RALEIGH — All four of N.C. State’s ACC games this season have come down to the final minute but were actually decided in the first quarter.
N.C. State gave up 25 early points to North Carolina in Saturday’s loss in Chapel Hill. The Wolfpack spotted Miami 23 first-quarter points on Sept. 29, also a road conference loss. In the Wolfpack’s two ACC wins, it gave up three points each to Florida State and Maryland.
The pattern applies to N.C. State’s four nonconference games, as well. The Wolfpack let Tennessee go for 22 in the first quarter of the season-opener, a loss. Connecticut, South Alabama and The Citadel combined for seven points in the other three games out of the league, all N.C. State wins.
“To dig yourself a hole like that, it’s tough to come back from,” senior safety Brandan Bishop said.
N.C. State did take the lead by halftime against North Carolina and was up 35-25 in the fourth quarter, but it couldn’t close out the Tar Heels. Tennessee and Miami never gave up the early leads in the Wolfpack’s other two losses this season.
The common thread to the slow starts is the big plays the defense gives up. N.C. State allowed eight plays of 20 yards or more against North Carolina, nine against Miami and five against Tennessee.
That’s 22 big plays in three losses, compared to 16 in five wins.
“We’re giving up big plays early and that’s just a killer,” Bishop said.
He said the defense needs to grow up and be more consistent. The frustrating part of the Wolfpack’s defense is it knows it can be good, and it has shown it in stretches.
“When everyone does their job, and doesn’t worry about anything else, we’re fine,” safety Earl Wolff said.
Even after the disastrous start against North Carolina, the Wolfpack defense found its footing. After giving up 25 points to the Tar Heels on their first four possessions, the defense went the next 11 possessions without giving up a point.
After falling behind 25-7, N.C. State forced eight punts on the next 13 possessions and created two turnovers.
Why the same defense can’t show up for the whole game, Wolff doesn’t know.
“We’ve been trying to figure that out,” he said.
Coach Tom O’Brien said the consistency issues start with the front seven. Only two defensive linemen returned from the front seven from last year, he said, with four moving onto the NFL.
“We don’t have the consistencies on defense that we had,” O’Brien said. “Sometimes we’re really good and sometimes really bad. We have to play our techniques and be much more consistent.”
O’Brien also talked about players taking ownership for the slow starts and the problems giving up big plays. He said the coaches have preached about both issues in practice, but the message has not gotten through.
“The coaches can’t be a broken record and keep saying the same thing about you,” O’Brien said. “We have to get it corrected and we as coaches have to make sure it gets done.”