Given that Hurricane Matthew completely altered the way both N.C. State and Notre Dame like to play, there are only so many conclusions to draw from the Wolfpack’s 10-3 win Saturday.
Center Joe Scelfo was able to boil down one point from what he called a “crazy game.”
“We grew up,” Scelfo said.
N.C. State’s win can be dismissed as somewhat fluky – a blocked punt in a game filled with mistakes did ultimately provide the game-deciding points.
Or it can be simply be chalked up to N.C. State holding serve on its home field. This is a 2-4 Notre Dame team that lost at home to Duke two weeks ago.
But there was a little bit more to it than that. If there is one thing N.C. State can definitely hang its hat on from this one-of-a-kind game it would be the Wolfpack’s ability to overcome mistakes.
That was not the case at East Carolina on Sept. 10.
In that 33-30 loss in Greenville, N.C. State couldn’t get out of its own way. The defense couldn’t make a stop for the offense. The offense couldn’t convert a crucial third or fourth down to make it easier on the defense. The points that were given away on coaching gambles on special teams couldn’t be made up.
Against Notre Dame, through mostly the fault of the weather – although not entirely – N.C. State’s offense and special teams kept trying to give Notre Dame the game. Each time, N.C. State’s defense wouldn’t let them.
On N.C. State’s first drive, it had an 8-yard touchdown pass from Ryan Finley to tight end Cole Cook wiped out by a procedural penalty.
Receiver Stephen Louis, split wide to Cook’s right, was on the line of scrimmage when the ball was snapped. That meant Cook was “covered up” and an ineligible receiver on the play.
Notre Dame stopped the subsequent third-down attempt, and Kyle Bambard missed a 31-yard field goal.
That’s seven points the Wolfpack offense gave away with a basic, things-you-learn-on-the-first-day-of-practice penalty.
But N.C. State was able to overcome the mental error. The defense forced a punt, stopping Notre Dame on a running play on third-and-2. The offense took the ball down the field on the subsequent drive and Bambard shook off his miss and made a 38-yarder.
The teams traded fumbles to start the second quarter. Nyheim Hines was hit by defensive tackle Daelin Hayes and gave the Irish the ball at N.C. State’s 22-yard line at 9:56 in the second quarter.
After a questionable taunting penalty on N.C. State defensive end Bradley Chubb gave Notre Dame new life on fourth-and-20, N.C. State’s defense kept the Irish off the scoreboard.
Chubb sacked Notre Dame quarterback DeShone Kizer on first-and-goal from the 11, and then freshman safety Jarius Morehead picked Kizer off in the end zone on third down.
In the third quarter, it was punter A.J. Cole’s turn to put the defense in a bad position. Cole fielded the snap at N.C. State’s 25-yard line and inadvertently took a knee when he was trying to catch the ball.
The Irish managed a total of 2 yards on three plays, with Chubb coming up with another sack. Justin Yoon did make a 40-yard field goal to tie the score.
Two plays later, Matt Dayes fumbled at N.C. State’s 22-yard line and put Notre Dame in business to score again and realistically put the game away five minutes into the third quarter.
But N.C. State’s defense was able to come up big again. Defensive end Kentavius Street sacked Kizer on first down and cornerback Jack Tocho knocked away a pass for receiver Equanimeous St. Brown at the goal line on fourth down.
Three times N.C. State gave Notre Dame the ball inside the 25 and all the defense gave up was three points. Crazy weather conditions or not, that’s good for the Wolfpack going forward.
▪ Since Notre Dame has never played Duke and N.C. State in the same season, we don’t have a precedent for what losing to both in the same season means but you can extrapolate that those losses can’t be good for coach Brian Kelly’s long-term employment.
Kelly really didn’t help himself on Saturday, either.
Among his mistakes:
▪ To start the second half, Kelly chose to go with the wind in the third quarter. In a close game, in unbelievable conditions (or any conditions really), you want the wind in the fourth quarter, not the third.
N.C. State had the choice after the half to take either the ball or the wind. It wouldn’t have been a bad choice to let Notre Dame have the ball just to get the wind in the fourth quarter.
Kelly let N.C. State have both.
▪ The series after Yoon made a 40-yard field goal, Kelly elected to go for it on fourth-and-12 from N.C. State’s 24-yard line instead of letting Yoon attempt a 41-yard field goal.
To be clear, his kicker just made a field goal from 1 yard closer on the same end of the field and had the wind at his back, but Kelly opted to go for it on fourth-and-12. Notre Dame did not convert on fourth down.
▪ After watching N.C. State use mobile backup quarterback Jalan McClendon effectively run the ball out of the single wing, Kelly left his mobile backup quarterback Malik Zaire on the bench.
McClendon had 10 carries for 56 yards, all in the second half. Notre Dame did a good job on Dayes in the second half but struggled with McClendon.
With 5:06 left in the game, and Notre Dame down 10-3, Zaire did come in and run the ball. He slipped and lost 1 yard. Kizer returned on the next play, and Zaire’s day was done.
After a late errant snap by Sam Mustipher, Kelly let his junior center have it on the sidelines. Hopefully, after watching the game tape on Sunday, Kelly yelled at himself for letting his players down. Too bad there were no television cameras there to capture the coach embarrassing himself the way he did one of his players.
▪ No Ryan Finley pass chart this week. The rain rendered Finley largely ineffective. He was 5-of-12 for 27 yards. He bobbled a flea-flicker toss on the first play of the game and, in general, was having trouble securing the ball.
McClendon came on in the third quarter and did a good job of taking care of the ball and running it.
▪ A hurricane can’t stop the “JaySam Pitch Count” chart.
Light work day for Jaylen Samuels, who was on the field unofficially for 26 of N.C. State’s 65 plays.
With so many running plays, Cole Cook, Clark Eyers and Thadd Moss were used at tight end/H in blocking situations. Also, the return of Hines from an ankle injury cut into some of Samuels’ slot plays.
The flea-flicker was designed to go to Samuels, but Finley dropped the toss back from Dayes. Samuels did finish with four carries for 16 yards and had one catch for 6 yards.
He lined up in the slot on 11 of his 26 snaps and eight at H-back. The two at running back were in the “victory” formation.
It’s the first time this season Samuels didn’t score a touchdown. Going back to the 2014 Bitcoin Bowl, it’s only the fourth time in 19 games Samuels has been held out of the end zone.
Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio