Game review: Key plays in NC State’s loss to West Virginia

N.C. State and West Virginia were even at halftime.

The Mountaineers, coming off of a disappointing loss at Missouri, had leads of 7-0 and 14-7 in the first quarter. The Wolfpack, off of an easy win over a lower-level opponent, fought back in its first road game of the season to take a 21-14 lead in the second quarter.

One of three touchdown passes from WVU quarterback Austin Kendall, a 13-yarder to Florida State transfer George Campbell with 34 seconds left, tied the game at 21 before halftime.

Normally, I go through five plays from each N.C. State but this game turned on two sequences in the third quarter. This is where the game was won by West Virginia, despite all of its penalty problems and mental mistakes, and lost by N.C. State, who still had a chance to win despite its problems on defense and in the passing game.

Two key sequences from the 44-27 loss:

1. Not-so special teams

Score: West Virginia 24, N.C. State 21

Time: 6:58, third quarter

Field position: fourth-and-3 at the N.C. State 28

West Virginia’s offense opened the third quarter with a long drive (11 plays, 89 yards) but N.C. State’s defense was able to hold the Mountaineers to a field goal. That was a good thing.

The Wolfpack defense forced a punt on the second drive of the second half. That was also a good thing.

Down three points, N.C. State had the ball and a third-and-1 to try to get a drive going. But Wolfpack quarterback Matt McKay made the wrong read on a run-pass option (he should have given the ball to the running back) and was sacked for a 2-yard loss.

Then came disaster.

On the ensuing punt, up-back Thomas Ruocchio didn’t appear to be set when the ball was snapped to punter Trenton Gill. Ruocchio, adjusted his mouth piece and then looked to his right but WVU’s Logan Thimons was streaking from his left. Thimons took the ball off of Gill’s foot at the 19-yard line and recovered by WVU’s Exree Loe at the 12.

“The blocked punt was a major mistake,” N.C. State coach Dave Doeren said. (We) had a mental error on that play.”

The Mountaineers were able to cash in on their big play. After an incomplete screen pass on first down, running back Kennedy McKoy ran off the left edge — a problem all day for N.C. State’s defense — for seven yards.

On third-and-3 from the 5, WVU ran the same play. McKoy, with a great seal block on the edge from left tackle Colin McKivitz, ran into the end zone untouched for a 31-21 lead at 6:24 in the third quarter.

2. Going backwards

Teammates celebrate with N.C. State linebacker Drake Thomas (32) after he intercepted a pass during the second half of West Virginia’s 44-27 victory over N.C. State at Milan Puskar Stadium in Morgantown, W.V., Saturday, Sept. 14, 2019. Ethan Hyman

Score: West Virginia 31, N.C. State 24

Time: 1:31, third quarter

Field position: first-and-10 at the WVU 21

One positive sign for N.C. State on Saturday, through the first three quarters anyway, was how it responded to falling behind.

McKay (23 of 48, 207 yards) struggled against West Virginia, which was his first road start, but he didn’t panic. N.C. State took a punch in the first half and kept coming back. That was encouraging.

Even after the disastrous punt block to fall behind by double-digits for the first time, N.C. State was able to get three points back (on a 41-yard field goal by Chris Dunn) on the next drive.

Down 31-24, the Wolfpack defense came up with a big play, arguably the only one it made all day. Freshman linebacker Drake Thomas intercepted a Kendall pass at the 32-yard line and returned to the WVU 21.

West Virginia had just made a big play and turned it into a touchdown. N.C. State made a big play ... and then went backwards.

On first down, McKay got caught on the wrong side of an RPO-read again (he should have kept the ball) and running back Ricky Person was stopped for a 1-yard loss.

On second down, McKay made a good throw to receiver Emeka Emezie at the first-down marker. The pass hit Emezie, who had a career-high 12 catches fo 103 yards, in the numbers but he dropped it.

On third down, WVU safety Jovanni Stewart snuffed out a poorly-executed screen pass to Person, which netted 2 yards. This wasn’t a bad idea for a playcall but it would have made more sense on first down.

N.C. State needed a touchdown there, not three points. On the next drive, Kendall’s 25-yard scramble set up a 9-yard touchdown to receiver Ali Jennings which made the final 12:24 of the game elementary.

Joe Giglio has worked at The N&O since 1995 and has regularly reported on the ACC since 2005. He grew up in Ringwood, N.J. and graduated from N.C. State.
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