O'Brien's mind-set: Bad performance, not a bad team

By Joe GiglioSeptember 2, 2012 

— A sullen Tom O’Brien reconciled N.C. State’s 35-21 loss to Tennessee on Friday night in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff as a product of too many turnovers by his offense and too many big plays given up by his defense.

"You can’t win when you do those things," O’Brien said.

Safety Earl Wolff had a more succinct explanation for the Pack’s disappointing season-opener.

"It was just a bad loss," said Wolff, who led the Pack with 10.5 tackles.

N.C. State (0-1) came to Atlanta hoping to show the progress of the program, winners of 17 games the past two seasons. Instead it showed just how far it has to go to catch up with the country’s best.

The Wolfpack defense gave up 524 total yards, including five plays of more than 20 yards, and the offense committed four interceptions and had a fumble that resulted in a safety.

That’s a losing formula, as O’Brien noted, especially when two of N.C. State’s best players, quarterback Mike Glennon and cornerback David Amerson, struggled.

Glennon, who finished with 288 yards and a touchdown, threw four interceptions. Tennessee’s defense converted the first three into 17 points. The Vols also sacked Glennon and caused a fumble, which turned into a safety at the end of the first quarter.

Amerson, who set an ACC record last season with 13 interceptions, was beaten on two long touchdown passes in the first quarter — a 41-yarder to Cordarrelle Patterson and a 72-yard Zach Rogers.

Patterson also beat Amerson in a foot race to the end zone on a 67-yard end around. The combination of Glennon and Amerson helped the Pack win eight games last season, but both were exploited by Tennessee, a combination difficult for N.C. State to overcome against a more talented opponent.

"It’s awful tough to win but it’s a football team, it’s not two guys," O’Brien said.

Amerson took the loss personally. It looked at points in the second half that Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray, who threw for 333 yards, was actually picking on Amerson, an All-American last season.

"It’s not acceptable, I can’t continue to have games like this," Amerson said. "I don’t think I did enough to help my team win."

Amerson said he had his "eyes in the wrong place" on Patterson’s first touchdown, and O’Brien said Rogers just "ran by him" on the second touchdown.

Wolff was the safety behind Amerson on Rogers’ touchdown and Amerson looked back after the play at Wolff for help.

While Amerson accepted the blame, Wolff said he still had faith in the junior cornerback.

"David is a competitor," Wolff said. "I guarantee next week it won’t happen, and the week after that it won’t happen. That’s just the way he is."

N.C. State’s defense led the country in interceptions last season and was second in takeaways. Safety Brandon Bishop caused a fumble, with a touchdown-saving tackle at the end of the first half, but that was State’s only turnover.

The secondary, with three returning starters, was supposed to be the strength of the defense, but Bray sliced it up in the first half and then the UT running game got going in the second half.

Down 22-14 at the half, N.C. State opened the third quarter with the ball and drove to Tennessee’s 40-yard line, with 21 of Mustafa Greene’s team-best 53 rushing yards.

A personal foul penalty on Andrew Wallace stalled the drive, though, and Tennessee got the ball back on its own 13 and pieced together the drive of the game.

The Vols went 87 yards on 14 plays, 20 of the final 26 yards came on the ground with 211-pound running back Rajion Neal bulling through State’s defense for an 8-yard touchdown in a particularly telling play of the game.

"We had four guys who had a shot at him and he just ran through them," O’Brien said.

Still, O’Brien wasn’t ready to write off the season because of one poor performance. Adjustments can be made on defense, turnovers can be prevented on offense, he said.

"This could still be a heckuva football team," O’Brien said. "There isn’t any reason why we can’t go win 11 games and that’s how we’re going to approach it."

Giglio: 919-829-8938

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