Youth Movement: It's obvious that NC State has a lot of young talent, and late in the game several of these players had a chance to show what they can do, particularly on offense.
Redshirt sophomore quarterback Daniel Evans did some good things. True freshman wideout Donald Bowens may have been State's best player against Southern Miss, and 6'5 true freshman Jarvis Williams also had a couple of catches.
Redshirt freshman Jamelle Eugene is exciting with the ball, as his explosive 29-yard run after catch indicated. Don't forget, Toney Baker and Andre Brown are just sophomores, and sophomore right guard Curtis Crouch had another good game.
There is plenty of young talent on NC State's offense, and with effective play-calling, solid effort from the offensive line, and consistent play at quarterback, the potential is there to light up the scoreboard.
Coverting Better: NC State did a much better job of converting on third down against the Golden Eagles. After converting just 3-of-15 against Akron, the Wolfpack converted 7-of-14 third downs (50%), and Chuck Amato would take that ratio any game.
Efficient Evans: Redshirt sophomore Daniel Evans got his chance late in the game, and he made the most of it.
With inconsistent starter Marcus Stone against struggling, Evans was inserted into the lineup late in the contest, and he impressed. Evans completed 8-of-11 passes for 97 yards, including a 21-yard scoring pass to John Dunlap. He threw an interception on his final series, but it wasn't what would be labeled a "bad" interception. Southern Miss defensive tackle Martavius Prince made a great play on the ball, and it was really not a bad read by Evans.
What did Evans show in his limited time? First of all, USM still had several starters in the game, as Jasper Faulk, the team's top corner was beat on the touchdown pass, and Evans showed a lot of poise. He remained cool in the pocket when USM did bring pressure, and he went through his progressions when the Golden Eagles dropped eight into coverage. He was accurate, efficient and intelligent with his reads. Evans certainly looked good, and could it be a glimpse of things to come?
Deraney Still Strong: The case can be made that John Deraney has been the Wolfpack's best player through three games as he has been superb. Deraney drilled a career-long 54-yard field goal in the final minute of the first half to pull State within three points heading into halftime, and he also connected on both extra point attempts.
Deraney punted five times for a 41.7 yard average, including a 55-yarder in the second half. He's off to an oustanding senior season and could contend for All-ACC honors. As it stands now, it looks like he will get a lot of work.
Bowens Makes Plays: NC State's best player on Saturday?
It might have been true freshman wideout Donald Bowens. Bowens finished with four catches for 76 yards, including a 46-yard scoring pass, the first of his career. Bowens also did a solid job of blocking and loves to mix it up, as the 6-foot-3 wide receiver is very physical.
With Darrell Blackman sidelined with a knee injury, NC State needed someone to emerge at the position and Bowens did just that. As long as he and Dunlap keep making plays, NC State may have some success in the passing game.
Through three games, it is easy to see why NC State coaches spoke so highly of Bowens during fall practice. He's a playmaker, and he has a bright future.
Defensive EFFORT: It's as simple as this.
NC State's defense looked like it never got off the bus on Saturday. USM moved the ball all day long and was never challenged by the Wolfpack. The Golden Eagles dominated the line of scrimmage and manhandled NC State's defensive front and linebackers. USM churned up 442 yards of total offense, and quarterback Jeremy Young had his way through the air and was never really pressured much.
With the ACC opener against Boston College looming, the defense's manhood should be challenged this week in practice as the Wolfpack was embarrassed.
Zero Punts? Does anymore have to be said? Here's some more from USM head coach Jeff Bower, as he stated, "I've coached a long time, but I don't think I've ever coached a game where you've never punted." This has probably never happened with Chuck Amato as NC State's head coach either. The Golden Eagles never punted the ball on Saturday and converted 7-of-7 attempts in the redzone. That is inexcusable, and the Wolfpack has to correct the mistakes.
Tackling Air: Tackling has always been a strong suit of NC State's defenses, but that wasn't the case against Southern Miss.
The Wolfpack struggled to bring down the offensive players at the point of attack, and it mainly started with poor linebacker play.
Weakside linebacker Reggie Davis missed tackles throughout the contest and for the second straight game, finished with just one tackle. Last year's weakside linebacker, Stephen Tulloch, averaged 12.5 tackles per game in the same defensive scheme.
No one is asking for Tulloch's production to be replaced, but somewhere in the middle would be sufficient.
Penalty, Turnover Problems: This has been a problem all season, particularly the turnovers, but the penalties were really bad on Saturday.
The Wolfpack finished with 10 penalties for 84 yards, including two unsportsmanlike conduct calls with one resulting in the ejection of defensive tackle Tank Tyler. Two holding penalties negated what would have been third-down conversions in the third quarter.
The Wolfpack didn't have any fumbles but had three interceptions, including a crucial pick in the endzone that basically ended NC State's chance at a comeback.
This team is not good enough to win ballgames with a lot of penalties while losing the turnover battle.
Run Or Pass? Looking for an interesting stat?
