N.C. State played its best game of the 2013 season against Clemson.
The Wolfpack followed that 26-14 home loss to the third-ranked Tigers last September with seven more ACC losses.
N.C. State can’t let this year's Florida State game turn into last year’s Clemson game.
The Wolfpack poured it out in a 56-41 loss to top-ranked Florida State last week. They led 24-7 at the end of the first quarter and 38-28 late in the third quarter.
There was nothing fluky about the way N.C. State went about building those leads. Quarterback Jacoby Brissett was brilliant, the defense was opportunistic and the Wolfpack made the most of the chances FSU gave them for 42 minutes.
N.C. State, by coincidence with Clemson next on the schedule, must find a way to build on the FSU game or else December will be here in a blink. The Wolfpack doesn’t want to spend another offseason with a round of “If only we played like we did against Florida State” regrets.
To second-year coach Dave Doeren’s credit, he understands his team did a lot of good things against FSU. He also understands the season is just starting.
“We're definitely better than we were,” Doeren said. “We've improved, but we’re not as good as we need to be.”
Doeren wasn’t exactly eager to go down memory lane this week; there’s little about a 3-9 season anyone would be willing to re-visit, but he agreed that the Clemson game was his team’s best effort last year.
“Guys played hard, played fast,” Doeren said. “We were disruptive on defense in that game. We caused turnovers in that game.”
And, yes, you might recall, there were a few interesting calls that went against the Wolfpack. Cornerback Jack Tocho had an apparent pick-six waved off by a timeout called by Clemson’s sideline in the first quarter.
Then there was “The Bryan Underwood Play.” N.C. State fans catalogue such memories with their own hashtag on Twitter, one for the sake of this family publication we’ll call “#NCStateStuff.”
To recap: Down 13-7 with 7:31 left in the third quarter, Underwood ripped off an 83-yard touchdown run on a jet sweep down the N.C. State sideline. Line judge Richard Misner, in a call ACC head of the officials Doug Rhoads will defend to his death, ruled Underwood stepped out of bounds at the N.C. State 48-yard line.
In a double dose of “#NCStateStuff,” the play could not be reviewed because Misner whistled it dead (the one aspect, Rhoads will relent, where Misner erred).
Instead of a 14-13 lead, N.C. State fumbled three plays later and Clemson quickly struck for a 30-yard Martavis Bryant touchdown and a 20-7 lead.
1 play changed season
It can easily be argued that play, that call changed N.C. State’s entire season. That doesn’t mean the Wolfpack would have won that game, or subsequently rolled through the ACC, but it doesn’t take a giant leap to extrapolate a seven- or eight-win season if N.C. State had beaten Clemson.
The reaction to that call was telling about last year’s team. Junior running back Shadrach Thornton believes even if “#NCStateStuff” strikes this year’s team, the players would handle it better.
“Last year, it was like, ‘Oh, man, they took a point off the board, I can’t believe they did that’ and mentally it kind of messed up us,” Thornton said of The Bryan Underwood Play.
“This year, we would have been like, ‘It’s still a good gain, it’s still a first down. We’re fixing to put the ball in the end zone.’ ”
That’s the right attitude to take into Death Valley, where N.C. State hasn’t won since 2002. After all, you can’t lose games to clever hashtags and ghost stories about incompetent officials if you don’t let them beat you.