Dave Doeren crumpled up a stat sheet from Saturday’s 24-20 loss to Florida State after a terse news conference and slammed it into a garbage can on his way out the door.
You can understand Doeren’s frustration.
Doeren’s N.C. State team outplayed Florida State on Saturday night, as it did Clemson earlier this season. Doeren’s N.C. State team doesn’t have a win to show for either effort.
That is frustrating especially since how close the Wolfpack was in each game against the ACC’s two best programs. If a 33-yard field goal goes a couple of inches to the left at Clemson on Oct. 15 and if an interception is secured in the end zone on Saturday night at Carter-Finley Stadium, the Wolfpack has a sweep of the Seminoles and Tigers. (There isn’t a person alive who thought that was possible in August.)
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N.C. State has lost four games this season by seven points or less. The Wolfpack’s best win, 10-7 over Notre Dame on Oct. 8 is devalued with each mounting loss by the Irish (3-6).
Instead of riding high, Doeren’s N.C. State team is in the middle of a four-game losing streak. After a 4-1 start, it’s staring at the very real possibility of losing out, the way Doeren’s first team did, closing the 2013 season with eight straight losses.
Doeren mentioned last week his program, in Year 4, is not losing the same way it did in Year 1. That’s a fair point but it doesn’t ease the frustration from losing. There’s only one way to do that, and Doeren’s N.C. State teams only have three chances left at that this season.
▪ Shawn Boone’s dropped interception in the fourth quarter was the easiest play to circle back to as N.C. State’s denouement, but the previous drive is what really set up the loss.
Up 20-17, N.C. State got the ball back with 8:04 left at its own 35-yard line with a chance to put the game away. The first four plays of the drive went to senior running back Matt Dayes, who picked up 16 yards.
(Dayes, after two subpar games, finished with 104 rushing yards.)
The third-down play is the one N.C. State would like back. On third-and-5 from FSU’s 48, N.C. State quarterback Ryan Finley wanted receiver Nyheim Hines, who had nine catches at that point, on an option route to his left.
Hines started as the outside receiver on the numbers on Finley’s left. He came in motion to the left hash mark and ran 5 yards up the field, as he was about to plant and run back to the N.C. State sideline, Hines slipped.
Finley saw Hines slip and wisely didn’t throw the ball. But Finley rolled to his right. All of his receivers were all running routes in the other direction. With no options, Finley ate the ball and was sacked for a 5-yard loss.
N.C. State punted the next play and FSU quickly drove 83 yards, the last 19 after Boone’s drop, for the winning score.
It was a mostly positive performance from Finley. He threw for 304 yards and only had one turnover (after giving up the ball seven times in the previous three games).
And after FSU scored the go-head touchdown, Finley was able to move the offense down to FSU’s 26. His third-down throw to Jaylen Samuels, with 1:19 left, was his best in 41 attempts on the night. He threw the ball from the left hash at the 35-yard line across the field to the 8-yard line on the right side of the field.
The timing pass to Samuels, who started in the right slot, hit Samuels in the hands, but FSU safety A.J. Westbrook was able to knock the ball loose before Samuels could control it.
Finley, who finished 25-of-41 with a touchdown and an interception (on the opening drive), was mostly effective throwing the ball.
His biggest problem in the first half was he ran too much. Finley had nine rushing attempts in the first half. There’s a point to keeping a defense honest in the read option, but nine rushes is a bit much.
In particular, he kept the ball on second-and-goal from the 2 at 4:40 in the first quarter, instead of giving the ball to Dayes. Finley didn’t gain any yards on the run and the drive ended with a field goal.
▪ A week after Jaylen Samuels touched the ball once, Doeren and coordinator Eli Drinkwitz made a concerted effort to get the junior receiver/running back more involved. Samuels also played a season-high 60 snaps (out of the team’s 82).
Samuels caught three passes for 31 yards (and was targeted six times) and ran four times for 29 yards, including 23 on a third-quarter touchdown that gave the Wolfpack a 20-10 lead.
Left tackle Tyler Jones and receiver Steph Louis (on linebacker Ro’Derrick Hoskins) got good blocks in front of Samuels on his end-around for a touchdown.
Drinkwitz also effectively used Samuels as a decoy. At 6:47 in the second quarter, Samuels came in motion from the right slot, and FSU sent two defenders at him while Bra’Lon Cherry went down the sideline uncovered for 16 yards.
You can’t use Samuels as a decoy if he isn’t on the field. Samuels was only on the field for 55.4 percent (41 of 74) of the snaps at Clemson and 56.2 percent (36 of 64) against BC.
The third-down call on the last possession was also progress. Finley went to Samuels with the game on the line (as opposed to Louis last week vs. Boston College and Cherry in overtime at Clemson).
▪ A first-quarter miss left sophomore kicker Kyle Bambard 5-of-10 on field goals this season. He was 7-of-14 last year. Nobody deserves to be treated the way Bambard was on social media after the Clemson loss, we can all agree on that.
But Doeren was right to make the switch to Connor Haskins, who made both of his kicks on Saturday, from 20 and 39 yards.
▪ Receiver Bra’Lon Cherry followed up a 105-yard effort against Boston College with three catches for 56 yards and a touchdown.
Cherry is really coming on as the season winds down, which you would expect from a senior. He still has some problems with dropped passes. His drop, at 10:51 in the fourth quarter – on second-and-10 from FSU’s 36 – really hurt.
Hines is another receiver stepping up for Finley. He has overcome an early ankle injury and a critical drop at Clemson to put together his best stretch at N.C. State.
Hines had a career-best 11 catches for 124 yards vs. FSU and had six catches for 62 yards against Boston College. Drinkwitz has done a good job in getting Hines, a burner, in favorable matchups.
▪ A week after being flagged eight times for 94 yards in the Boston College loss, and three weeks after 13 penalties at Clemson, N.C. State was officially penalized three times for 28 yards.
The three penalties were:
1) Pass interference on safety Josh Jones
2) Holding on center Joe Scelfo
3) False start on right tackle Terronne Prescod
The two penalties on the offensive line both happened on the same fourth-quarter drive.
A kickoff out-of-bounds in the first quarter was not added to the final penalty tally. Either way, the four penalties are the fewest N.C. State has had in five ACC games this season.
Florida State ranks 127 out of 128 FBS team in penalty yardage. The Noles were flagged six times for 59 yards.
Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio