It was the type of loss that can define a season.
And while plenty of fingers will be pointed at the defense, which allowed 34 points, it was once again the offense -- most notably early in the game -- that let NC State down.
Saturday was the fifth game this season that NC State went into the second quarter without points. Aside from the Virginia game, which was tied at zero after 15 minutes, the Wolfpack has been down double digits in four of those five games. Three of those contests (Cincinnati, Georgia Tech and FSU) ended up being blowouts.
The easy answer is to say that the defense lost those games. The correct answer is that the NC State offense did little to give the Wolfpack a chance of winning them.
State has been outscored 65-24 in the first quarter of games in 2011. Even in its two contests against FBS opponents, the Wolfpack only scored 10 first-quarter points. The one game NC State started well in (Central Michigan), the score was tied at 14 when the second quarter started.
Saturday's loss to Florida State fit right in with the trends of the season for the offense. NC State racked up 21 yards on 12 plays in its first three possessions, punting all three times it had the ball early in the game.
Mike Glennon completed one pass in NC State's first three possessions (1 of 5, 4 yards) and was sacked once. The running game wasn't much better, tallying 17 yards on five rushes. NC State put itself in 3rd and six or longer three times, converting none of those chances.
Meanwhile, Florida State's offense tallied 105 yards on its first three possessions (17 plays) while building a 10-0 edge by the end of the first quarter.
And even then the game wasn't out of hand.
Florida State didn't go up 17-0 until midway through the second quarter. There were chances for NC State to stay in the game, but its offense simply wouldn't allow it. A missed field goal, a punt and an interception made sure of it.
By halftime, when Florida State's lead had grown to 24-0, the game was all but over.
Eight games in, the slow starts are no longer just something to watch. They are THE reason NC State is 4-4 and not 6-2 or better. Injuries -- especially on the defensive side of the ball -- are an important part of the 2011 narrative, but once games start the people within each unit have to perform, period.
Whether it's game planning, play-calling or players simply not being ready to play, NC State has to find a way to solve its early-game issues. If it doesn't happen, and soon, Saturday's lackluster performance will look efficient after North Carolina and Clemson come to Carter-Finley Stadium in the next two weeks.
The coaching staff needs to do a better job scripting plays early in the game, and the players need to execute those plays much better. On the bright side, the issues could be correctable, especially when you consider NC State's 2010 squad, which had the same offensive staff, routinely jumped out to early leads on opponents. Doing so often enabled NC State's defense to face one-dimensional offenses, and that is always beneficial.
Another consideration has to be NC State's scheme as a whole -- a pro-style attack relying on an ineffective run game in an effort to set up vertical play-action passes. Without above average offensive linemen or running backs, that's probably not going to get the job done. NC State has neither.
There has to be a willingness from the coaching staff to adjust and adapt a scheme based on the players on the field. With the skill personnel NC State has on offense (quick, shifty wideouts who are pretty good in space and a fairly accurate quarterback) the short-passing game -- a mix of screens, slants and other underneath routes -- seems to be a much better fit than the drop-back game.
Asking Mike Glennon, who isn't as mobile as maybe everyone thought, to stand in the pocket for 4-5 seconds and deliver the ball downfield might be asking too much, particularly against teams that get after the quarterback like Florida State.
NC State tried to get the ball out quickly at times, but not enough. Get the ball out of Glennon's hands quick and allow guys like T.J. Graham, Tobais Palmer, Bryan Underwood and even James Washington to work in space. Glennon will stay healthy, the offensive line won't have to hold up in pass protection for extended periods of time 35 plays a game, and the best athletes on the team will have the ball in their hands with an opportunity to make plays.
With four games left in 2011 there is plenty of room for improvement and the chance to finish the season on a positive note, but if the NC State offense can't figure out its early-game woes, the Wolfpack will finish with a losing record for the fourth time in Tom O'Brien's five seasons.