered by Wake safety Jessie Bates in the slot and Finley threw a 50-50 ball and let hit Samuels go up and make a play. The result was a 13-yard touchdown.
Finley later hit receiver Kelvin Harmon for a 7-yard TD in the left corner of the end zone on a similar type isolation play.
One criticism of Jacoby Brissett, the starter the past two years, was he was hesitant to take chances, and risk turnovers. Brissett was unlikely to throw the ball unless his target was wide open.
Finley has now gone four games, and 116 attempts, without throwing an interception, but he was clearly willing to take more chances on Saturday. With the talent level about to pick up — and quickly — the success of State’s season will be determined by how many of these type of plays its offense can make.
And, conversely, how well its defense can hold up when it faces more talented skill players.
After charting all of Finley’s throws, he was 15 of 23 on passes less than 10 yards and 8 of 13 on his attempts of 10-plus yards and 2 of 4 on attempts longer than 20 yards.
His numbers continue to be stronger throwing to his right and his best throw of the season came on a 36-yard touchdown pass to Kelvin Harmon in the second quarter down the right hash.
It was Finley’s lowest completion percentage (63.9) of the season but three of the 13 incompletions were drops.
▪ The “JaySam Pitch Count” chart made its television debut, thanks to Wes Durham and his crew at Fox Sports Carolinas.
Samuels led the Wolfpack in receiving on Saturday with seven catches for 50 yards and he added two rushing attempts for 24 yards.
Samuels, unofficially, was on the field for 36 of the 76 offensive plays. He was lined up as a slot receiver in 27 of his 36 plays.
A sore right foot has slowed Samuels some in the past two games. He was on the field only 41.4 percent of the time in the past two games (Old Dominion, Wake) compared to 73 percent in the loss at ECU.
One thing of note from Saturday’s game, freshman tight end Thaddeus Moss played 20 snaps and receiver Jakobi Meyers was on the field for 10 snaps. They’re being used in Samuels’ stead in most cases.
For the season, Samuels leads the Wolfpack in receptions (20) and touchdowns (7). He has scored, on average, every 4.8 times he touches the ball.
▪ Safety Josh Jones had his best game in an N.C. State uniform. He finished with 12 tackles, a sack and broke up two passes (including one in the end zone).
Jones had a difficult sophomore season in 2015 but he has bounced back this season. His strength is making plays in front of him, and not behind, which can make life tough for a safety.
But the way defensive coordinator Dave Huxtable used Jones in some blitzing situations should help down the road.
Jones had one sack, as a result of a blitz, and Bradley Chubb’s second sack — with Wake driving in the fourth quarter and down 26-16 — was helped because Jones blitzed and they had to use an extra blocker on Jones instead of helping Serigne, who was left to block Chubb one-on-one.
Jones and Chubb will be key factors on defense as business picks up with Notre Dame, Clemson, Louisville, Florida State, Miami and UNC still left on the schedule.
Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio