Sunday, November 21, 2010

Two overlooked plays by Wilson were why N.C. State deserved to win

N.C. State deserved to win Saturday at North Carolina, and the reason was it made two critical plays that went largely overlooked in a game filled with emotional turns.

You can point to Owen Spencer’s crazy catch and T.J. Graham’s dramatic punt return as the two plays that sparked State to victory. Certainly, as Tony Haynes wisely pointed out on the Wolfpack Sports Network, those two plays energized a confident Wolfpack bench and deflated UNC.

But there were two vital plays before that which set up what happened in the end. And those plays were essentially where the game turned.

Carolina led 19-10 after a field goal with 4:38 left in the third quarter. State had done little in the game offensively and faced a third-and-1 at the Carolina 38-yard line. Russell Wilson faked a handoff and ran left, gaining four yards the Pack had to have.

An even bigger third-down conversion soon followed. UNC’s Dante Paige-Moss sacked Wilson on first down for an 8-yard loss. Wilson threw incomplete on second down, bringing up third and 18 from the UNC 42-yard line.

All Carolina needed was a stop to force a Wolfpack punt and maintain the momentum in the game. And if you’ve watched State football at all this year, you knew one of two plays was coming – Wilson would either put the ball up in the air and hope one of his receivers came down with it, or take off and run.

And take off and run he did. He rolled right, got pressured, cut left and ran 34 yards for a first down. Three Tar Heels had clean shots at him, and UNC compounded its mistakes with a late hit. That put State first-and-goal at the Carolina 8, and set up the crazy fourth-down play to Spencer.

There were so many big plays, and that touchdown to Spencer was so dramatic, that Wilson’s third-down was overlooked in the media. The Associated Press story on the game did not mention it, The News & Observer did not reference the play in its coverage at all, and must TV highlights overlooked it, although WTVD did have it in its coverage of the game.

But that play spun the momentum in this game, and put State position to win. There are, of course, two perspectives. One is that Wilson is a marvelous athlete who continues to make big plays, especially when the opponent is wearing light blue.

The other is that UNC’s defense, for all its talent, has to close out foes at critical times. Third and 18 in Chapel Hill? That just should not get converted against a defense of that caliber. All the groaning about Spencer’s catch and whether Wilson’s out of bounds throws should have been called intentional grounding overlook the harsh truth for UNC that it had a chance to impose its will on N.C. State – and did not.

Wilson’s plays did not win the game, but they put State in position to win – and as Jim Valvano pointed out, sometimes that’s all you need.

1 comment:

  1. I'm not sure that converting a third-and-one play and then Wilson scrambling for a first down adds up to State deserving to win. They certainly were big plays but not bigger than the batted touchdown pass and the long punt return for a TD - and, depending on your perspective, maybe not as big as the no calls on obvious intentional groundings.
    Despite committing more penalties and getting fewer total yards, if State did deserve to win more than Carolina it was because of their time of possession dominance in the fourth quarter after UNC had controlled it throughout. Much of the reason for that time of possession shift was due to the sacks State's blitzing linebackers got on UNC's quarterback.