Even after a loss to UNC a week ago, NC State still had hopes of a potential shot at the ACC Championship game headed into Saturday's contest against Virginia. Instead, those hopes were all but dashed as the Wolfpack played its worst game of the year en route to a 33-6 loss to the Cavaliers. Pack Pride recaps the game.
The Bottom Line
Only the coaches know for sure but from an outsider's perspective, the NC State team did not appear mentally prepared to play this weekend.
From the opening kickoff State looked lethargic, unemotional and poor execution soon followed. Perhaps the Pack was still suffering the effects from last weekend's emotional loss to Carolina. However, with so much on the line it's hard to fathom how this team could play so poorly against a Virginia team that had only wins over Richmond and Penn State. Sure, Virginia had a week to prepare and perhaps the Cavs win but the way State played was much more than an extra seven days to get ready for State.
Not to take anything away from Virginia because they played a great game but this loss was all about NC State. Turnovers, penalties, mental breakdowns- those have been the constants when the Pack has struggled. In all four losses, State beat itself as much or more than the opposition. A season that once looked promising is in a tailspin and the coaches have to figure it out quickly.
Offensive recipe for failure
First down at midfield on initial drive- RJ Mattes is called for a false start. First and 15, Bryan Underwood drops a pass. Second down, Tony Creecy runs for one yard. Third down, Mike Glennon throws an interception. NC State's ineptness on offense this season was summed up in this one drive. Penalties, dropped passes and turnovers, inability to run the football- you had it all in one series.
Right side of offensive line struggled
Virginia came in having amassed a grand total of seven sacks. All year! Against NC State they had six with most of them coming between the center and right guard, right guard and right tackle or off the edge on the right side. The Pack alternated Camden Wenzt, Duran Christophe, Joe Thuney, Andrew Wallace and Tyson Chandler. Regardless of who was on that side, Virginia had their way and was able to pressure Mike Glennon all day.
Forgettable day for Glennon
After the best outing of his career last week, Glennon had one of his worst against Virginia. He wasn't solely responsible, however. Once again there were at least a half dozen drops not to mention way too many penalties in the first half. Throw in the fact that State can't run the football and Glennon was in a virtually impossible position.
When given time to throw, Glennon has shown he can pick teams apart. However, teams have figured out that Glennon struggles when pressured and when outside his comfort zone, becomes a very average quarterback. Players like Philip Rivers and Russell Wilson were great QB's because of their ability to improvise and make something out of nothing. Glennon has not demonstrated this ability. You can tell in his body language that he begins to get shaky when the first option is covered and he has to hold the ball for that extra second or two. Based on the way the offensive line has blocked, this is going to continue to be a problem unless the Wolfpack coaches can find a way to counteract it.
Special teams gets in on the act
Not to be outdone, NC State's special teams were as out of synch as any other part of the team Saturday. Tim Buckley had two blocks in the back, one of which killed a huge punt return by Rashard Smith. He also very nearly collided with Smith on a punt that was inches away from being another turnover. Later in the game Smith fumbled a punt that would've set the Pack up in great field position although at that stage of the game, probably wasn't that crucial. We do have to give the Pack credit for an onsides kick that was executed perfectly although the offense was unable to do anything with it.
Run defense collapse
Linebacker was a concern headed into 2012 with the suspension of D.J. Green and Terrell Manning's decision to head for the NFL. However, the hope was that some of the weakness at linebacker would be countered by a deep, talented defensive line. That certainly hasn't been the case of late.
Offensive coordinators have apparently figured out the best way to beat State is to attack them on the perimeter with the run game and then come back between the tackles. Maryland gashed the Pack for 206 yards with their fourth string quarterback. UNC countered with 212 rushing yards of their own. On Saturday the Cavs amassed 248 yards on the ground. This from a team that was No. 92 nationally in rushing offense prior to the State game.
The Pack can't keep the offensive linemen off the linebackers and the linebackers can't get off blocks. Way too often they got swallowed up by the Virginia linemen. Expect to see much of the same over the coming weeks unless State can figure out a way to slow down the opposition's run.
Worst loss under O'Brien Perhaps some will disagree but this very well may have been the worst loss suffered by NC State under Tom O'Brien. With so much on the line, facing a 2-6 team at home, it's hard to imagine that the Pack could come out so flat. Maybe you do lose this game but the way State lost is simply unfathomable. There was absolutely nothing about this game that was positive. Nothing. Coach O'Brien has said he believes the players should be responsible for getting themselves up to play a game. If that's the case then State simply has no leadership within the team to make that happen.
Turning the page
State can be a very good team at times. They've shown they can play solid defense. The offensive can string together points in bunches. The problem has been finding consistency and the ability to avoid self-inflicted errors that give them virtually no chance to win or make winnable games much more difficult than they need to be.
Up next is Wake Forest. Like Virginia, this is a game the Pack should win, at least on paper. However, the Deacs have been a thorn in State's side and if the Wolfpack look anything remotely like the team that showed up on Saturday they'll likely find themselves on the short end of a three game losing streak.
To turn this around State has to look in the mirror. Way too many times this year, this hasn't been about what other teams have done to the Wolfpack. It's been about what the Pack has done to itself.
State can still have a respectable season but they have to reverse the trends of the first nine games of the year.