The best version of N.C. State’s football team went to Clemson on Oct. 15. It hasn’t been seen since.
Not in last week’s lopsided road loss to Louisville and not again in Saturday’s 21-14 home loss to Boston College.
Where is that version of the Wolfpack, which fell to 4-4 on Saturday and became the first team to lose an ACC game to Boston College since 2014?
“Still in Clemson, South Carolina,” junior defensive end Bradley Chubb said. “We’re still letting that game beat us. We just have to get over it.
“That game is over, so we just have to focus on the next opponent, and we’re just not doing that.”
It’s not uncommon for one difficult loss to turn into two. It happens all the time in sports, especially after emotional efforts like N.C. State had at Clemson.
The Wolfpack was a 33-yard field goal away from a win in regulation at Clemson. The missed kick started a downward spiral that now leaves N.C. State’s bowl hopes in question and raises another question about coach Dave Doeren’s future.
In Doeren’s fourth season, N.C. State has a 3-11 home record in ACC games. This was the break in the schedule N.C. State needed to get back on track, a home game with a Boston College team that had lost 12 straight conference games. N.C. State couldn’t take advantage of that opportunity.
“We have to be an opportunistic team that capitalizes on moments,” Doeren said. “We can’t beat ourselves and win big games or win any games.”
Two plays in particular cost the Wolfpack in the fourth quarter. Up 14-13 at 14:06 in the fourth quarter, with second-and-4 from its own 47-yard line, N.C. State quarterback Ryan Finley hit receiver Stephen Louis for a 53-yard touchdown.
The play was called back for an ineligible receiver downfield because tight end Cole Cook was “covered up” on the line of scrimmage by receiver Kelvin Harmon. It was the same type of penalty that cost N.C. State a touchdown in the first quarter of its win over Notre Dame on Oct. 8.
Doeren said the offense had been running the play correctly in practice.
“When it’s on film correctly for four days in a row, it should be on game day,” Doeren said.
Instead of extending the lead, N.C. State’s drive ended two plays later with a punt.
The Eagles took the lead later in the fourth quarter with a nine-play, 63-yard drive that started at their own 37-yard line. They converted on fourth-and-1 from N.C. State’s 31 but then had a holding penalty push them back to N.C. State’s 39-yard line.
On second-and-20, the Eagles got receiver Michael Walker loose for 25 yard on a screen pass.
“We had them in a second-and-20, which is an obvious draw/screen down, and we give them a screen that gets them inside the red zone,” Doeren said. “Those things can’t happen. They can’t.”
But they did. After Walker’s big play, Davon Jones hit tight end Tommy Sweeney on a halfback pass from 14 yards out for the go-ahead touchdown.
After a 56-yard kickoff return and a 32-yard catch by Nyheim Hines, N.C. State had the ball on Boston College’s 10-yard line.
A pass interference call in the end zone gave N.C. State first-and-goal from the 2. N.C. State couldn’t punch the ball in on the ground. Matt Dayes ran twice and lost 1 yard. As a team, the Wolfpack finished the game with 31 rushing yards on 23 carries.
On third down, Finley tried to throw an alley-oop to Louis in the left corner of the end zone. Louis broke off his route and Boston College corner Kamrin Moore intercepted the errant pass with 1:37 left to seal the Eagles’ first ACC win since Nov. 29, 2014.
Finley, who finished 23-of-41 for 307 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions, isn’t sure what has happened to N.C. State since the Clemson loss. He is sure of one thing.
“I know we’re better than this,” Finley said.
Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio