N.C. State had so many things go wrong Saturday against Clemson that it was hard to keep track.
There were fumbles and dumb penalties, missed tackles and blown assignments, an inexplicable muffed punt and even more injuries -- three on one defensive play, a harrowing sight. All in all, a long night for the Wolfpack in a 55-10 loss.
But in the midst of the misery, there was Zonovan “Bam” Knight.
The freshman running back rushed for 139 yards, more than anyone against the Tigers this season. His 53-yard burst in the third quarter, the longest run allowed by Clemson this year, gave the Pack its only touchdown and gave the few Pack fans left in the stands after halftime something to cheer on a cold night at Carter-Finley Stadium.
“Bright spot is definitely Zonovan,” N.C. State coach Dave Doeren said after the ACC blowout.
To his credit, Knight said any personal achievement meant little in such a big loss while also saying he could have been better.
“I’m not satisfied, because we lost,” Knight said after the game. “I know I had a decent game but it wasn’t enough to help the team overcome the deficit.”
Knight had been a nonfactor the past couple of games, lopsided losses to Boston College and Wake Forest. He had three carries for eight yards in the 44-10 beating by the Demon Deacons, leaving the game with an injury, and was wearing a brace on his left knee Saturday that he said slowed him down.
“To be honest with you I didn’t feel myself,” he said. “I guess with the brace I can’t fully pick up my knees. I didn’t feel like myself running. I didn’t feel as fast as I normally am.”
Knight was faster than anyone on the field on his third-quarter breakaway. While his longest run this season had been 26 yards, the former Southern Nash High star made a quick move through the line and split between safeties K’Von Wallace and Tanner Muse to outrun the guys in orange.
With the Pack trailing 42-0, it wasn’t as if Knight sparked anything. For N.C. State it was like getting a quick glimpse of sunshine on a chilly, gloomy day.
“I thought Bam ran really hard,” Doeren said. “I was happy to see him bust a long run. That play in particular, our stretch play, was a good play for us tonight.”
It also gave the Pack something to build on moving forward, in a season that has taken an ugly turn with the bad losses to BC and Wake and injury after injury.
Clemson, miffed about being picked fifth in the College Football Playoff rankings, was after total annihilation Saturday. Tigers coach Dabo Swinney had an extended, seemingly amiable midfield conversation with Doeren before the game, with both coaches smiling at times, but Swinney showed no mercy for 60 minutes, tacking on a run-up-the-score TD in the final seconds that made their postgame exchange brief.
That last Clemson score came after the Pack’s Tabari Hines reacted to a bouncing punt like it was a live ball, diving for it and fumbling.
But Knight made his mark. Louisville’s Javian Hawkins had 129 yards against the Tigers -- on 29 carries -- this season. Knight topped that total against the best team the Pack will face this season.
Knight scored on his first college carry, in the opener against East Carolina, and rushed for 119 yards and two scores against Western Carolina. But his second 100-yard game showcased him a little on a national ABC broadcast.
“It was very good to see him competing hard and just really battling and never giving up,” quarterback Devin Leary said.
The Pack (4-5 overall, 1-4 ACC) has a pair of home games remaining -- against Louisville and North Carolina -- sandwiched around its final road game, at Georgia Tech. The Wolfpack, given its injuries, again could be “playing with a short deck,” as Doeren called it Saturday, against the Cardinals.
“We know what we’re capable of doing and not beating ourselves,” Leary said. “Knowing what we’re capable of doing, even though we have so many guys hurt right now, that’s not really an excuse for us and we want to start being the best we can be. ... Seeing guys go down in the middle of game is really heartbreaking but the next-guy-up mentality is what we really preach a lot.”
Two wins would earn the Pack a bowl, and Doeren said he has a team that’s more mad than deflated.
“We’ve always had a chip on our shoulder because we know we’re better than how we’ve been playing,” Knight said. “Everyone says we have a young team, which is the reason why, but we know if we play to our potential every game, every snap ... we can beat a lot of teams.”