RALEIGH — N.C. State coach Tom O'Brien said players sat dejected in the locker room on Saturday following their first loss of the season, to Virginia Tech.
But by Monday, he said, their melancholy had subsided.
"They were fine," he said. "It doesn't stay with them long. Youth is a wonderful thing. They forget things fast."
So it's on to preparation for Boston College (2-2, 0-1 ACC), a team O'Brien knows well after spending 10 seasons as head coach with the Eagles. His concerns, though, are no longer with them, but with a Wolfpack team that has dropped its past three games to his former team.
The Pack (4-1, 1-1), facing its first Atlantic Division opponent, has mentally pivoted from the disappointment against the Hokies. N.C. State allowed 34 points in the second half and lost 41-30 at Carter-Finley Stadium before a heartbroken crowd of 58,083.
"You have to try to let it go," N.C. State sophomore safety Brandan Bishop said. "By now we're in Boston College mode. You have to move on and regroup. And you have to start getting focused for Saturday. They are a good team, too. You can't dwell on it too long. You learn from your mistakes, and hopefully you get them corrected."
O'Brien said the defense experienced "shades of last season" from the middle of the third quarter on Saturday, breaking down fundamentally with positioning, choosing the correct gaps, blitzes and tackling. Those issues, he said, will be addressed this week.
"If we get them on the ground a couple of times, it makes a whole difference in that ballgame," he said. "We had shots and couldn't do it. Those are things we have to go back and cover and make sure we get better at."
Turnovers were costly for the Pack as well, with quarterback Russell Wilson throwing for 362 yards and three touchdowns, but also throwing three interceptions.
O'Brien said he's concerned with penalties and the number of long-yardage plays the Pack allowed, including a 92-yard kickoff return for a touchdown Saturday.
The errors on both sides of the ball allowed the Hokies to climb back into a game the Pack controlled. Players said it was a tough way to lose.
What did they learn?
"You can never really take your foot off the gas, especially with a team that's talented like Virginia Tech," Bishop said. "They've got guys on the field capable of making plays at any time. They were able to make them at crucial times when we needed stops. It seemed like we couldn't really get off the field on those third downs toward the end of the game. We watched the tape. We learned from it."
Added O'Brien, "You have to get to the point, if you're going to be a good football team, to win football games like that at the end against anybody."
State senior wide receiver Darrell Davis said the loss humbled his teammates and may have been exactly what they needed.
"We all needed to feel the taste of defeat," he said. "We've been winning this whole time. You kind of need to feel that so you can get back to work and not feel complacent or get kind of greedy and you don't work as hard."
He said seniors such as Nate Irving spoke to the team about how it should move on from Saturday's setback.
He said some players held negative vibes after losses in the past. He said players now believe in O'Brien's philosophy of staying together through adversity.
"We've been here for a while, three or five years, and guys in the past haven't always been positive at losing," Davis said.
"They've pointed fingers, done their own thing, went their own way. We're just trying to keep everybody together and let them know that it's not always bad when you lose. So you can look for something good out of the loss."
The Pack owns the league's top scoring offense (36.2), while also leading in pass offense (303.8) and total offense (448.8).
Saturday's task is to secure a victory over the Eagles and hand O'Brien his first win over his former team.
The Wolfpack coach said he doesn't get too emotional anymore about playing the Eagles.
"I think it fades as time goes on," he said. "I think there's seven players there that we recruited to play for them now. So a lot of it's turned over. Having gone from Navy to Virginia, then Virginia to BC and then to here, you play each other, but the longer the time goes, the less your ties are with programs because of the players."
But doesn't it bother him that he's never defeated the Eagles at State?
"I've never beaten a lot of people," he said with a smile. "You have to keep working. It's going to happen some day. Hopefully it's going to be this Saturday."
edward.robinson@newsobserver .com or 919-829-4781