RALEIGH — N.C. State lost another quarterback and another ACC game.
The Wolfpack was left battered and bewildered after a 24-10 home loss to Syracuse on Saturday.
“We need to find ourselves,” N.C. State linebacker Robert Caldwell said.
The Orange (3-3, 1-1 ACC) picked up its first ACC win after it put on a clinic on how to run the football. Syracuse, which left the Big East and joined the ACC in June, rushed for 362 yards and three touchdowns.
N.C. State (3-3) fell to 0-3 in the ACC under first-year coach Dave Doeren, who bottom-lined the loss after his defense gave up 134 yards on the ground in the fourth quarter.
“They broke us in the run game,” Doeren said. “That was the difference. We just didn’t stop the run in the fourth quarter.”
Orange quarterback Terrel Hunt ran for more yards (92) than he threw (74) but it didn’t matter because running backs Jerome Smith (140 yards, one touchdown) and Prince-Tyson Gulley (132 yards, one touchdown) ran free.
N.C. State’s offense couldn’t get anything going, even before junior quarterback Pete Thomas left in the fourth quarter with a shoulder injury.
The Wolfpack began the game without quarterback Brandon Mitchell, who missed his fifth straight game with a foot injury, receiver Rashard Smith (knee) and left tackle Rob Crisp (concussion). Then Joe Thuney, Crisp’s replacement, got hurt in the first half and did not play in the second half.
Thomas, who was 17 of 35 for 151 yards with a a touchdown and interception, hurt his left shoulder on the drive after Gulleys’ go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter.
The brittle Pack offense, which has averaged only 12.3 points in three ACC losses, finished the game with walk-on Garrett Leatham at quarterback.
“We’re on our third left tackle, and our third quarterback,” Doeren said. “It’s tough to win a game like that.”
For all its problems and injury issues, the Pack did manage to tie the game at 10 on a 27-yard field goal by Nik Sade at 10:12 in the fourth quarter.
Thomas had a 38-yard scramble to set up the field goal and State seemed to be in position to find a way to win the game but the Orange got a 57-yard run from Smith, followed by a 18-yard touchdown from Gulley to take a 16-10 lead at 6:13 in the fourth.
Thomas got hurt on a third-down pass attempt after Gulley’s touchdown. Mitchell was suited up on the sidelines but he didn’t play in the game.
Doeren had hoped Mitchell could play this week, after returning to practice, but he said it was too soon. Mitchell broke a bone in his left foot in the season-opener on Aug. 31 and had surgery the next day.
He led the Wolfpack offense to touchdowns on the first two drives of the season but got hurt on the third possession and hasn’t played since. The offense hasn’t been the same without him, but Doeren said the Arkansas transfer wasn’t even close to playing on Saturday.
“I could have played him and put him at risk and I’m not going to do that,” Doeren said.
Doeren said he was hopeful Mitchell would be able to play against Florida State on Oct. 26. The Wolfpack has an open date before the road trip against the top 10 team.
The week off also comes at the halfway point to the season. At 3-3, the Wolfpack still needs three wins to qualify for a bowl game. Just one conference win would be a start.
After a strong effort against conference favorite Clemson on a Thursday night showcase game in September, the Pack has lost two straight winnable division games.
“Everyone is disappointed, just disappointed,” Caldwell said.
Doeren said the open date comes at the right time and he said the team will use it to regroup.
“There’s six games on our schedule and we’re going to try to win every one of them,” Doeren said.