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Senior wide receiver Emeka Emezie uses a juke move after a reception. Emezie amassed 116 receiving yards and 1one  touchdown. The NC State Wolfpack defeated the Clemson Tigers 27-21 in double overtime at Carter-Finley Stadium on Sept. 25, 2021. 

Despite the heartbreaking loss to No. 12 Wake Forest, the offense showed plenty of firepower in a game where it put up 42 points, just three points shy of its season high 45 points in a single game. That’s not to say the offense holds a fair share of the blame for the loss in what will likely go down as the most important game of the season, but redshirt sophomore quarterback Devin Leary and company put up a solid fight against a talented Wake Forest team. Here’s how the position groups’ performances were graded based on the showing in Winston-Salem.

Devin Leary

This is an extremely hard grade to figure out because by looking at the stat sheet, one would think Leary played a solid game throughout. Outside of his season-high two interceptions in a game, Leary completed 63% of his passes for 408 yards and four touchdowns. In Leary’s defense for the interceptions, bad things are going to happen when you ask a college quarterback to throw the ball nearly 60 times in a game, which head coach Dave Doeren and staff called on Leary to do which resulted in a career-high 59 attempts Saturday night.

Where Leary’s game saw the largest fall off was in critical third down scenarios when the Pack desperately needed to move the chains to sustain drives. NC State finished the game going 3 of 14 on third downs, killing its ability to control the pace of the game time and time again. A lot of these third down failures do fall on Leary’s shoulders with the signal caller consistently failing to make the right read when his team needed it most.

Even with the failures from the offense as a whole, Leary’s effort against No. 12 Wake Forest brings plenty of positives as he moves ahead in his collegiate career. He was put in the hot seat and asked to play a style of football he hasn’t become accustomed to with the Pack and delivered on expectations often. Despite the big stat line and a 136.4 passer rating, his effort proved just short of what would be needed to take down the 12th best team in the nation.

Grade: B-

Running backs

This is easily the hardest grade to distribute to any position group this week as the failures out of the backfield don’t actually fall on any player in particular. Rather than resting on the shoulders of sophomore back Zonovan Knight or his junior counterpart Ricky Person Jr., the failures in the running game can be attributed to offensive coordinator Tim Beck’s decision to run the ball only 18 times. 

Of those 18 attempts, Person saw eight carries for 36 yards, averaging 4.5 yards per carry with his longest run on the evening going for 16. It was Knight, however, who truly stole the show however, averaging 7.5 yards per carry on only four attempts. Knight’s biggest production came by way of kick returns, where the star running back accumulated 194 yards on three returns, one of which went for a 100-yard touchdown. Sophomore wideout Keyon Lesane also saw work out of the backfield, averaging 5 yards per carry on two designed rush attempts.

Despite the strong per-carry numbers and the explosive plays to keep NC State in the game, the backfield simply did not see anywhere close to enough opportunity to earn a high grade this week. Beck has been under fire for his decision making all season, and the game against Wake Forest is yet another validation for the criticism, with the play caller failing to capitalize on what was widely regarded as the Pack’s biggest offensive threat at the start of the season: the backfield.

Grade: C

Wide receivers

The receiving core for the Pack was easily the largest bright spot on the evening for a team that seemingly had its dreams of an ACC championship appearance crushed. Unlike last week’s performances from a variety of lesser-known playmakers, it was the big-name stars that put in the work against a questionable Wake Forest pass defense. 

Senior wideout Emeka Emezie and redshirt sophomore receiver Devin Carter delivered the one-two punch all game for the Pack, with Emezie reeling in 10 catches on 15 targets for 133 yards and two touchdowns and Carter turning 10 targets into seven receptions for 132 yards and a pair of touchdowns for himself. Emezie’s biggest utility in the matchup was helping Leary move the chains consistently while Carter found himself as the deep-ball threat Wolfpack fans have become accustomed to seeing. Redshirt junior wideout Thayer Thomas was another player who delivered when he was asked to do so, turning his eight targets into five catches for 65 yards. 

Leary found 10 different pass catchers throughout the evening, which isn’t very surprising considering his ungodly number of pass attempts. The receivers did well to keep the Pack within striking distance of the Demon Deacons for the majority of the game, and despite the efforts falling just short of turning the game into a much-needed victory, the unit earned its high mark this week.

Grade: A

Offensive line

There’s not much to be said about the Pack’s offensive line in the performance against Wake Forest other than it wasn’t the reason for the offense’s lack of consistent output. The unit did well to hold a dangerous Wake Forest pass rush to only two sacks on the evening, however, the eight tackles for loss are of slight concern. There have been uncertainties regarding this unit for the entirety of the season, and it seems like an answer to what’s gone wrong, specifically in the run game, isn’t anywhere in sight.

Grade: C

Assistant Sports Editor