Triangle teams take teaching moments into Week 2 games

September 6, 2018

David Pierson (43), as NC State takes the field. NC State defeated James Madison by a score of 24-13 on September 1, 2018 at Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh, North Carolina. (Jerome Carpenter/WRAL Contributor)

Three Triangle teams, two Week 1 wins, and pros and cons for all involved.

Duke dominated Army, getting what it wanted on the ground and through the air in a nearly-perfectly balanced 24-14 win Friday. NC State’s pass game and redzone defense lifted it past James Madison, 24-13, even when the ground game and early-drive defense struggled. North Carolina pulled within a touchdown of California in the fourth quarter, despite four turnovers and being shut out in the first half.

Now, all three teams will try to cut down on the cons in another trio of nonconference games (but with one meeting between in-state programs).

Turnover margin was a huge point of emphasis for NC State (1-0) versus James Madison, despite a Pack fumble on the team’s first drive to the redzone, head coach Dave Doeren appreciated the even numbers in the turnover battle and again praised third-down defense and redzone defense (80 percent) again Monday.

But certainly, there is a long list of things that NC State wants to improve on in Week 2 (against a less formidable opponent). All three of the penalties against the home team in Carter-Finley were 100 percent avoidable, Doeren believes. The Pack D did a solid job holding JMU to just one TD, despite multiple trips to the redzone, but the unit must stop drives before they get so near the goal line. NCSU learned it needs to better contain mobile quarterbacks after learning at kickoff it would face Ben DiNucci, who had his way versus the Pack was he scrambled at will throughout the day.

Perhaps most critically, Ryan Finley made converting on third-and-longs look like light work, but the Pack is focused on minimizing the number of those that it has. That goal is a part of a larger emphasis on balancing its offense after amassing 309 passing yard, but covering just 83 yards on the ground versus the Dukes (0-1). Less than four yards per carry “for us is unacceptable,” Doeren said. Two-minute 1H drive, end of game

Georgia State (1-0) will be a good opponent for NC State to focus on its own execution against, even considering how different the Panthers’ defense is (four starting linemen back in a three-down scheme) compared to what the Pack just played.

More important than anything else, NC State wants to score in the 40s and not be shut out for two of four quarters and will have to do many of these things to make that happen.

Duke’s goal of having a more efficient pass game was accomplished in Week 1 as the Blue Devils beat Army. Daniel Jones completed 13 of 17 passes for 197, as a balanced offense clicked versus a defense that demanded it be equally strong on the ground for a win.

Jones added 49 yards on the ground, behind Brittain Brown’s 79 yards as Duke’s ground game (194 yards) nearly mirrored its passing numbers.

“That’s the beauty of our offense,” wide receiver Chris Taylor said. “Whether we hand it off, it can be a big play, a big play through the air, Daniel can keep it for a big play. That a defense will have to guard everybody -- from receivers to running backs to quarterback -- gives us a lot of options to be a really dominant offense.”

Northwestern will be a more physical team, a better team all around, than Duke’s first opponent was. There weren’t an overwhelming number of mistakes in the season-opener, but head coach David Cutcliffe understands that this football edition of an ACC-Big 20 Challenge will force his team to be even more precise in execution against the Wildcats (1-0).

“They’re faster than Army, they’re bigger, they’re going to be stronger,” Cutcliffe said. “It does come down to technique, leverage, hands, quick feet. All of those things came into play when you’re playing equally gifted player, you’ve got to find your edges in different places.”

Duke was eager to avenge 2017′s loss in facing Army, now is prepared for a team that it beat last fall... but before that, Northwestern won three in a row versus the Blue Devils and holds a 10-9 edge in the series overall.

“How do you stay hungry? That requires mental toughness and it requires preparation,” Cutcliffe said. “We could’ve been all jacked up to play Army, (but) if we don’t prepare, it wouldn’t matter. Our focus has got to be still on Duke.

“This is somewhat of a rivalry, there are a lot of the same players on the field. The last time we were up there, we got beat. We haven’t forgotten that either, I would expect us to be a very hungry football team.”

For as bad as UNC (0-1) looked on offense at its lowest points Saturday -- and head coach Larry Fedora believes the Cal Golden Bears’ (1-0) domination at the line of scrimmage was the cause of most of those lows -- the Tar Heels gleaned some moments worth repeating when they went through their film postgame.

A weak offensive line fell short of the expectations the coach had for the unit and poor execution put quarterback Nathan Elliott in pressured situations that led to two interceptions, the QB made poor reads (very bad decisions) on the other two picks and also was the teams leading rusher with just 58 yards as the team struggled to position itself well with a solid run game versus the Cal defensive line.

Fedora liked what he saw from the defense -- both up front and in the secondary -- as the unit executed well. At East Carolina (0-1), defensive end Malik Carney will sit out for the first of his four-game suspension and the Tar Heel defense will play Week 2 without its leading tackler from the opener (8.0 tackles, 3.0 TFL, 2.0 sacks).

The Pirates’ game versus North Carolina A&T was postponed from Saturday to Sunday and the change effected the Tar Heels’ schedule in addition to putting Scottie Montgomery’s team a day behind schedule for the meeting with North Carolina. Fedora is working through his second straight week of a logistical “first,” as the team preps to head for Greenville with the coaching staff beginning the week on a shortened Saturday (following a flight back across three time zones) and a day behind looking at opponent film (as ECU’s game was a day later than most).

A first-half shutout looked bad for UNC, but the positives came in the second half -- the things Fedora wants his team to build off of took time to happen. It boils down this way: “We started executing,” Fedora said. “We put our hats on the right people and we blocked them and (..) In the first half there was a lot of bad. In the second half it was ‘You did this and had success.’”

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