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State Stays Undefeated, But Work Remains

By Dave Holcomb
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The window is still open for N.C. State to reach its first ACC Championship.

In a conference desperately searching for a second elite team, N.C. State seems to be on the verge of becoming one. For much of Saturday’s contest against Boston College, they dominated the Eagles and held on to edge a popular ACC preseason sleeper, 28-23.

The victory keeps the Wolfpack undefeated at 5-0 heading into their bye week.

That’s looking at the glass half full.

The critics will point to N.C. State’s mistakes against Boston College. The Wolfpack recorded a season-high four giveaways. Boston College also blocked both a field goal and punt, which the Eagles recovered for a touchdown.

Those things need to be cleaned up if N.C. State hopes to finally slay the dragon and fare better against Clemson this season.

Even after a furious fourth-quarter Boston College comeback, the stats heavily favored N.C. State. The Wolfpack outgained the Eagles, 533-318, including 225-120 on the ground. In the first half, N.C. State more than doubled Boston College in the running game (110-51).

Offensively, N.C. State, who finished one yard shy of having a 300-yard passer, 100-yard rusher and two 100-yard receivers, could do no wrong. Senior quarterback Ryan Finley threw for 308 yards, senior Reggie Gallaspy rushed 104 yards and receivers Kelvin Harmon and Jakobi Meyers combined for 227 receiving yards.

But the Wolfpack also struggled to hold onto the ball. Finley threw two bad interceptions. N.C. State lost a pair of fumbles as well, including one on a punt return.

On the first three giveaways, the Wolfpack defense tightened up and yielded only a field goal. Without that defense after the sudden change of possession, it likely would have been a different outcome. In all, N.C. State yielded nine points off its four turnovers.

Actually, the Wolfpack special teams cost them more points. The muffed punt and blocked field goal and punt turned into a 13-point swing, helping Boston College creep within one score in the final minutes.

At the end of the day, beating the Eagles -- even if it was without Boston College’s best player running back A.J. Dillon -- means N.C. State and Clemson are the only undefeated teams left in the ACC Atlantic Division. Every other team in the division other than Boston College has at least two conference losses, so realistically, the Wolfpack are the only team that will challenge the Tigers in the Atlantic.

With that in mind, it’s great N.C. State overcame all of its mistakes. But against Clemson, who appears to be back on track after a 63-3 thrashing of Wake Forest on Saturday, N.C. State can’t make even half of those mistakes and expect to win.

The good news is, because of a bye week, N.C. State has two weeks to prepare for its road matchup with Clemson. Then they take a trip north to face Syracuse.

Those two road contests will define N.C. State’s season.

Because N.C. State lost its entire defensive line during the offseason, many college football analysts argued the Wolfpack missed their chance last season to dethrone the Tigers atop of Atlantic Division.

That’s turning out to not be the case. The window is still open for N.C. State to reach its first ACC Championship. But if the Wolfpack want to beat the Tigers for the first time since 2011, they must find a way to take care of the ball and play much better on special teams in two weeks.