It should not have been close. North Carolina State had a retread offensive line, a running game which in its most recent game had minus rushing yards, and a defense that seemed to only wave at ball carriers as they ran by. Tech, on the other hand, led the nation in five major offensive categories and was second in the nation in rushing yards. Add to this that Tech jumped out to a three touchdown lead in the first half of this game and it is clear who the dominant team was. Yet the final score was alarmingly close. So how close did Tech come to blowing the game and losing to NCST?
I will end the suspense by saying this. Tech did blow this game. Tech blew this game repeatedly. In almost every way. Coach Johnson knew that Tech was blowing the game. But at no time was Tech ever really in danger of losing the game. That should not make anyone feel better about future games; these are simply the facts about how far apart these two teams were on this day in this game.
Anyone watching this game closely would have seen players repeatedly missing assignments, losing focus or not making the play. Each time this happened Coach Johnson said in so many words, "Let's run the drill again until you get it right."
Run a counter play? Two players whiff on their blocks and the runner gets thrown for a loss. The next play run it again and score a touchdown.
Send a receiver into a open zone where there was a missing safety? Over throw the receiver. Run it again next opportunity? Same result. Run it again the next opportunity? Same result. Then on the fourth opportunity to throw the ball to an open receiver Tech scores a touchdown.
Get bogged down in the red zone because three plays in a row the offensive line fails to fire of the ball? On fourth and goal let the offensive line block as before but throw a pass to the B back slipping out of the backfield for a touchdown after it appeared he was in the backfield to shore up the shoddy offensive blocking.
Time after time in this game Coach Johnson called exactly the right play, even taking into account the breakdowns he was seeing from his team. The only problem was that for the Tech players it was like a practice game. Run the play. O.K., run it again. Run the play until you get it right.
I supposed we should give NCST some credit, but only grudgingly. After all, how much credit should you get for being too stupid to realize you were never in this game? Tech's defense completely smothered NCST. But then something happened. It appeared that after scoring 21 straight points Tech might not score for the rest of the game. "Here, we will keep giving you the ball over and over again on offense and we promise to not keeping scoring at will." That seemed to be what the NCST offense heard. With nothing left to lose they played like, well, like they had nothing left to lose. Offenses are meant to score points. That is what they do. Give any team the ball over and over again, inviting them to score and either one of two things will happen. Either the defense will lose its edge or the offense will finally gain theirs. Tech's offense by going incompetent for long stretches actually made NCST's offense better.
I suppose we could dissect every Tech miscue but I hope that is not necessary to reinforce the point already made. Tech tried to play its mediocre best Saturday and it succeeded. But even if they could only execute 30% of Coach Johnson's play calls it was all that was needed.
The only way in which Tech did not blow the game was on special teams. Bravo for work well done. Had they had the periodic collapses that the offense had this game really could have turned into a nail biter. But Tech still would have won.