N.C. State’s offense made the most of a second chance to put a game away.
Much was made of Shawn Boone’s dropped interception late in the Florida State game last week, but it was a pair of stalled fourth-quarter drives by the offense that was the difference between winning and losing for the Wolfpack against the Seminoles.
N.C. State (5-5, 2-4 ACC) did not waste any such chances at Syracuse (4-6, 2-4) on Saturday. Up 28-20 with 8:17 left in the fourth quarter, N.C. State got the ball at its own 27-yard line and drove seven plays for a touchdown.
Quarterback Ryan Finley went 4-for-4 on the drive and running back Matt Dayes capped it off with a 13-yard touchdown run, his third TD of the game.
Coach Dave Doeren has talked a lot this season about how small N.C. State’s margin of error is and the need to make the right plays at the right time. Finley came through at Syracuse on 3rd-and-11 at the 6:47 mark of the fourth quarter.
N.C. State’s offense even overcame a penalty (delay of game), a season-long bugaboo, to extend the drive and set up Dayes’ score.
Finley hit senior receiver Bra’Lon Cherry on an out route that went for 23 yards for a key first down. The play was notable for two reasons:
1) Finley made a strong throw in rhythm with perfect timing between quarterback and receiver.
2) N.C. State, which went with a lot of individual and isolation routes against Florida State, used a nice combination route to spring Cherry free.
Receiver Steph Louis, who was split wide right, ran a clear out and Cherry, who was in the slot, came under for the ball and then ran 12 yards after the catch.
Finley followed with a swing pass to Jaylen Samuels to the left, which Samuels turned into a 24-yard gain, and a 14-yard swing to pass Cherry to the right.
On the next play, Syracuse moved a defender out of the box to honor the quick swing pass, and Dayes did the rest.
Dayes juked Syracuse safety Daivon Ellison in the backfield and then cut back to the middle of the field to high-step into the end zone.
Now, Syracuse isn’t Florida State, but on the road in a tight spot with a four-game losing streak in back of everyone’s mind, that was a big drive. And Cherry’s third-down conversion was the key to whole thing.
▪ Quarterback Ryan Finley posted his third straight 300-yard game, with a career-best 340 yards. He also didn’t turn the ball over for the first time since the Notre Dame win on Oct. 8.
Finley missed the last 9 minutes of the second quarter after he turned his left ankle on a 2-yard run.
He came back in to start the second half, after backup quarterback Jalan McClendon threw a painful interception in the end zone and a harmless one on the last play of the half.
Finley completed 20 of his 29 passes with a 68-yard touchdown to Kelvin Harmon.
Cherry did have a drop but continues to have a strong close to his senior season with seven catches for 85 yards.
Harmon finished with four catches for 101 yards.
Finley’s passing chart, in yellow-pad form:
▪ Jaylen Samuels re-injured his right ankle on the fourth play of the game but was able to turn in a productive effort.
The sophomore fullback/tight end/receiver ran for a touchdown and finished with six catches for 66 yards. He only played 33 snaps, out of the team’s 82, but essentially missed all of the first quarter.
He had nine touches – six catches, three rushes – and another passing target in his 33 snaps.
His best play wasn’t his touchdown, a 3-yard run on a modified version of the “JaySam Play,” rather a third-down catch he made short of the first-down marker but he turned into an 18-yard gain to extend a third-quarter touchdown drive.
Twenty-six of Samuels’ snaps came as a slot receiver. Counting all the games but Louisville, Samuels has played 350 snaps, he has lined up in the slot on 255 of those snaps.
JaySam’s “pitch count,” in yellow-pad form:
▪ I know it’s not cool to statistically acknowledge time of possession but N.C. State had the ball for more than 41 minutes, leaving less than 19 minutes for Syracuse’s offense. Fair enough, Syracuse had a scoring drive that last 37 seconds, but the Orange also had five three-and-outs. In that Baylor, hurry-up spread offense, three-and-outs are poison.
Running back Dayes, who ran for 108 yards, gave N.C. State a decided advantage. Dayes nearly doubled his touchdown production on the season with three rushing scores.
N.C. State, which ranks 115th nationally in red-zone conversions, scored four touchdowns on five trips on Saturday.
Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio