The NC State Wolfpack headed to West Virginia looking to prove themselves in their first test of the 2019 season. But after Saturday’s 44-27 loss in Morgantown, the Wolfpack headed back to Raleigh in dismay.
Coming into the game on Saturday, the Wolfpack were 2-0 and had outscored both of their opponents by a combined score of 75-6. However, it should be noted that these two wins came against subpar competition. Whether it was the ECU Pirates or Western Carolina Catamounts, the Pack had not yet been tested. As a result, Head Coach Dave Doeren wanted his team to face adversity for the first time in order to see if they could overcome it in Saturday’s game. But, unfortunately for Doeren, his team didn’t recover when they faced that adversity.
NC State Struggles in Morgantown
Right from the beginning, the Wolfpack’s penalty problems started, as they were flagged for a delay of game penalty on the first play from scrimmage. This was obviously not the start the team was hoping for with a young quarterback on the road. After the final whistle blew, NC State finished the game with nine penalties for 88 yards.
“We had nine penalties, which is out of character for us and too many,” said Doeren. “Some of that is the noise. I mean, the first play of the game we weren’t ready to play. We come off the sideline and have a delay of game. There are some things that we definitely have to do better from that standpoint.”
Offense Goes Missing in Second Half
After scoring three touchdowns in the first half, NC State’s offense was held out of the end zone in the second half by West Virginia. Despite being in the red zone twice, the Pack could only muster two field goals. They also picked up just five first downs and 97 total yards in the second half. Consequently, the Pack had a mere three plays that went for more than 10 yards in the half.
“They turned it up in the second half and we didn’t really match it,” sophomore wide receiver Thayer Thomas said. “I think the plays were there, we just weren’t connecting on them. I’m not going to sit here and blame someone, but it was just a collective whole group not executing We need to look at the film tomorrow and figure out what things to fix.”
McKay Isn’t the Only One To Blame
It can be easy to place the blame on young quarterback Matt McKay (23 of 48 with 207 yards and a touchdown), but as Doeren pointed out in his post-game comments, the offense as a whole struggled. Yes, McKay did not look nearly as sharp as he did in the team’s first two games, but he still showed some positive signs in his first start on the road in a hostile environment.
“I didn’t think Matt played rattled,” Doeren said. “He was pretty calm on the sideline. He did some good things. There’s a lot of things out there that are out of Matt’s control. You got to look at there, whether it’s guys dropping passes or not running the route at the right depth.”
Coming into the game, the Wolfpack had not allowed a touchdown. However, that changed rather quickly, as West Virginia quarterback Austin Kendall connected with Sam James on a 20-yard touchdown pass less than six minutes into the game. Sadly, for the Wolfpack, things didn’t get much better. On the day, they allowed 445 total yards and 173 rushing yards on 28 attempts. In their first two contests of the season, the Mountaineers rushed for just 34 yards on 24 carries versus James Madison and 32 times for 30 yards at Missouri. Also, West Virginia came into the game without having a running back rush for more than six yards on a single run through their first two games. They quickly surpassed that stat when Sean Ryan ran for 24 yards on the Mountaineers second play of their first drive.
According to senior safety Jarius Morehead, part of the Pack’s struggles against the run can be attributed to the sweep play that West Virginia implemented. “We really didn’t see that on film,” Morehead said. “We had to adjust to it.”
Although the Pack was missing two key defensive players (James Smith-Williams, Nick McCloud), there was no excuse for the Wolfpack’s poor defensive effort. Right from the start, they seemed slow and a step behind the Mountaineers.
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“We adjusted as we went, and we didn’t do a good job of getting players to understand the adjustments,” said Doeren. “We have to own that first and foremost as coaches.
The truth is, this game wasn’t pretty for NC State. But, if they can learn from it, sometimes a loss can be a good teaching moment for a young team. After winning nine games in each of the past two seasons and sending 13 players to the NFL, the Wolfpack program is in the midst of a transformation. They have an abundance of young talent but lack a true identity of who will step up when they need it most. On Saturday, this was on display in the second half. Whether it’s Tabari Hines, Zonovan Knight, Thomas, or someone else, if the Pack have any hopes of making a run in ACC play, their playmakers will have to start taking over in crunch time.