Clark pass rush Liberty.jpg

Liberty quarterback Malik Willis (7) prepares to pass as N.C. State defensive tackle C.J. Clark (52) closes in during the first half of N.C. State’s game against Liberty at Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh, N.C., Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020.

Coming off a dominant 45-0 performance over the University of South Florida, the Wolfpack hoped to continue that defensive dominance against the Mississippi State Bulldogs. However, a lack of offensive attack from the Pack coupled with inconsistency in the secondary and defensive line ultimately led to a 24-10 loss against the Bulldogs on Saturday, Sept. 11 at Scott Field. 

The Wolfpack defense started out dominating in the first quarter, keeping the Bulldogs from getting much offensive rhythm, with the only score coming from a kickoff return in the first minute of the game. It only allowed five total yards in the first quarter, but the offense never got started, throwing the defense back out onto the field repeatedly. 

The Wolfpack allowed 316 yards against the Bulldogs, with most of them coming from passing yards through the air-raid style of offense that the Bulldogs like to run. Despite holding the Bulldogs to three for 13 on third downs, even making a nice tackle for loss in a fourth-and-one situation on NC State’s side of the field in the second quarter, NC State’s defense truly fell apart following the departure of redshirt sophomore Payton Wilson to injury. Nonetheless, here is a position-by-position breakdown of how the defense performed throughout the disappointing loss to Mississippi State

Secondary

The NC State secondary benefited from a strong overall defensive showing early in the game, keeping the receivers in front of them and limiting many easy completions as well as opportunities for the Bulldogs to accumulate yards after the catch. Things started going south for the secondary after allowing a 13-yard completion to Makai Polk for 13 yards on fourth and seven to the NC State 26-yard-line. That completion would result in a 21-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Malik Heath, who was battling redshirt freshman cornerback Shyheim Battle who never looked back toward the quarterback on the play as it was thrown right over his head. 

The second half was when it seemed the secondary looked both tired and defeated. Will Rogers marched his way down the field, leading to a 4-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Jaden Walley. The secondary looked scrambled and confused in finding where it needed to be. The first part of the defense to give out was the secondary, becoming very inconsistent as the focus shifted to preventing the Bulldog receivers from making big plays. 

Junior safety Tanner Ingle tried to make an impact in the secondary with 11 total tackles and two hard hits against receivers that showed intensity in the safety spot, but that was a moot point in the overall flow of the game. Rogers finished the game completing 33 of his 49 passes for 294 yards and 2 touchdowns with a quarterback rating of 131.2. The Wolfpack has not played a lot of SEC teams like the Bulldogs, and this test against head coach Mike Leach’s air raid offense showed that it still has work to do as the team prepares for next week’s matchup against the Furman Paladins. 

Grade: C+

Linebackers

The Wolfpack run defense was great, though head coach Mike Leach is not known for his rushing attack. It held the Bulldogs to 22 yards on an average of 1.5 yards per carry with the longest rush being 8 yards. The unit was solid early, with sophomore linebacker Drake Thomas flying off the screen with his playmaking ability early, ending with 6 solo tackles. He wasn’t the only one Wilson, a first-team all-ACC performer in 2020, had the only sack of the game against the Bulldogs, adding 3 tackles as he commanded that position allowing his teammates to make impacts. 

Unfortunately, bad luck hit Wilson as he left the game with 4:21 left in the second quarter slouching down on his left side. What looked to be a left shoulder injury sent Wilson to the locker room where X-rays were taken to see about the severity of the incident. He was able to walk off on his own and would not return for the remainder of the night. He was seen with an air cast on his left arm during the second half as he was supporting his teammates from the sideline. 

Overall the linebacker core did the best they could from what they were dealt. For the most part, they put some pressure on the quarterback and were effective on the rushing and passing attack though they had lapses in coverage and the pass rush was not as great as it could be. The Pack will need to take the positives and negatives from this game and put it to use against the Paladins next week. 

Grade: B

Defensive line

It was a quiet game overall for the NC State defensive line as it was unable to put pressure on Rogers consistently, with only redshirt freshman C.J. Clark being able to put any kind of contact on the quarterback. He also led the defensive line in tackles with five total and one solo. The defensive line was steady for the most part and showed effort when rushing the quarterback. Unfortunately, it just lacked the ability to have any impact on the passing lanes outside of the first nine plays of the first quarter. 

The Pack was also able to force holding calls against the Bulldogs’ offensive lineman and caused multiple false starts, though the impact on the game was very little. The group will need to look at this game as a learning opportunity and get back to work next week like the other position groups. 

Grade: B-