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November 10, 2008

Monday morning quarterbacking: Duke

For the first time since Sept. 20, NC State won a football game, taking down Duke 27-17 in the first meeting between the two close rivals since 2003. NC State is now 3-6 on the year, but also 2-0 against in-state foes, with another local rival, Wake Forest, coming to town this Saturday. We take a look back at the win over the Devils in this edition of Monday Morning Quarterbacking.

Key moment of the game:

NC State controlled the action in the first half, leading 24-10 at the break. However, Duke was threatening to make a game of it in the third quarter. On their opening possession of the second half, Duke drove the field and had first and goal at the NC State 3-yard line.

After gaining two yards on first down, running back Clifford Harris was twice stuffed at the 1-yard line for no gains, setting up fourth and goal. Duke went for it, but NC State junior defensive tackle Leroy Burgess put just enough pressure on quarterback Thaddeus Lewis, forcing him to underthrow a wide open tight end Brett Huffman in the end zone.

NC State tried to pass its way out of the end zone, but redshirt freshman quarterback Russell Wilson's pass was batted into the air. Fifth-year senior tight endAnthony Hill tried to knock the ball down, but several Duke defenders had a shot at a pick six in the end zone. They could not come up with the interception however, and on the next play redshirt junior running back Jamelle Eugene busted loose a 53-yard run to get NC State out of trouble.

Three Things That Worked:

1. Running the football
Ever since Wilson settled down as NC State's quarterback, the Pack has been able to find a nice rushing attack. For the third straight game, NC State went over 150 yards rushing, this time netting 159 yards on 34 runs, an average of 4.7 a rush. That total includes two kneel downs that lost six yards. Take those away, and it's 32 carries for 165 yards, 5.2 a rush.

2. Jump balls
Wilson threw some balls up for grabs, but that was okay Saturday. Redshirt sophomore receiver Jarvis Williams twice won jump balls, once for a 32-yard touchdown. Hill won a jump ball himself to set up a second-quarter touchdown. Sophomore Owen Spencer caught a pass in traffic as well.

3. Fourth down/red zone defenses
Duke went into the red zone five times but came away with just 10 points, three times turning it over on downs. In fact, Duke went 0 for 4 on fourth down opportunities. When it counted most, NC State's defense tightened up.

Three things that did not work:

1. Third down defense
Although NC State was great on fourth down, that was not really the case on third downs. Duke went 7 of 16 on third downs, a way-too successful rate of 43.8 percent. After taking a step forward on third downs against Maryland, NC State's defense seemed to revert back a little bit against Duke.

2. Third down offense
The Pack themselves went just 2 of 10 on third downs, 20 percent. That is part of the reason that Duke held a decisive 32:17 to 27:43 time of possession advantage. Duke also ran 80 plays, 21 more than the 59 NC State took.

3. Pass coverage
Obviously the most glaring numbers from the game came from Lewis, who completed 37 of 52 passes for 317 yards and two touchdowns without an interception or being sacked once. The lack of a pass rush combined with Duke's quick strike passing attack gobbled up huge chunks of yards between the 20 yard lines, but to State's credit, the defense tightened up in the red zone.

Breaking down the position battles:

NC State's OL vs. Duke's front seven
Duke had just one sack and only pressured Wilson three times in the game, and the running backs, Eugene and senior Andre Brown, were hit in the backfield just once apiece for two yard losses both those times. In short, NC State's offensive line won the battle.

NC State's front seven vs. Duke's OL
It was a mixed bag on Saturday. Duke's running backs, Harris, Jay Hollingsworth and Tony Jackson, collectively combined to run 21 times for 47 yards, a paltry 2.2 yards per run. However, Lewis was not sacked once in 52 pass attempts and was only pressured four times.

NC State's WR vs. Duke's DB
Spencer and Williams both used their size to their advantage, making a combined five catches for 126 yards. Redshirt sophomore Darrell Davis added a 17-yard catch. Still, NC State's receivers only had six catches. So overall the game was probably a draw.

NC State's DB vs. Duke's WR
Duke's receivers got open, but that is nothing new against NC State's secondary. The good news for Pack fans was that the tackling by the defensive backs, fifth-year senior cornerback Jeremy Gray in particular, was much improved.

Quarterbacks
Wilson was Wilson, completing 13 of 25 passes for 218 yards and two touchdowns without an interception. He also ran six times for 16 yards. However, Lewis was a notch better as he enjoyed a career effort.

Running backs
A lopsided win for NC State's duo of Brown and Eugene over Duke's trio of Hollingsworth, Harris and Jackson.

Tight ends
Both tight ends had nice games. Hill caught three passes for 40 yards and a touchdown. Duke's Huffman added three receptions as well for 38 yards and a score. We'll call it a draw here.

Special teams
One of the big plays of the game was senior safety J.C. Neal taking the reverse from freshman receiver T.J. Graham on the kickoff return and scoring a touchdown. So despite some good kickoff returns by Duke and one bad shank by senior punter Bradley Pierson, NC State's special teams get the edge here.


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