The pattern from the second half of N.C. State's football season has been win, lose, win, lose.
And beyond the bottom line, it has been good effort, followed by a bad effort, leaving a desperate Wolfpack team in a "ditch," coach Tom O'Brien said Monday, after a 14-10 loss to at Boston College three days ago.
At 5-5, N.C. State needs to break its alternating patterns and win its final two games to qualify for a bowl.
"We have to make up our mind, where do we want to be in December?" O'Brien said.
To play into December, and get back to a bowl, the Wolfpack has to beat Clemson, the best team in the Atlantic Division, a week after losing to the last-place team.
The inconsistency of his team's effort caused O'Brien to question its maturity. For the third time in five years, the Wolfpack followed an emotional win against North Carolina with a loss. O'Brien, who is 5-0 against North Carolina and 11-22 against the rest of the ACC, said beating the Tar Heels isn't enough.
"You gotta learn how to win after you beat Carolina," O'Brien said. "That's part of growing up as a program. That's a problem that we have to work on. Beating Carolina is really important here but it isn't the end-all of the season. We have to be able make that next step as a program."
Senior receiver T.J. Graham said the players did not have the same intensity against Boston College as they did the previous week in a 13-0 win against the Tar Heels. Graham talked about the small crowd at Boston College as a factor but also admitted the Eagles, on their senior day, wanted the game more.
"Clearly energy was a factor," Graham said. "We had a high level of energy and intensity (for North Carolina). We didn't apply that to this week."
N.C. State's defense, which has put together two strong games, will get its toughest test of the season with No. 7 Clemson, which leads the ACC in total offense (478.1 yards per game) and scoring (37.3 points per game).
N.C. State's offense has struggled in the past three games with 23 points and two touchdowns. The three lowest yardage totals of the season have come in the past three games.
Junior quarterback Mike Glennon, who threw for 19 touchdowns in the first seven games, has one in the past three games. Glennon has thrown for 130, 164 and 220 yards in the past three games and his lack of experience has caught up to him after a fast start.
Glennon's fourth-quarter interception, on first down from Boston College's 23, was a pivotal mistake in Saturday's loss.
O'Brien said the coaches need to help Glennon and the offense get back on track. Graham, who had 19 catches in the first four games and 12 in the six games since, said the players are still confident in Glennon and that Glennon hasn't lost confidence in his own game over the past three games.
"Mike is a tough guy, it doesn't bother him at all," Graham said. "We need to figure out ways we can help him."
And they need to find answers fast. After a 2-3 start, N.C. State won three of its next four games to improve its bowl odds. The Wolfpack is down again, with no margin of error, which is fine by Graham.
"Oh, we're down but that's when we play our best," Graham said. "I guess we're not a front-running type team. We like to be in a hole. We've always made it tough on ourselves but some how we always come out."