However, it all unraveled over the final two quarters. Tech's offense lit up the scoreboard for 25 points and ripped off 253 yards of total offense in its comeback, stunning the Wolfpack in Carter-Finley Stadium.
"We made too many fundamental mistakes in the defense, whether it be lineups or blitzes or being in the right gaps, and we didn't tackle well at all," said Pack head coach Tom O"Brien. "There were shades of last year... if we get them on the ground a couple of times, it makes a difference in the ball game. We had shots and couldn't do it, so those are things that we have to go back and make sure we cover and we get better at."
The poor tackling was much more noticeable in the secondary, where Tech players bounced off Pack corners and safeties for huge gains. In fact, big plays proved to be the difference in the game. In 61 plays Virginia Tech totaled 440 yards of total offense with four of those plays accounting for an astounding 190 yards.
Tyrod Taylor, David Wilson, and Darren Evans each broke long runs in the secondary, and Jarrett Boykins' 39-yard, game-winning touchdown catch came with him breaking multiple tackles before reaching the endzone.
NC State, which started true freshman David Amerson at field corner along with three sophomores in the secondary, must make tackles when the opportunity is there.
"Those are things we have to go back and make sure we cover and get better at," said O'Brien. "The kids in the secondary, they are not freshmen anymore, they are sophomores but it's still better to be juniors and seniors than it is to be sophomores."
While some believed fatigue could have been an issue with the Pack's defense, defensive coordinator Mike Archer certainly doesn't believe that is the case.
"The same guys you were trying to tackle played the whole game too," said Archer. "We've got to execute. We didn't tackle. When you don't tackle against good football teams, you get in [bad] matchups.
"Tyrod Taylor is a good football player, and our guys knew that. We were in a position to make plays and the bottom line is we didn't make them. We made them in previous games so you've got to do it."
Taylor ran around the field all game, buying time for his receivers and converting first downs. He ended up rushing for 121 yards while passing for 123 more and three touchdowns, proving to be the difference in the game.
NC State had problems blitzing Taylor and also didn't do a good job against him when they dropped into coverage as the front four couldn't get any pressure on the Tech's senior quarterback.
A missing ingredient in NC State's pass rush was junior defensive end Jeff Rieskamp. The 6-foot-3, 245-pounder had started the previous four games, totaling 14 tackles, six quarterback pressures, and two tackles for a loss. Arguably NC State's top pass-rushing defensive lineman, the Wolfpack could have used Rieskamp's aggressive, relentless presence while trying to contain the elusive Taylor.
While Rieskamp's injury hasn't been disclosed, Archer indicated that he could return for this week's game against Boston College.
"[Jeff] is a high-motor guy, and he's been our starter," said Archer. "When you lose your starter, it affects you, but you've got to move on. Somebody else has to play... your depth has to be a factor there.
"Last week we started Michael Lemon [against Virginia Tech], and we had Daryl Cato-Bishop coming in... we rotated him in there. Hopefully we get Jeff back this week.. we'll see how he does in practice. He took some reps today. We'll see how he progresses, and hopefully he'll be healthy because he's important to the defense."
Cato-Bishop came in and performed admirably at defensive end after mainly playing defensive tackle in the first four games. The 6-foot-4, 281-pound redshirt freshman played 23 snaps, recording a tackle and two quarterback pressures. Look for him to continue splitting time at defensive tackle and defensive end as the season goes on.
"He's worked at tackle and end all during training camp," Archer said of Cato-Bishop. "A lot of our guys have worked at tackle and end. They are very similar so they've got to know both positions."
Now it's time for NC State to move on from the Tech loss and start focusing on Saturday's game against Boston College. It's safe to say that the players took their first loss of the season hard, but O'Brien and Archer believes they are already looking at Boston College.
"They were fine yesterday," said O'Brien. "It doesn't stay with them long. Youth is a wonderful thing. They forget things fast."
"You never want to lose and how you deal with it is very important," said Archer. "Do you bounce back? After we walk through that tunnel that game is over. We can't change it. As hard as it was, as easy as it was, you can't change it.
"You've got to move on to this one. You've got to prepare, and you've got to have a sense of urgency."
Perhaps it is a good thing for NC State that Boston College is next on the schedule. The Wolfpack has lost three straight games to the Eagles, and that certainly has their attention.
"This team has owned us for three years," Archer stated. "We've got to do our part. We've got to do what we've got to do to beat them."