To the outsider, Saturday’s Louisville/NC State matchup may have looked like an easy pick. The 4-0 Wolfpack against the struggling 1-3 Cardinals? Of course the undefeated team should win. But if you’ve watched anything from either of these teams, you know that’s hardly the end of the story. Louisville has 2 “quality losses” along with a weird one against Houston, but they’re better than their record indicates. On the other side, NC State may be the most untested team in the nation with wins over 4 teams you probably haven’t heard of. Hopefully you’ve read Pharmacard’s recap because things are different from the NC State side.
After a defense stalemate took up much of the first quarter, NC State appeared to have broken loose. Jumichael Ramos caught a pass and was almost in the end zone before he fumbled. To make matters worse, Louisville made them pay for the turnover as Lamar Jackson broke loose for a 68 yard touchdown run. That was ok, not the start they wanted, but most NC State fans figured the team could recover from this.
As the second quarter started, NC State faced a fourth and 10 from the Louisville 33 and inexplicably decided to punt. I’m not going to get into the details, but there’s rarely a good reason to punt from the opposite side of the 50. To his credit, punter AJ Cole did great work to pin the Cardinals inside their own 10. Of course, as fate would have it, Louisville drove the field and scored to take a 14-0 lead.
With their backs against the walls, NC State started the drive needing a score. Nyheim Hines did his part and ran the kickoff back to the 5. Instead of doing what’s worked all year (Matt Dayes), the Wolfpack thought it was time to get fancy with an incomplete pass and a QB draw. They finally called timeout and found their common sense. Dayes got the ball on the next play and ran it in for the score. They went into the locker room trailing 17-7.
Things started looking up in the second half as NC State figured out they could run the ball and wound up in the red zone again. A short pass to Samuels and they trailed by only a field goal…except not because the extra point was missed (#collegekickers). Both teams went back and fourth for the rest of the game, but Louisville’s field goal with 15s left sealed the deal for a 20-13 win.
Simply put, this was not the same team State fans have been watching the last month. It isn’t just that they are playing against tougher competition, but the entire gameplan seems to have changed. NC State found great success against South Alabama running the ball and the success continued into the Louisville game. Yet NC State running backs only got 20 carries in the entire game. Most fans could agree that they should have made the Cardinals stop the running game before abandoning it.
Overall, I’m not as upset at the defense. There were a few plays where they covered everyone except the QB and that’s ok, dual threat quarterbacks will do that to you. Jackson compiled 224 of Louisville’s 306 total yards. That would have been ok for most games, but the offense just never responded. In short, there’s still work to do on both sides of the ball.
Yep, it’s gonna be another one of those years. NC State is going to win a few games in a row to instill hope in the fanbase, but then let us all down with bad losses like this one. Oh well, at least we’re used to it.