Mistake-prone NC State Fumbles Away Season Opener Against USC

(Photo: Jim Dedmon, USA TODAY Sports)

CHARLOTTE — It’s just one game. The entire season is still ahead of NC State despite a gut-wrenching 35-28 loss to South Carolina.

If the Wolfpack takes care of business in the Atlantic Division of the ACC, it can still come away with a memorable season. The ACC Championship Game is still a possibility and a double-digit win total is still attainable even with the loss on Saturday night.

This is all true.

But what’s also true is the fact that the Wolfpack continued to make too many mistakes to win games — plain and simple. In a season where NC State has seen the hype build all offseason, the Pack needed one less fumble, one less blown coverage or one tackle on the opening kickoff away from forcing overtime or winning the game.

But the Hail Mary never came for State on Saturday evening in Charlotte.

On the opening kickoff, Deebo Samuel ran 97 yards for a touchdown to silence Wolfpack fans. After a track meet on the next three drives that brought the score to 14-14, Stephen Louis fumbled the ball to allow South Carolina to start from the NC State 40-yard line. On the next drive for the Pack, Carson Wise hit the left upright from 29 yards out to keep the score at 21-14.

And that was all the first half.

Tack on a controversial fumble for Ryan Finley that allowed the Gamecocks to start from the NC State 13 and a one-handed catch from Deebo Samuel — his second of the game — and South Carolina already appeared to have the game in hand at 35-21. Jaylen Samuels scored on a touchdown from one yard out with 12:21 remaining in the game, but the Pack couldn’t muster up another scoring drive.

— Pack Pride (@PackPride) September 2, 2017

While the offense ultimately made some of the most costly mistakes, it’s hard to place all of the blame on Finley and co. The second-year quarterback finished the game with an NC State-record 45 completions — the previous record was by Philip Rivers (2003) and Russell Wilson (2010) with 38 — for 415 yards, two passing touchdowns and a rushing touchdown.

On the receiving end of 15 of those passes — tying Torry Holt for an NC State record — was Jaylen Samuels. The H-Back lived up to his hype heading into the season with 94 total yards and a receiving touchdown, but it was Kelvin Harmon’s 10 catches for 114 yards that led the team in receiving yards.

Nyheim Hines ties the score at 14 in the 1st Quarter with a 2-yd rushing TD pic.twitter.com/ZxUISi5t9u

— Pack Pride (@PackPride) September 2, 2017

As for the running back position, Nyheim Hines proved he can be the program’s featured back despite some issues along the offensive line. He finished with 115 total yards on 19 touches and one touchdown, and led the Pack with 81 rushing yards, including some bruising runs at the beginning of the game with the South Carolina d-line applying tons of pressure.

Two redshirt freshmen saw a lot of action in the opening game on the offensive line with Justin Witt starting in place of Will Richardson and Joe Sculthorpe taking over for Terrone Prescod due to injury. We now know that Richardson will miss the first two games, but the status of Prescod is up in the air — Doeren didn’t comment on it following the game.

Even with the suspension and injuries, NC State’s offense bested South Carolina’s in nearly every category. The final tally was 504-246 in total yards, 29-12 on first downs and nearly doubled the Gamecocks with 99 plays compared to 50. But those numbers get washed away when 21 of USC’s 35 points were scored off turnovers and a kickoff return.

In the end, the Pack dropped the season opener by seven points. Had it not been for two fumbles in its own territory, NC State might be looking at a 28-21 win to start the season instead of hanging its heads on the long bus ride back to Raleigh. And with a game against Marshall at Carter-Finley Stadium next Saturday at 7 p.m., fixing those mistakes will have to be immediate.

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