Saturday, November 27, 2010

Pass defense lets N.C. State down in tough loss at Maryland

Well, let’s be honest – there’s no way Maryland really gained that critical first down with 48 seconds left in its 38-31 win over N.C. State in College Park, Md.

But State was lucky the game even got to that. After all, the Wolfpack’s inability to defend the pass finally crushed it Saturday in a bitter loss at Byrd Stadium.

The Wolfpack came into this season with a young secondary, but a creative defense that featured different blitzes masked that much of the season. That wasn’t the case Saturday as Maryland receiver Torrey Smith destroyed State throughout the contest.

State deserved credit for getting so much out of this team. Tom O’Brien and his coaching staff coaxed maximum effort from this team. Russell Wilson is the ACC’s best quarterback, and the offensive line and receivers are two units that a first-rate. The defense has a superb set of linebackers, but is otherwise unremarkable.

The  secondary just wasn’t up to snuff Saturday, which perhaps was no surprise. State came into the game tied for last in the ACC in interceptions (eight) and ninth in touchdown passes allowed (16). The Pack was also in the bottom of the league in completion percentage allowed, total passing yards allowed … well, you get the drift.

Basically, State’s pass defense just hasn’t been great.

And it was terrible Saturday. Maryland quarterback Dan O’Brien made some great throws, especially on the one where he rolled left and threaded a touchdown past two defenders. His target – Smith, of course. Smith had 14 catches for 224 yards and four scores, about as amazing a performance as any receiver has had against the Wolfpack.

"They just ran 'take-offs,'" coach Tom O'Brien said in his postgame interview. "It was one on one. He ran by us."

State now drops to 8-4 overall and 5-3 and is still in line for a nice bowl. Atlanta’s Chick-Fil-A has the No. 2 pick among ACC teams, and the Champs Sports is No. 3. Not bad, but not the Orange – and after a tough day at Maryland, State’s dreams of a big season are over.

No wonder coach Tom O'Brien said of the mood in the locker room, "They're really crushed. I don't think they fully comprehend what a great year they've really had, when you look at eight wins, the history of our school and how many times it's been done."

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