There was plenty of blame to go around. The Wolfpack started flat, spotting East Carolina to a 21-0 first-quarter lead. When it came back to take the lead in the fourth quarter, the defense gave up a 43-yard drive that led to the game-tying field goal. East Carolina scored in overtime on seven plays without having to convert on third down, and a Russell Wilson interception ended the lone N.C. State possession in the extra session.
Wilson's interception was his third of the day, and he also lost a fumble. Though he put up 322 yards through the air and both threw and ran for a touchdown, it continued a trend in which opposing defenses have been able to lure him into throwing the ball into tight coverage, with disappointing results for the Wolfpack.
Wilson now has nine interceptions through seven games, after having 11 in all of 2009. He has been picked off eight times in the past three games, as he tossed another three against Virginia Tech and two against Boston College. As the State offense has become more pass-happy -- Wilson's pass attempts have gone up over each of the past five games, from 40 passes against Cincinnati to 52 against East Carolina -- his touchdown pass numbers have stayed relatively flat, while the turnovers have gone up.
Apart from the fact that East Carolina is a regional rival, this loss isn't terribly damaging. The Wolfpack still have just one ACC loss, and by winning its remaining five games would theoretically be in a great position to make the ACC championship game and earn a spot in a major bowl.
But with a bye week separating the Wolfpack from its next game, a pivotal ACC clash with Florida State, there's clearly some work to do for O'Brien and his staff. Particularly with a new athletic director in town, they have to be wondering whether she'll show any more patience than the fans will if the team doesn't follow its strong start with an equally impressive finish.
-- North Carolina State's defense struggled early, allowing East Carolina quarterback Dominique Davis to complete his first 14 passes on the way to the Pirates' early 21-0 lead. It had better luck when they added an extra defensive back, switching from a 4-3-4 to a 3-3-5.
-- Owen Spencer and Jarvis Williams continue to race each other up the rankings in the Wolfpack's all-time receptions list. Williams had five catches against East Carolina and now has 108 for his career, the 12th most in N.C. State history. Spencer had six catches, making it 99 for his career and the No. 15 ranking.
GAME BALL GOES TO: LB Audie Cole -- Cole finished second on the team with nine tackles, but he had two key fumble recoveries, a forced fumble and a pass broken up. Those big plays helped keep the Pack in the game until the final whistle, particularly his strip of Giavanni Ruffin at the goal line, which turned a potential Pirates touchdown into an N.C. State touchback.
KEEP AN EYE ON: RB Mustafa Greene -- The freshman continues to show the ability to grind out yards. He finished with 77 yards on 16 carries, and with his longest carry of the day a 12-yarder, most of those came in shorter bursts that gave the Wolfpack second-and-short or third-and-short situations.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "They made plays there in the overtime period to end up winning the game. Our kids, we got so far behind. We fought back and couldn't seem to get over the hump there at the end." -- North Carolina State coach Tom O'Brien, to the Raleigh News & Observer.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
LOOKING GOOD: Apart from the first quarter and the overtime, the defense kept the Wolfpack in the game. It forced four key turnovers, including a strip at the goal line by Audie Cole that saved a touchdown, and held the vaunted East Carolina offense to just six points between the second and fourth quarters. Russell Wilson threw for more than 300 yards again, helping bring the Wolfpack back from an early 21-0 deficit.
STILL NEEDS WORK: Four turnovers. The last one cost the team any chance at winning the game, but all four miscues hurt. Russell Wilson is putting up numbers, but the turnovers have been troubling over the past three games. State also came out very flat on both sides of the ball, spotting East Carolina that 21-0 lead. Whatever the pregame speech was, it didn't work.
-- WR T.J. Graham had two catches for 77 yards against East Carolina, including a 49-yard touchdown. He only has 17 receptions on the season, but his 16.4 yards-per-catch average leads the team.
-- K Josh Czajkowski made a pair of field goals, but his miss proved to be costly. After Audie Cole recovered a fumble on special teams in the first quarter, Czajkowski misfired on a 27-yard field-goal attempt with his team down 7-0. East Carolina went on to score 14 more points in the quarter, and the miss helped keep the Wolfpack flat during that opening stanza.