One week after putting up 525 yards of total offense against South Florida, the NC State football team’s offense sputtered out and had just 194 total yards through the first three quarters in a disheartening 24-10 loss to Mississippi State in Starkville, Mississippi.
The loss is a kick in the teeth for a Wolfpack team that was just outside of a top-25 ranking heading into the week, and it brings head coach Dave Doeren’s record on the road against Power Five schools to just 16-24 including bowl games, a mere 0.4 win percentage.
There is plenty of blame to go around between redshirt sophomore quarterback Devin Leary, the receiving corps and the coaching staff. It was a flat-out pitiful performance for the offense this week.
Leary did go 30 for 49 on his passes for 303 yards and a touchdown, but that doesn’t paint the full picture for his performance in the game. In fact, 159 of his passing yards came late in the fourth quarter, after the game was already out of reach, and his performance was a far cry from the last time he was matched up against a dominant run defense in Pittsburgh last season.
Meanwhile, the receiving corps prematurely ended several drives just when the offense would start to get some juice, with senior wide receiver Emeka Emezie and redshirt sophomore receiver Devin Carter combining for six drops on the night. Offensive coordinator Tim Beck was also to blame, as his offensive play-calling stalled early, and he could never get the offense into any sort of rhythm.
The Pack’s running backs managed just 42 yards on the ground on 26 carries in the game, though that was less of a knock on them and more of a testament to how dominant the Mississippi State run defense is. Still, it was a step in the wrong direction for the backfield, leaving an especially sour mark on the Wolfpack faithful after it had 293 yards on the ground last week.
Though the defense did plenty of things well, there was no stopping Mississippi State quarterback Will Rogers, who completed a ridiculous 33 of his 49 pass attempts to go along with two touchdowns. This is the second straight week in which Rogers has been highly efficient, as he completed 39 of his 47 attempts last week for 370 yards and three touchdowns, and the Pack secondary simply met its match.
It certainly didn’t help that the Pack played without defensive leader redshirt sophomore linebacker Payton Wilson for most of the game, who left in the first half and did not return. Sophomore linebacker Drake Thomas did his best to step up, finishing with 10 total tackles, and junior safety Tanner Ingle had two pass breakups, but those performances weren’t enough to stop Rogers.
The first handful of Wolfpack drives to begin the game were an excellent indicator of how the evening would go. On the opening kickoff, Mississippi State wide receiver Lideatrick Griffin returned the kick for 100 yards and a score. The offense and defense were completely night and day, with the Pack failing to put up any points on two straight short-field positions despite the defense doing its job.
In the first such situation, the Wolfpack drove all the way down the field after starting at the 50-yard line, highlighted by a 24-yard pass to Emezie, only for junior running back Ricky Person Jr. to throw an interception on an awkward, jumping goal-line play.
On the following offensive possession, junior kicker Christopher Dunn missed a 48-yard field goal attempt despite the team starting on Mississippi State’s 47. No statistic better described the Pack’s first quarter than State’s 114-5 advantage in total yards at the end of the period, despite trailing 7-0 to the ‘Dogs.
NC State finally got some points on the board after a solid quarter-opening drive, getting a 45-yard field goal from Dunn, but those were the last points the Pack would get until garbage time. On the other hand, Rogers completed his first touchdown pass of the game to receiver Malik Heath, which gave the Bulldogs a 14-3 lead into halftime.
For a moment in the third quarter, the Pack had a ray of hope as Leary completed a strange, yet highlight-reel-worthy ball to Carter. But just when things began to look up for NC State on the opening drive of the third quarter, Knight fumbled away the ball to give the Bulldogs prime field position. Immediately after, Rogers completed a deep pass to wide receiver Austin Williams, and eventually, a touchdown to receiver Jaden Walley to give Mississippi State a 21-3 lead early in the third.
At the start through the fourth quarter, freshman quarterback Ben Finley was questionably subbed in for Leary in the middle of the Pack’s most crucial drive of the game. Finley delivered a low ball to Carter, who dropped his third pass of the night. As if the night couldn’t get worse, redshirt junior linebacker Isaiah Moore was injured after the Wolfpack’s punt.
Toward the end of the game, NC State was able to drive down the field and get a quick touchdown pass off to redshirt junior wide receiver Thayer Thomas with under two minutes remaining to narrow the deficit to 14 points. The Pack actually managed to recover an onside kick, giving it the ball at the 50-yard line but it was too little, too late and Leary threw an interception on a Hail Mary attempt at the end of the game.
The Wolfpack will have an opportunity to get back on track when it plays Furman next week on Saturday, Sept. 18 at 7:30 p.m. inside Carter-Finley Stadium. NC State desperately needs some juice before it plays a back-to-back home stretch against No. 6 Clemson and Louisiana Tech, the latter of which manhandled Mississippi State for three quarters in the first week of the season, which is more than NC State can say.