JOHNSON: Take A Deep Breath

With eight games and two-thirds of the season left on the schedule, it is time to take a deep breath and remember how quickly things can change.

There are eight games left on NC State's schedule. Two-thirds of the season has yet to be played and yet everyone seems to know exactly how the rest of the year will play out.

But the truth is that no one knows – not a single coach, player or fan.

The Wolfpack looked terrible on Thursday night. There really aren't enough negative adjectives to describe that nationally televised debacle which included an unfathomable -26 rushing yards for the Pack. The last time NC State did that poorly on the ground was during the World War II era.

Everyone did their part. The Pack offense opened the game by ending drives with a punt, an interception, another punt, another interception, a third punt and then just to round things out... a fumble. By the time the Wolfpack put together a note-worthy drive, it was already staring at a 21-point deficit.

The defense gave up every imaginable third down conversion. Cincinnati converted three times on 3rd and longer than 10, and its overall third down conversion rate of 56% doesn't begin to tell the tale of how easy it was for the Bearcats to move the ball.

The coaching staff looked completely unprepared on both sides of the ball. Cincinnati is not a perfect team, they have exploitable weaknesses, but the staff never found them. They made the Bearcats look like a juggernaut, a championship contender when in reality they are a team that was picked to finish fifth in a weak Big East Conference in the preseason.

It was, in short, the kind of game that garners quick and intense overreaction. There's a very good chance we just witnessed the low-point of the 2011 season – and if we didn't then please refer to the opening sentence of this column. We are, collectively, reacting to a low-point in a season with eight more games to go and months to work out all the problems that seemed so glaring and unfixable against Cincinnati.

Four games just isn't enough information to draw conclusions, but we all can agree that the Pack hasn't been good through four games. However, from a personnel standpoint, NC State should be receiving an added boost in the near future. J.R. Sweezy and Jeff Rieskamp could be back for Georgia Tech, and Mustafa Greene, Andrew Wallace, and Terrell Manning should be back by mid-October. All five are starters that could help tremendously at positions are obviously struggling right now.

With that being said, getting players healthy won't completely fix this team; it also has to improve over the next few weeks – particularly along the offensive and defensive lines.

So it's time to step back and take a collective breath. No one can predict what will happen next. Did anyone see the last four games of 2008 coming? When a 2-6 NC State team rolled off four straight wins (two against ranked opponents) to make a bowl game. Or skip ahead to the next year, when the Pack capped a 3-1 start with a win over Pittsburgh only to finish 5-7 and get blown out in embarrassing fashion by the likes of Duke and Boston College.

There are perfectly reasonable cases to be made against certain coaches on the coaching staff keeping their jobs (and I'm thinking of one coach in particular when I say this), but there is still a week left in September. If this team turns things around and goes 7-5, which is far from impossible, heads don't really need to roll considering the players lost and the fact that the core of this team will return in 2012.

Watching Thursday night play out as a three-hour nightmare, it is easy to want instant gratification. There is no guarantee this team will get better, but there is also no guarantee it won't. There is nothing but eight games of uncertainty ahead, and plenty of time to change minds.

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