There is no excuse for the mental mistakes N.C. State made in Saturday’s loss to East Carolina, and Wolfpack coach Dave Doeren didn’t try to make any on Monday.
The Wolfpack made too many errors and committed too many preventable penalties to win a close game. After a 33-30 loss, decided by the final drive, Doeren said it was natural to question what went wrong.
“I’m the head coach, it’s my responsibility to win every game that I can win and that didn’t happen,” Doeren said. “So I’m going to own that, and I have no problem doing that.”
Doeren said his team lost focus with preventable penalties and mental lapses on defense. N.C. State committed twice as many penalties as ECU.
An offsides penalty on defensive end Bradley Chubb extended one ECU scoring drive. The Wolfpack was also flagged for a sideline interference penalty for getting tangled up with one of the game officials.
In all, N.C. State was penalized eight times, for 54 yards, compared to four flags for ECU (36 yards).
“There was a couple that we should not have had, that really hurt us,” Doeren said of the penalties.
N.C. State was also flagged seven times (for 80 yards) in the season-opener against William & Mary. Last year, N.C. State averaged 5.5 penalties per game.
Doeren said the penalty problems have to get fixed. So do the coverage breakdowns on defense.
ECU quarterback Philip Nelson was 17-of-18 in the second half and was able to help the Pirates convert on 4 of 7 third-down chances in the second half.
Doeren is unlikely to shake up the starting lineup on defense, he said. Focus, not talent or effort, was the problem.
“It always comes back to one thing for me and that’s focus,” Doeren said. “Our guys play hard. Playing hard but not focused doesn’t do anything for you.”
A lack of pressure on Nelson — N.C. State had one sack in 43 pass attempts — and poor tackling hurt the Wolfpack defense. It wasn’t all that different from the problems that plagued the defense at the end of last season.
Linebacker Airius Moore, who had 11 tackles against the Pirates, said there is a simple answer to improvement.
“We have to be football players and make plays,” Moore said.
N.C. State’s defense did force two turnovers and have 13 tackles for loss against ECU. It was just a penalty here, a lapse there, that extended scoring drives.
Doeren was confident the defense, which features eight starters from last season, would learn from the loss and improve.
“I know we are a better team than that,” Doeren said. “It’s our job to prove it.”
Mistakes were made all around, quarterback Ryan Finley said. He said he missed two throws that would have ended in two sure touchdowns.
One thing N.C. State can’t do, Finley said, is to dwell on the ECU loss.
“It’s a long season,” Finley said. “We have a lot of football left. It’s one loss. All of our goals are still intact.”
The best way to reach those goals, Doeren said, is to control what they can control.
“For us, it’s about us executing at a high level and not beating ourselves,” Doeren said.
Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio