ATLANTA — The NFL scouts lined up two deep in the end zone to watch David Amerson warm up before the game Friday night. They had high expectations for the N.C. State cornerback, just as the Wolfpack had high expectations for the season, for this night.
It didnt take long for the scouts and the Wolfpack alike to begin a rapid reassessment of those expectations. Amerson was beaten deep for a pair of Tennessee touchdowns in a nightmarish first quarter and N.C. State had just as much trouble keeping up with the rest of the Volunteers in a 35-21 loss that never really felt that close.
He just got ran by, N.C. State coach Tom OBrien said of Amerson. The same thing happened to the Wolfpack.
The Wolfpack isnt alone -- the ACC has lost six of these opening games in a row, with Clemson still to face Auburn on this same field Saturday -- but another summer that harbored such great hopes for Wolfpack fans ended with immediate and bitter disappointment.
Strengths -- Amerson and the vaunted secondary, senior quarterback Mike Glennon, team discipline -- were suddenly weaknesses. The Volunteers made Amerson look painfully slow. Glennon made uncharacteristically bad decisions on his way to four interceptions.
The Wolfpack took some really awful penalties.
For all of that, you couldnt script much worse of a first half for the Wolfpack, and yet, there they were, down a mere eight points. Inside the dome, amid the sea of orange, it felt like much more -- 80 points, not eight.
So all was not lost for the Wolfpack, although they certainly tried to lose it in the first quarter. A Glennon interception led to an instant Tennessee touchdown, followed by Glennon refusing to throw the ball away and fumbling it for a safety instead, followed by another instant Tennessee touchdown. The Volunteers scored 16 points in all of three plays and 38 seconds.
The first quarter ended, and I thought it was halftime, Tennessee coach Derek Dooley said. It was long.
Still, the Wolfpack answered, then got a break of its own. With time running out in the second quarter and the Volunteers just outside the N.C. State end zone, quarterback Tyler Bray tried to sneak through, but as he extended the ball across the goal line, Brandan Bishop knocked it loose and the Wolfpack recovered -- going into halftime down one touchdown instead of two.
The third quarter was too much like the first, and when N.C. States opening drive fizzled thanks in large part to a personal foul, the Volunteers reeled off a 14-play scoring drive that drained the clock and the Wolfpack in equal measures. Tennessee never wavered after that.
It may just be that Tennessee is far better than anyone thought Friday morning. (Wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, a junior-college transfer who had 165 yards of offense in his Volunteers debut, certainly is worth every extra consonant.) And despite this deflating opening loss, theres nothing stopping N.C. State from taking care of business in the ACC.
This can still be a heck of a football team, OBrien said. Theres no reason we cant go win 11 games.
But the Wolfpack was once again denied the big nonconference win on a national stage that fans have been yearning so long for, and with so many flaws exposed in the process. It was a rough night for the Wolfpacks two biggest stars and a rough start to what was supposed to be a smoother season for N.C. State.
DeCock: firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter: @LukeDeCock, 919-829-8947