Since Marc Trestman arrived as NC State's offensive coordinator, the Wolfpack is 8-1 when NC State has more rushing attempts than passes. The one loss came on the road at Boston College last season. When NC State passes more times than it runs, the Wolfpack is 0-6.
Granted, NC State got behind and had to pass late in the game, however the running game was still abandoned too early. NC State trailed just 20-10 on its first possession in the second half when the Wolfpack opened with a playaction pass, instead of a run by Andre Brown, that was intercepted. After driving down the field in the third quarter, on first-and-goal the Wolfpack again looked to pass instead of feeding Brown or Toney Baker, and it resulted in the bad interception in the endzone.
Brown finished the game with just 13 carries for 48 yards. 13 carries... after shredding Southern Miss for 248 yards on 32 carries in 2005. Toney Baker? Four carries for 19 yards.
Teams who have great rushing offenses don't do so by having high yards per carry averages. They generally beat down defenses with consistency on the ground and a willingness to stay with the ground game. Baker and Brown have the ability to score from anywhere on the field, and the more carries they get the more likely it is that they will break a long run. Asking them to have huge rushing days while receiving minimal carries each week is really asking a lot of the two tailbacks.
17 total carries for Baker and Brown while Marcus Stone attempted 24 passes prior to departing. 8-1... 0-6.
Upside Or Age? Granted, the season is only three games old, but it might be time for the Wolfpack to start experiencing with some younger players at certain positions. By no means is that suggesting the season is over, but instead the players with seniority aren't playing well enough to ignore the thought that maybe some freshmen and sophomores need game action to show what they can do. Several of them are regarded as very talented yet inexperienced.
At linebacker, Patrick Lowery finished with eight tackles and James Martin tallied seven to pace NC State, but even they had their fair share of missed tackles. Lowery has been strong all season, and the senior is the leader of the Wolfpack's defense. Martin has been solid and is starting to come along at strongside linebacker.
However, weakside linebacker Reggie Davis has really struggled since making the move over from tailback. He's missed tackles and some assignments, and at times is out of position. He just doesn't seem real natural at the position. Redshirt freshman Ray Michel was the talk of the team during bowl practice, and he is currently backing up Davis. Michel is a natural linebacker, and Amato has often talked up the player from Fort Myers, Florida. Maybe it's time to give Michel or true freshman John Ware, undersized yet explosive and a tackle machine like Tulloch was, a shot at the position.
Jarvis Williams is another player who has received praise this fall, and Williams played for the first time Saturday, recording two catches for 17 yards. At 6-foot-5, Williams is a huge target and has outstanding hands, and he should create problems for defensive backs. NC State needs a consistent threat deep, and he might be the man for the job.
Other young players who could possibly get looks include: Jerail McCuller, Meares Green, Julian Williams, Audi Augustin, and Alan-Michael Cash. All of these guys will be counted on A LOT in 2007, and it might be time to see what they can offer now.
Is Stone The Guy? There is no doubt that Marcus Stone plays with a lot of heart and really wants to lead NC State's team to a win each time out. However, he has really, really struggled with simply being consistent at quarterback, and this year there isn't a top five defense to fall back on.
The Wolfpack has to get more out of the quarterback position than they are getting. Sure, there were a few drops on Saturday, and there was a couple of missed assignments in the blocking game, however the only thing consistent about NC State's passing offense under Stone has been the inconsistency. He completed just 10-of-24 passes for 100 yards and one touchdown, and he also threw two very bad interceptions.
His second pick of the night might have been the worst in his career. With the Wolfpack trailing by 13 and threatening in the third quarter, on 1st-and-goal Stone appeared to have a lane to run for the touchdown but instead he chose to throw across his body looking to hit a Wolfpack receiver in the endzone. With three Golden Eagles in the area, the ball was picked off and that play ended any chance NC State had of making a comeback.
Through three games Stone has completed just 33-of-68 passes (48.5%) for 345 yards, an average of 115 yards per game. He has tossed four touchdowns, but he has also thrown four interceptions. For his career, Stone, who is 6-3 as a starter and has participated in 19 games, has completed 124-of-252 passes (49.2%) for 1,478 yards (77.78 yards per game) with 12 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.
Last season, his numbers worked. In 2004, maybe those numbers could have worked with that team's defense, but in 2006, NC State needs to have a legitimate passing game to be successful because the defense simply isn't experienced enough to handle the situations it was put in over the past two seasons.
Is it time to look at Daniel Evans or Justin Burke? Only Chuck Amato knows the answer to that, but last year he made the move to go to Stone when the team was really struggling, and the players responded by winning five of six to end the season. Evans and Burke have more potential than Stone as a passer, given their exploits on the prep level (Stone's high school numbers are eerily similar to his college stats), and maybe a change is the lift this team needs. With the weapons at tailback, tight end, and wide receiver, if NC State could get consistent, quality play at quarterback, the potential is certainly there to have an above-average offense. The key word is if. The problem is, that has been the key word for three years now.