Wolfpack’s defense grounds Texas Tech’s ‘Air Raid’

NC State's offense again struggled in the 27-14 win

Texas Tech's Tahj Brooks (28) is tackled by North Carolina State's Aydan White (3), Payton Wilson (11), and Jakeen Harris (6) during the second half of an NCAA college football game in Raleigh, N.C., Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022.
Texas Tech's Tahj Brooks is tackled by NC State's Aydan White (3), Payton Wilson (11) and Jakeen Harris (6) during the Wolfpack’s 27-14 win Saturday in Raleigh. (Karl B. DeBlaker / AP Photo)

RALEIGH — The 16th-ranked Wolfpack shut down Texas Tech’s “Air Raid” offense in a 27-14 win Saturday night at Carter-Finley Stadium. 

NC State (3-0) didn’t allow the Red Raiders past the 50-yard line until the second quarter, and even Texas Tech’s first drive into Wolfpack territory ended up benefiting the home team.

On a fourth-and-1 from the NC State 28, Texas Tech junior quarterback Donovan Smith was intercepted by Wolfpack sophomore cornerback Aydan White, who went 84 yards for a touchdown and a 20-0 lead.

“That was a DBs dream right there,” said White, who finished with two interceptions, a sack and five tackles. “Nothing but green. I saw my boys starting to build the wall for me and it was just the quarterback back there, and I knew they were going to take care of him. I had got tired, but I knew my boys had me. So it was an easy touchdown.”

The Wolfpack also got solid play from their special teams.

After the Pack’s first drive of the game stalled out, the ensuing NC State punt went through the arms of the Red Raiders returner and was recovered at the 13-yard line by the junior long snapper Joe Shimko.

“We talked about tilting the field and making those guys have to play uphill and have us play downhill, and field position is a huge part of the game,” said NC State coach Dave Doeren. “The special teams were very dominant today. They gave us some different looks, but the kids adjusted well.”

NC State junior quarterback Devin Leary seemed to have followed that turnover up with a receiving touchdown on a trick play pass from graduate receiver Thayer Thomas, but an ineligible receiver downfield penalty wiped the score off the board.

After another penalty backed the offense up even further, NC State ended up with a 29-yard field goal by kicker Christopher Dunn.

While the Wolfpack’s offense struggled — NC State also settled for a 47-yard field goal by Dunn later in the first quarter — its defense and special teams continued to pick up the slack. Then the Pack finally got going on the other side of the ball.

After an eight-yard sack by linebacker Isaiah Moore forced a three-and-out possession for the Red Raiders, the Wolfpack offense got into the end zone when sophomore running back Demie Sumo-Karngbaye scored on a 14-yard touchdown run.

White’s interception return followed, but Texas Tech (2-1) got on the board before halftime with a 24-yard touchdown pass from Smith to Myles Price to make the score 20-7.

A scoreless third quarter was highlighted by another misstep from the Wolfpack’s offense.

Starting from its own 9-yard line, NC State marched downfield, including converting on fourth-and-inches. A Leary pass was caught by Sumo-Karngbaye, but as he made his way to the goal line the ball was punched out from behind by a Texas Tech defender and rolled out of bounds in the end zone for a touchback that gave the Red Raiders the ball back.

“I found [Sumo-Karngbaye] on the bench and he had his head down and I told him to look me in the eyes,” Doeren said. “I told him, ‘You need to make up for that. You’re going to get a chance and when you get it, you need to help the team because you just let us down there. But you can go out there and be a difference-maker here.’”

Texas Tech’s drive stalled after five plays when it failed on a fourth down, and Thomas’ second pass attempt of the game held up when he connected with Sumo-Karngbaye for a 38-yard touchdown.

“[Doeren] really just had my back,” Sumo-Karngbaye said. “He let me go out there again and let me prove to myself and prove to everybody that I’m more than capable of making touchdowns and making plays. I really appreciated him for just giving me the opportunity after something so bad like that happened.”

The Red Raiders cut the lead to 27-14 in the fourth quarter, but two interceptions by the Wolfpack secondary — one from junior safety Jakeen Harris and White’s second of the game — was complemented by the NC State offense using its ground game to run down the clock.

The defense, meanwhile, got a boost from the return of linebacker Payton Wilson, who led the Pack with 10 tackles. 

“It was awesome,” Wilson said. “I really love playing with the guys. … It means the world to me to get back out there and compete with them and play with them.”

The Wolfpack now need to get Leary back to the level that made him the Preseason ACC Player of the Year. The quarterback threw for just 121 yards on 15-of-23 passing with no touchdowns. He was sacked twice.

“Devin was frustrated,” Doeren said. “I know he can play better. I think the guys can kind of help him too. We’ve got to make some catches for him. There were some drops that we were capable of making. That’s just how football is though, and he’s just gotta put the ball where they can catch it and they’ve got to catch it for him.”

Senior nickel Tyler Baker-Williams and junior running back Jordan Houston both left the game with injuries.

The Wolfpack will next host UConn on Saturday to try and stay unbeaten before conference play begins.