It was another HUGE day for both the offensive and defensive units vs NC State. Statistically speaking, Tech put forth its most dominating performance on offense this season. The Jackets scored on six of their seven possessions, and if not for a fumble, I’m sure they would have scored again. The defense was active as well, recording ridiculous stats like 119 interception return yards in a single drive, a pick six, and a sack-forced fumble-fumble return for a touchdown.
Player of the Game (Offense)
Synjyn Days – The B-back rushed for 100+ yards for the third straight game and had yet another stellar overall performance. Synjyn finished with a massive 157 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries. His insane level of production seems to be only increasing, too – in the two weeks before the NC State game, he rushed for 110 and 147 yards against Pittsburgh and UVA respectively. He is on fire lately and is definitely peaking at the right time. If Laskey can return soon, defenses will have their hands full.
Justin Thomas – Even though he didn’t put up huge numbers (5/6 passing for 47 yards, 6 rushes for 60 yards and a touchdown), JT was undeniably effective running the offense in the less-than 3 quarters he played. He didn’t turn the ball over, distributed the ball well, and made great reads. He also made a long, 30-yard rush look like a piece of cake.
Tim Byerly – WHAT? TWO quarterbacks in consideration for offensive player of the game? A bold move, to be sure, but the Touchdown Vulture has had borderline candidacy status in several games this year, and last weekend was no exception. Coach Paul Johnson put Byerly in with two minutes left in the third quarter and let him run the show the rest of the way. However, Timmy also came into the game for a couple of goal line plays and was able to punch it in twice. He also threw a nice-looking touchdown to freshman WR Antonio Messick. You might not have noticed, but Byerly had a great day statistically – 2/2 passing for 23 yards and a touchdown, 13 carries for 87 yards and two touchdowns.
Shaq Mason – While I’m busy shocking the world by having both of our quarterbacks listed as player of the game candidates, I’m going to take this even further and have an offensive lineman nominated as well, an FTRS first. Shaq was nothing short of phenomenal vs NC State. All day long, he cleared running lanes for Tech’s backfield, most notably for Synjyn Days’s 53 yard touchdown run. Watch Shaq plow through the defensive line and spring Synjyn free.
Offensive Play of the Game
Synjyn Days’s 53-yard touchdown run – On 2nd and 7 at midfield at the end of the first quarter, Justin makes a great read and gives Synjyn the ball up the middle. Shaq Mason brushes NC State’s linebacker aside as if he weighed no more than a feather, and Synjyn skates easily for the long score.
Byerly to Messick – On third and 13 at the beginning of the fourth quarter, Tim Byerly is under center in the red zone. BJ Bostic comes in motion to Byerly’s right side, and the ball is snapped. Byerly rolls right and is given plenty of time thanks to some good blocking by Matt Connors, Broderick Snoddy, and Bostic. He launches a strike into the endzone to find freshman receiver Antonio Messick, who makes a great grab in coverage for his first career touchdown as a Jacket.
Smelter Climbs the Ladder – What would a Superlatives article be without a play by DeAndre Smelter? This one came at the end of the first quarter. On 2nd and six, Justin zips a laser to the right sideline 15 yards downfield. Smelter is in coverage and the ball is a little high, but he makes a leaping grab and pulls it in before going out of bounds at the 43 for the first down. When your receivers are making plays like this in this offense, it is hard to lose.
Byerly Takes Flight – If I had a dime for every time I typed the word "Byerly" in this article, I would be a rich man. Or I would have about a dollar. Either way, Byerly’s impressive 37-yard run at the end of the fourth quarter deserves recognition, if for nothing but the liftoff he achieved at the end of it. Before going out of bounds, Byerly leaps over a defender for an extra six or seven yards for the type of play that usually makes Sportscenter if you play for one of a select 14 teams.
Player of the Game (Defense)
DJ White – An essential part of the GT #noflyzone, DJ White put forth another great game. He recorded 7 tackles, a 38-yard pick six, and two very athletic pass breakups. The junior has had a breakout season, and looks to be a leader of a dangerous secondary next season.
Quayshawn Nealy – Just a senior linebacker making senior plays. Nealy wrecked NC State’s offense all game, recording 6 tackles, an interception, and a fumble return for a touchdown. He ran the interception back 71 yards before it was stripped at the very end of the run, but it’s unclear whether or not it was the right call. It probably was, but when I rewatched it, it looked close. The ball never really came out of his hands, it looked more like it was just taken from him at some indeterminate point in time. Regardless, the senior shone on Saturday in Raleigh.
Tyler Marcordes – Marcordes finally had the game we knew he could have. Ted Roof looked to have a good time using a variety of blitz packages with the athletic redshirt-junior, who recorded a very impressive statline: 4 tackles, 2.5 TFL for 13 yards, 1 sack for 11 yards, and a forced fumble that fellow LB Nealy ran back for a touchdown.
Paul Davis – The team-leader in tackles extended his lead on his teammates, recording a team-high nine tackles. He also added half a sack and a QB hurry. PJ Davis can always be counted on for a high volume of tackles in any given game, which is just what this defense needs: a guy who plays with his head on fire and sniffs out run plays on the regular.
Defensive Play of the Game
Nealy and Marcordes’s Sack, Forced Fumble, and Return – The trifecta by two of our top linebackers. Marcordes came off the edge like lightning at the snap and blew up NCSU’s QB Brisset as he was trying to escape the pocket. The force of his tackle on Brisset’s blind side jarred the ball loose, and Nealy, all too eager to atone for his fumble earlier, scooped it up and ran easily into the endzone for six.
D.J. White’s 38-yard pick six – No surprises here. D.J.’s pick came at the perfect time, too – two plays after a HUGE interception return by Quayshawn Nealy was essentially negated by a fumble, the momentum and game balance hung by a tenuous thread. It could swing either way – Tech held a slim 14-13 lead just five minutes into the second quarter, but NC State was near midfield. Fortunately, D.J. White jumped a route on the near sideline and ran it back 38 yards to give the Jackets a 21-13 lead.
Quayshawn Nealy’s 71-yard INT return – On a play that made Sportscenter for being flat-out wild and crazy, Nealy made yet another heads up play, snatching a ball that was tipped – or in this case kicked, by Chris Milton – and turning it upfield for 71 yards before getting "stripped". I say "stripped" in quotations because it was more or less of a snatch. Still a great play by Nealy and the NC State defender who stole it back, though.
DJ White’s pass deflection – I picked this play as a candidate for defensive play of the game because I respect and admire well-played football. I appreciate textbook mechanics and superior athleticism. DJ White’s pass breakup on 3rd down late in the third quarter is just one of those plays that I see and I say to myself, "Wow. That was beautiful." Check it out for yourself.