Tudor: Pack looks fully finished in lifeless loss

ctudor@newsobserver.comNovember 4, 2012 

N.C. State's Tom O'Briem yells at his players as they come off the field after a safety during the first half of N.C. State's game against Virginia at Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh, N.C. Saturday November 3, 2012.

ETHAN HYMAN — ehyman@newsobserver.com

— After last week’s staggering loss at North Carolina, Tom O’Brien asked his N.C. State players a simple but cutting question.

“Are you finished?” he wanted to know.

In Carter-Finley Stadium on Saturday, the sixth-year Wolfpack coach got an answer – certainly a partial answer – against Virginia. It was not the one he expected.

State reacted to the 43-35 loss in Chapel Hill by delivering maybe the worst performance of the O’Brien era in a lifeless 33-6 loss that essentially emptied the stadium early in the second half on homecoming.

Tactically, the Cavaliers (3-6 overall, 1-4 ACC) made a pivotal adjustment by extensively using a cover-4 pass defense – a ploy specifically designed to take away deep sideline passes on one hand and deep passes between the hash marks on the other.

That one piece of strategy by Mike London’s staff was enough to wreck Wolfpack quarterback Mike Glennon’s day from the start.

“They took away the deep stuff right from the start,” said wide-out Bryan Underwood. “It just wasn’t there, but we made too many mistakes on the shorter passes. They had a good defense, but a lot of it was on us.”

Glennon wound up throwing three interceptions and taking five sacks, one of which resulted in a Virginia safety.

His receivers compounded the problem by dropping at least six passes, one of which the 10-point underdog Wahoos turned into an interception.

But pass coverage schemes and butter-fingered catchers were merely parts of what happened to the Pack (5-4, 2-3).

A much bigger problem was a collective lack of focus and urgency – classic traits of a team that’s either “finished” or only a step away.

If State has a similar performance this Saturday against visiting Wake Forest, the ensuing two games at Clemson and at home for Boston College could be of very little consequence.

“It was not a good day,” O’Brien said.

Asked if the dramatic loss at UNC had any lingering effects, he said “it shouldn’t (have), but I don’t know that.

“I didn’t get any indication at practice this week that last week was a factor in getting ready to play this game. Could it have been? I don’t know. Tough loss last week. One thing we always do stress is don’t let a team beat you two weeks in a row and if that’s the case, then that’s the case … if anything we might have been too loose at the beginning of the game.”

Now a theme for the coach is don’t let the same team beat you three or four times in a row.

O’Brien lost a lot of supporters Saturday – so many, in fact, that nothing short of a four-game win streak for an 8-4 record, followed by an impressive bowl game will be enough to win back all of the fan base.

When the game ended, most fans were already on their way home, but there was a lot of loud booing during the final six or so minutes.

Several of those lingering fans were calling for O’Brien’s head – just as they were before the Pack stunned Florida State on the same field Oct. 6.

And while it’s likely O’Brien could be in some warm water with the administration, he also has three years left on his contract and a spotless record with the NCAA.

Odds are, he’s isn’t “finished” yet, even though his team gave that appearance against Virginia.

Tudor: ctudor@newsobserver.com, Twitter: @CaultonTudor, (919) 829-8946

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