State Now

Strong finish gives Wolfpack reason to celebrate

N.C. State tight end Jaylen Samuels, right, holds off Vanderbilt linebacker Zach Cunningham for a first-down pass reception in the Independence Bowl on Dec. 26. The Wolfpack won 41-17.
N.C. State tight end Jaylen Samuels, right, holds off Vanderbilt linebacker Zach Cunningham for a first-down pass reception in the Independence Bowl on Dec. 26. The Wolfpack won 41-17. AP

Josh Jones wasn’t necessarily trying argue with Bill Parcells’ old theory but he was right.

Before N.C. State left for Monday’s Independence Bowl, the junior safety said the Wolfpack was better than its 6-6 record.

Jones, N.C. State’s defense and junior tight end/fullback Jaylen Samuels proved that in a 41-17 bowl rout of Vanderbilt on Monday. Jones had one of three interceptions, the Wolfpack sacked Commodores quarterback Kyle Shurmur five times and Samuels scored three touchdowns.

Parcells, the hall-of-fame NFL coach, famously theorized, you are what your record says you are. Maybe but Monday’s bowl win was the best possible way for N.C. State (7-6) to wrap up the 2016 season. The Wolfpack closed with its third win in four games, with a winning record for the third straight year and with its first win over an SEC team in 17 years.

“We’ll be celebrating all night at the Hilton,” an excited N.C. State coach Dave Doeren joked in the on-field post-game trophy ceremony in Shreveport, La.

The Wolfpack deserves to celebrate the end of a five-game losing streak to the SEC. Vanderbilt (6-7) is not Alabama or LSU but it’s still a program that dominated N.C. State in the Music City Bowl four years ago.

So there’s tangible progress there in Doeren’s fourth season. There’s also the notable difference in how the defense finished this season compared to a year ago.

Last season, N.C. State gave up a total 1,122 yards and 91 points in a pair of losses to North Carolina and an SEC team (Mississippi State) in a bowl game. This time, N.C. State’s defense allowed a total of 727 yards and 38 points in a pair of wins over UNC and an SEC team in a bowl game.

The progress by N.C. State’s defense just from a 33-30 loss at East Carolina on Sept. 10 through the bowl win was remarkable. The Wolfpack defense should be a strength next season, even with Jones’ decision on Tuesday to enter the NFL draft. There’s a a chance junior defensive end Bradley Chubb could follow Jones into the draft.

Jones was right. N.C. State was better than a typical 6-win team. Anyone who watched Maryland and Boston College, a pair of very ordinary 6-6 teams, slog through the Quick Lane Bowl on Monday could see that.

The best sign of all for N.C. State from Monday was it took care of business. If it had been able to do that in Greenville back in early September or at home against that Boston College team (a 21-14 loss) in late October, then it easily could have finished with nine wins instead of seven.

Alas, the Wolfpack did what it could to end 2016 the right way and the table is set for 2017. It’s up to them to take advantage of the opportunity and not leave any room for interpretation or theoretical arguments.

Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio

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