A week off never looked so good to N.C. State coach Dave Doeren.
After Saturday’s hard-fought 30-18 loss at Louisville, N.C. State’s fourth in a row after a 4-0 start, the Wolfpack will take a break and try to put its season back together.
“We need a bye week bad,” Doeren said. “I think this will be a good week for them mentally to refocus and hit the reset button.”
The Wolfpack showed some fight with a late rally, and significant improvement on defense, but it wasn’t enough to snap a school-record 12-game ACC losing streak. If the Wolfpack (4-4, 0-4 ACC) can carry over some of the improvements on defense, it will have a chance to find two wins against Syracuse, Georgia Tech, Wake Forest and North Carolina.
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“(The coaches) want to be in a bowl game,” Doeren said. “(The players) want to be in a bowl game. Everybody wants us to be in a bowl game. We have four opportunities to make that happen.”
Quarterback Jacoby Brissett (18 of 32, 223 yards) threw a pair of touchdowns to tight end David J. Grinnage and freshman linebacker Airius Moore nearly turned the game around with a defensive touchdown near the end of the third quarter.
Down 17-9 with 1:30 left in the third quarter, Moore scooped up an apparent fumble by Louisville quarterback Will Gardner at the N.C. State 26-yard line and returned it 74 yards for a touchdown. It was ruled as such on the field but the replay showed Gardner, who tripped after the snap and had the ball knocked out of his hand accidentally by the leg of running back L.J. Scott, was on the ground before he lost control of the ball.
“He was down, you could see on the replay, it was just disappointing that didn’t happen to go our way because it was a great play for that kid,” Doeren said.
Instead of being down 17-15, which the scoreboard at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium turned to, the six points came off the Wolfpack’s side of the board. Two plays later, N.C. State safety Germaine Pratt dropped an interception in the front left corner of the end zone and Louisville kicker John Wallace finished off the star-crossed series with a 38-yard field goal to give the Cards a 17-9 lead.
N.C. State kept plugging away in the second half. Grinnage’s second touchdown, a 21-yarder with 2:21 left in the game, cut Louisville’s lead to 23-18. Then the 2-point try was no good and Louisville (6-2, 4-2 ACC) recovered the onsides kick. Michael Dyer, who ran for 173 yards,
tacked on a 46-yard touchdown run for good measure for the Cardinals.
But after getting obliterated by Clemson (41-0) and mauled by Boston College (30-14) in the past two weeks, the Wolfpack defense at least showed a pulse, even with two starters, linebacker Jerod Fernandez and safety Josh Jones, suspended for the game for their role in a recent BB gun incident.
N.C. State’s defense, which entered the game giving up an ACC-worst 42.3 points and 478.3 yards per conference game, got a strong effort from Moore (eight tackles and a sack) and used more blitzing packages to pressure Gardner. The Wolfpack finished with three sacks and the 369 yards were the fewest it has allowed in an ACC game.
“Yeah, it’s progress, but we still have to get the ‘W,’ ” said senior linebacker Brandon Pittman, who finished with seven tackles and a sack.
Louisville got a boost from the return of receiver DeVante Parker, who missed the first seven games of the season with a broken foot. Parker caught nine passes for for 132 yards — 111 of them came in the first half.
Gardner, in his first start in four games, threw a pair of touchdowns, then Dyer and the defense did the rest for the Cardinals.
After four straight losses, and eight consecutive games without a bye to start the season, the Wolfpack is ready for a break, Grinnage said.
“It hurts us to see us go downhill,” Grinnage said. “We have to come back from this bye week and get our legs together.”