NC State was blown out Saturday by the Clemson Tigers in a game with very few bright spots. Here are some takeaways from the Tigers’ division-clinching victory over the Wolfpack:
Turnovers continue to be a problem
The Wolfpack continued its trend of mind-boggling turnovers with four against Clemson. Between a botched handoff at the end of the first half which put Clemson in the red zone already up 14-0 where redshirt freshman quarterback Devin Leary simply lost the ball, and graduate receiver Tabari Hines muffing a punt that was rolling into Wolfpack territory, NC State did itself no favors against one of the best teams in the country.
This game reflected a larger trend for NC State: the Wolfpack ranks 121st in the country with a negative 0.89 turnover margin, forcing five turnovers this year and losing 13. Four of the five turnovers NC State has forced came against ECU, Western Carolina or Ball State. The Wolfpack needs to force more turnovers.
Slow starts end games before they really begin
After a quarter in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, NC State was down 7-0 and at half it was 24-3. After a quarter against Wake Forest, NC State was down 21-0. After 15 minutes against Clemson, NC State was down 28-0. The Wolfpack—particularly the offense—has taken too long to get the engine running each of the past three weeks. The defense deserves flack for the bad starts as well.
While the offense often gifts the other team great field position with its inability to move the ball, the defense struggles to get good teams behind the chains and has given up too many long conversions when it does. Boston College, Wake Forest and Clemson went a combined 23 of 46 on third down against NC State, which would equal the 10th-best third-down conversion percentage in the country, held by the Troy Trojans.
Freshmen being forced into action
Nine redshirt or true freshmen started Saturday, and the young players, all in all, performed well. Linemen Ikem Ekwonu and Dylan McMahon performed about as well as one could expect against a great defensive line, while Leary and Jordan Houston struggled. Leary went 14 of 29 for 166 yards while Houston had negative 15 yards on seven carries.
Freshman Zonovan Knight picked up the slack, running for 139 yards and a touchdown on just 12 carries. On the defensive side, linebackers C.J. Hart, Drake Thomas and Payton Wilson got their first starts for the Wolfpack and combined for 15 tackles and 2.5 TFLs. NC State’s young players being forced into action may hurt now, but it will pay dividends in a couple of seasons when they’re upperclassmen.