College football: Week 6 special teams spotlight — NC State Wolfpack
It was wacky. It was wet. It was wild, and boy was it fun. Sounds like the beginning to the infomercial for that Slip 'N Slide everyone dusted off in the summer as a kid, right?
Well, the football that fans were privy to at Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh, North Carolina, on Saturday was fun of a different variety. Admittedly, the product on the field resembled a very similar form of that nostalgic slippery mess, but effort and tenacity from Notre Dame and NC State were on display in spades.
That may sound like a mild sugarcoating of things to some, but conditions at gametime were undeniably hellacious.
"Hurricane Matthew is dominating Notre Dame-NC State game," a headline to an article on the New York Post's website said.
"Hurricane Matthew turns NC State-Notre Dame game into 100-yard slip-and-slide," wrote AJ Neuharth-Keusch of USA TODAY Sports.
No matter how you sliced it, this was a mess of a game. There was little the two teams could do with the game stuck in the path of Hurricane Matthew. The teams and the fans just had to make the best of a bad situation.
|NCAA FOOTBALL ON SOCIAL MEDIA|
JOIN THE TEAM.
Well, Notre Dame and NC State combined to account for nine punts, eight fumbles and three total third-down conversions (3-of-29 combined). A game that featured 40 pass atempts saw only 16 completions, while the two teams each had fewer than 200 total yards of offense.
North Carolina State was held to 198 yards of offense on the day while Notre Dame finished with just 113 yards. NC State's senior tailback Matthew Dayes — one of a few players on the day to post a stat line that began to resemble some state of normalcy — outgained the entire Irish team by himself in terms of yardage (23 carries, 126 yards).
Last but not least, the 3-0 halftime deficit for Notre Dame marked the first time the Irish had been shut out in the first half of a ballgame since the 2013 BCS National Championship game against Alabama — a run of 45 games straight games with points in the first half. Notre Dame would finish the game with just a field goal to its name, the team's fewest points in a game since 2008.
The one plus given all the mess of the day, NC State quarterback Ryan Finley maintained his streak of passing attempts without throwing an interception. Finley has gone 128 pass attempts without an interception, the longest streak in school history since 1980. (Finley and Western Michigan quarterback Zach Terrell are the only two gunslingers in college football to have yet to throw a pick).
But back to the matter at hand.
Early on in the game, even before kickoff, it was evident that the day would be ruled by Mother Nature and the elements. Scoring and offense was certainly at a premium, but NC State looked much more comfortable in the initial stages of the game.
In fact, NC State took its first drive into Notre Dame territory only to miss a 31-yard kick that would've given it a three-point lead. The Wolfpack would grab the top side of the scoreboard a few minutes later when placekicker Kyle Bambard put as much as he could into a 38-yard try that just cleared the crossbar.
The score would stay at 3-0 through halftime, until a 40-yard kick from Notre Dame's Justin Yoon knotted things at 3-3 in the early stages of the third quarter. But the play of the game would come from a spark early in the fourth quarter.
Cue the spotlight.
Given that these two teams went three full quarters without an offensive touchdown, it was only a matter of time before something on defense or special teams happened to turn the tide of this ballgame.
With just under 13 minutes left in the game, Notre Dame lined up to punt the ball back to the Wolfpack. Given the weather, it had been a rough go on the day for kickers of all varieties. NC State's 6-foot-6 tight end Pharoah McKever, who works on the punt coverage team, had ideas of helping continue that trend.
Notre Dame's Tyler Newsome was actually the recipient of a good snap on this occassion, which was definitely a rare exchange on this day, but McKever just plain beat the Notre Dame blocking scheme — or lack thereof.
The first mistake is the clean release that McKever and his teammates get off the line. After the snap Notre Dame's players are more concerned with getting downfield in coverage than getting a hand on their opponents. Special teams play is about attention to detail, and in this case Notre Dame was caught napping.
Normally players match up one-on-one in punt coverage, and the old adage is "Ball, you, man." In layman's terms, that means the defender should always be a buffer between the ball and his defensive assignment.
In this case, McKever blows up that whole notion. He uses his size and strength as a bull-rusher to get in a position to get a hand on the kick, and teammate Dexter Wright proves to be johnny-on-the-spot, scooping up the blocked kick and running it back 16 yards for the only touchdown of the game.
It may not have been pretty, but the Wolfpack will take the win and move on to the next battle. For now, though, the memories of the rain-soaked win against Notre Dame will have to tide NC State fans over until this weekend's meeting with Clemson in Death Valley.
Lord knows NC State enjoyed itself after this hard-fought win.
Special Teams Spotlight: