Frustrated by another home ACC loss and another missed opportunity, N.C. State safety Josh Jones was just trying to answer a simple question.
“We just have to get back to work tomorrow and correct everything,” Jones said after the Wolfpack dropped a 27-13 decision to Miami on Saturday afternoon.
If only it were that simple, and there were more time. Eleven games deep into the 2016 season, N.C. State (5-6) is butting up against Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity.
How can you keep doing the same things over and over and expect a different result?
Some of the mental errors and penalties that have cost N.C. State all season were on display in one fourth-quarter drive. The sequence was almost succinct enough to wrap N.C. State’s frustrating season up into one package.
“Frustrating is an understatement,” senior center Joe Scelfo said. “It’s just the little things, the attention to detail, from all of us. That can’t happen.”
Down 20-10, on first down from Miami’s 24, quarterback Ryan Finley missed a wide-open Jaylen Samuels down the Miami sideline for what would have been a sure touchdown. Two plays later, senior running back Matt Dayes busted a 16-yard touchdown run, but it was called back by a clipping penalty on tight end Clark Eyers.
Finley, who had a difficult game (20-of-44, 210 yards), found receiver Stephen Louis for 19 yards, on third-and-18, to offset the penalty but on fourth-and-1 from Miami’s 4 freshman tight end Thaddeus Moss was flagged for a false start.
“A lot of the things we’re talking about are fundamental things that we work on every day,” said Doeren, who fell to 3-13 in ACC home games.
Kicker Connor Haskins knuckled through a 25-yard field goal so the drive wasn’t a complete wash, but it did leave you wanting more. The same could be said for N.C. State’s season.
“It’s tough right now because there’s a lot of mistakes made out on the field and a lot of missed opportunities,” said Dayes, who ran for 76 yards and a touchdown. “That’s why it hurts so bad.”
Penalties have cost the Wolfpack all season. It entered the game 118th (out of 128) in penalty yards per game. N.C. State was only flagged four times, and for 51 yards, but those two on that star-crossed field-goal drive hurt. So did a pass interference on third down to extend Miami’s subsequent drive.
“I feel like we shouldn’t have any dumb penalties, but it is what it is,” Dayes said.
Maybe the Wolfpack could overcome some of the penalties if it could convert its chances in the red zone into touchdowns. But Finley threw a costly pick in the third quarter, when N.C. State had a chance to answer Miami’s opening drive of the second half with a touchdown of its own.
Four times N.C. State got inside the Miami 25, and it scored only one touchdown, a 3-yard run by Dayes in the third quarter.
N.C. State went into the game ranked 115th in red-zone scoring conversions (75.6 percent). Haskins made a pair of field goals to keep them at that clip (3-of-4).
It’s difficult, if not impossible, to fix reoccurring mistakes this deep into the season. N.C. State heads into its last game hoping it’s not too late to pull off the impossible.
“We’ve still got one more game left,” said Jones, who finished with 15 tackles. “It’s not too late.”
Maybe N.C. State is right, and Einstein was wrong.
Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio