NC State entered Bank of America Stadium like a balloon full of hype, and when NC State quarterback Ryan Finley threw an incomplete pass on 4th and goal with 6 seconds to go, the last of the air seeped out of it.
If you were to just look at a few numbers on the box score, and hadn’t watched the game, you would be dumbfounded to find that the Wolfpack lost to the Gamecocks. NC State had 504 yards of total offense compared to South Carolina’s 246. The Wolfpack had 29 first downs compared to the Gamecock’s 12. NC State had the ball for 36:54 compared to South Carolina’s 23:06. How do you post those numbers and lose? Dear God, HOW?
Well what the first glance at the box score doesn’t show you is Deebo Samuels returning the opening kickoff of the game 97 yards for a touchdown. It doesn’t show Jarius Morehead looking up at a guaranteed interception like it’s a wide open punt return, and fails to go up and get it, and the South Carolina drive continued. At first you might not notice is Steph Louis fumbling the ball giving the Gamecock’s the ball on the Wolfpack 40-yard line, which they turned into 7 points. Then there is Wolfpack place kicker Conner Wise missing his first field goal attempt in red-and-white from 29 yards out smack dab in the middle of the field. You might not notice Ryan Finley fumbling the ball giving South Carolina the ball on the Wolfpack 13 yard line, which the Gamecock’s once again turned into 7 points. Finally, it doesn’t show you NC State turning the ball over on downs when every bit of the eye test, including the eyes of the commentators, showed that the ball was good for a first down.
With my diatribe over, even with the catawampus statistics mentioned before, it’s a wonder NC State was in a position to tie the game and go into overtime at the end of regulation.
The most disheartening aspect of the game for me was the way that NC State came out of halftime, compared to the ferocity and intelligence in which South Carolina did so. The Gamecock’s came out with adjustments, and the Wolfpack seemingly did not. South Carolina came out with energy and passion, and NC State looked like deer in the headlights.
Despite the loss, I’d be wrong to not point out the fact that Ryan Finley was outstanding (except for the final two pass attempts…). He completed 45 (a new school record) of his 64 pass attempts (2nd in school history) for 415 yards and 2 touchdowns (1 rushing touchdown). NC State H-Back Jaylen Samuels caught 15 passes (tying Torry Holt’s NC State record) for 85 yards and a touchdown, despite dealing with some sort of discomfort in his hamstring. Sophomore wide receiver Kelvin Harmon caught 10 passes for 115 yards, and Nyheim Hines played with more passion than any other Wolfpack player, rushing 15 times for 81 yards and a touchdown. He also had 4 catches for 32 yards, 2 kickoff returns for 39 yards, and 3 punt returns for 40 yards.
At the end of the day, the Wolfpack lived by the Law of the Wolf, and crumbled under high expectations. There were plenty of areas of promise, and there are still 11 more games in the regular season, but if NC State ever wants to get over the hump, they have to learn not to shoot themselves in the foot continually, and make the plays at the end of the game that sets great teams apart from mediocre teams.
NC State traditionally plays better without the national hype, so here’s to exceeding expectations for the rest of 2017.