North Carolina State spent September showing that it could change the program's recent history of poor starts. Now, it will spend October looking to prove it can overcome disappointment.
The Wolfpack saw its undefeated season and Top 25 ranking disappear Saturday in a 41-30 loss to Virginia Tech. Not only was the game at home, but State jumped off to a 17-0 lead and led the game late in the fourth quarter before giving up a pair of touchdowns in the final two minutes.
Next up is Boston College, a team having a disappointing year but also a squad that State hasn't had much success against in recent years. Coach Tom O'Brien has yet to beat his former school in his three years in Raleigh, and the Wolfpack were blown out 52-20 on the road a year ago.
For North Carolina State to rebound, a key will be to eliminate the mistakes that plagued the team a week ago. Special teams again proved costly, giving up a kickoff return for a touchdown for the second time this season. But Russell Wilson uncharacteristically threw three interceptions on offense, and tackling was a problem throughout the second half on defense.
This isn't among the better Boston College teams in recent memory. The Eagles are the lowest-scoring team in the ACC (while the Wolfpack are the highest-scoring squad), and are still unsettled at quarterback. This would seem like a good opportunity to rebound from the loss to the Hokies.
But doing so will be a test of the locker room as much as anything else. In the past, the Wolfpack reacted to adversity with sniping and finger-pointing, and had a hard time turning things around. All the talk in practice this week has been that this year's edition of the Pack is different, and better-prepared to move past the defeat. This Saturday, we'll find out on the field whether that is correct.
-- One thing that makes the Wolfpack tricky to defend, particularly in the red zone, is that Russell Wilson doesn't play favorites when he's looking for paydirt. To wit: When he completed a scoring strike to running back Dean Haynes in the first quarter against Virginia Tech, that marked the ninth different State player to be on the receiving end of a Wilson touchdown pass through the season's first five games.
-- Co-captain Jarvis Williams continues to move up the school record books. He's now tied with Eddie Goines with the third-most touchdown catches in N.C. State history at 17.
SERIES HISTORY: Boston College leads, 5-2 (last meeting, 2009, 52-20 Boston College).
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Russell Wilson did a lot of good things with the football against Virginia Tech, but he also made three critical mistakes that led to costly interceptions. Boston College will likely follow that script and try to get Wilson overconfident, disguising its coverages in the hopes of forcing miscues. He'll have to be better at making the safer choice this week.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: This could be one of those games where the defense leads the charge. Boston College has had a lot of issues putting up points this season, and the Wolfpack defense excels at putting pressure on the quarterback. However, it will have to tackle a lot better than it did in the second half of last week's loss to Virginia Tech.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We all needed to feel the taste of defeat. We've been winning this whole time. You kind of need to feel that so you can get back to work and not feel complacent or get kind of greedy and you don't work as hard." -- North Carolina State wide receiver Darrell Davis, putting a positive spin on the loss to Virginia Tech in the Raleigh News and Observer.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: Boston College at North Carolina State, Oct. 9 -- Tom O'Brien leads his Wolfpack (4-1, 1-1) against his former school, hoping for better luck this time. North Carolina State has yet to beat Boston College in O'Brien's three years at the helm in Raleigh.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Walk the walk. North Carolina State is saying all the right things this week about how this isn't 2009 and the Wolfpack are much more together and resilient than they were a year ago. This Boston College team is eminently beatable, especially in Raleigh, and if the Wolfpack can't end their coach's losing streak it's probably a sign that there's still a trace of the self-destruction that plagued last season's squad.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
LB Audie Cole -- Boston College is unsettled at quarterback, and also struggled to run the ball last week against Notre Dame. Seems like a situation tailor-made for Cole and partner in crime Nate Irving to wreak havoc in the Eagles backfield.
QB Russell Wilson -- The key for Wilson is to not try and make a spectacular play when a routine one will do. He should be able to find room to move against the Eagles, and if he plays like he did against Georgia Tech, instead of showing the mistakes he displayed against Virginia Tech, the Wolfpack should be in good shape.
RT R. J. Mattes -- Mattes is still working his way back from a knee injury, but the coaching staff is thrilled to have him back because he solidifies the offensive line. The more snaps he can play on a weekly basis, the stronger the right side of the line is.
-- CB David Amerson will make the second start of his career this week at boundary corner. He replaces Justin Byers, who will still see plenty of action in obvious passing downs.
-- QB Russell Wilson is already in second place on N.C. State's career touchdown passing list, moving past Jamie Barnette with 62. He still has a ways to go to catch Philip Rivers atop the list. The current San Diego Charger is No. 1 with 95 scoring strikes in his four-year career with the Wolfpack, also an ACC record.