ATLANTA — A sullen Tom OBrien reconciled N.C. States 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 cant win when you do those things," OBrien said.
Safety Earl Wolff had a more succinct explanation for the Packs 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 countrys 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.
Thats a losing formula, as OBrien noted, especially when two of N.C. States best players, quarterback Mike Glennon and cornerback David Amerson, struggled.
Glennon, who finished with 288 yards and a touchdown, threw four interceptions. Tennessees 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.
"Its awful tough to win but its a football team, its not two guys," OBrien 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.
"Its not acceptable, I cant continue to have games like this," Amerson said. "I dont think I did enough to help my team win."
Amerson said he had his "eyes in the wrong place" on Pattersons first touchdown, and OBrien 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 wont happen, and the week after that it wont happen. Thats just the way he is."
N.C. States 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 States 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 Tennessees 40-yard line, with 21 of Mustafa Greenes 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 States 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," OBrien said.
Still, OBrien wasnt 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," OBrien said. "There isnt any reason why we cant go win 11 games and thats how were going to approach it."