NC State pulls away from Duke in mistake-filled game

The Blue Devils continued to turn the ball over and the Wolfpack found a way to improve to 4-1

North Carolina State linebacker Vi Jones blocks the punt by Duke punter Porter Wilson during NC State's win Saturday in Raleigh. (Ethan Hyman / The News & Observer via AP)

Duke and NC State played for the first time since 2013 and at Carter-Finley Stadium for the first time since Russell Wilson was the Wolfpack’s quarterback.

Neither team made a case that the game should be held with greater frequency.

NC State won a sloppy, error-filled matchup between unfamiliar ACC neighbors, 31-20. Duke fell to 1-5 while State improved to 4-1.

Duke took an early lead, overcoming an offense that continues to sputter by taking advantage of Wolfpack miscues. NC State had a punt blocked for a Duke touchdown, saw a player get ejected for targeting and racked up more than 100 yards in penalties before halftime. At one point in the first half, Duke had almost as many points as total yards and later had moved the ball more on NC State penalties than on positive yardage offensive plays.

“We shot ourselves in the foot in the first half and made it really hard,” NC State coach Dave Doeren said.

As the game wore on, however, Duke matched the Wolfpack mistake for mistake. Duke had a punt of its own blocked for a State score just before half and saw safety Lummie Young get kicked out for targeting on a play that knocked State starting quarterback Devin Leary from the game with an ankle injury.

“We probably won’t have Devin for awhile,” Doeren said. “He’s a tough kid. I hate it for him. … I thought he got concussed, but when I went down there it was his ankle.”

Three thoughts

1. Duke lost starting center Will Taylor to what appeared to be a knee injury in the first half. He was replaced by true freshman Graham Barton, who picked up an illegal block penalty on one of his first plays after entering the game. Center was far from the only problem on offense for the Blue Devils, as running backs Deon Jackson and Mataeo Durant, who each topped 100 yards last week, combined for 43 yards on 27 rushes.

2. Bailey Hockman didn’t miss a beat after entering for the injured Leary. He completed his first two passes and finished off a touchdown drive to give State an eight-point lead, then moved the Pack downfield as the Pack tried to kill clock in the fourth quarter. Leary was 14 of 24 for 194 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Hockman was 4 of 7 for 43 yards and a score. Duke’s Chase Brice continued his inconsistent play, passing 24 for 40 for 190 yards. He had a touchdown to Jake Bobo and three interceptions, one near the goal line — one play after overthrowing an open Noah Gray in the end zone — and another when he was hit as he threw. Brice found success on a play fake naked bootleg keeper play that gained him more than 80 yards on the ground, although State sniffed it out inside the 5 to blow up a fourth-and-goal play.

3. State was led by its linebackers with Payton Wilson (19), Isaiah Moore (12) and Drake Thomas (10) all hitting double figures in tackles. Wilson and Moore shared a sack and combined for two tackles for loss, while Wilson had a pair of interceptions. Thomas added 1.5 TFL of his own.

Number to Know

13 for 13 — Duke averaged one yard per carry when running backs carried the ball on first downs. Deon Jackson had eight rushes for 16 yards and Mataeo Durant five for minus-3. Duke had 113 yards on 21 snaps on all other first-down play calls.

They Said It

“It wasn’t a real rah-rah talk. It was very matter of fact. … The difference is us beating us. If you guys would just play football and quit being idiots, we’d win. You’ve got to man up and play football the way you were coached.”

— Wolfpack coach Dave Doeren on his message to the team at halftime

Player of the Game

Ricky Person, Wolfpack running back — It took a while for NC State’s running game to get on track, but in the fourth quarter, with the game on the line, Person and the Wolfpack were unstoppable on the ground. Person finished with 84 yards rushing and three catches for 19 yards. He stepped out of bounds, wiping out most of a 51-yard sideline reception or else his numbers could have been even more impressive.

Critical thinking

Duke entered the game with 22 turnovers on the season. There were only three other teams with more than 11. So the Blue Devils had doubled every other team in the nation’s turnover total. Then they went out and threw three interceptions against the Wolfpack. Duke’s offense struggled last year, and the Blue Devils took drastic measures, bringing in Clemson transfer Chase Brice and having David Cutcliffe call plays. Things have only gotten worse. Gunnar Holmberg hasn’t looked like the answer in his brief time in relief of Brice. Perhaps it’s time to take a look at freshman Luca Diamont. It’s hard to see how things could be worse.