For a team with little margin of error, NC State gave itself very little chance of victory in a mistake-filled Music City Bowl. The Pack suffered through five turnovers and a plethora of mistakes en route to a disappointing 38-24 loss to Vanderbilt. Pack Pride takes a look back at the game.
The Bottom Line
Not to take anything away from Vanderbilt but this game was all about NC State's self inflicted wounds. It's been a recurring theme in the Wolfpack's losses this season- fumbles, interceptions, penalties, dropped passes and the obligatory snap over Mike Glennon's head.
The Wolfpack is a talented team but just couldn't find a way to maximize their potential. Turnovers on three consecutive drives in the first half doomed the Pack although State yielded just seven points. What those plays did, however, was take away the Pack's chance to keep pace while keeping themselves bottled up with poor field position.
On the surface the Wolfpack's offensive numbers looked pretty good- 425 total yards of offense. However, when you give the ball away five times you simply don't give yourself a chance to win and all of the yardage is hollow.
Defense Held Their Own
Make no mistake, it wasn't a dominating performance by any stretch but NC State's defense played well enough to win. Unfortunately, the Wolfpack offense repeatedly put the defense in impossible positions. 21 of Vanderbilt's points came on three drives that totaled just 77 yards, the longest being a mere 32 yards.
State's defense held Vandy to just 225 total yards and 117 yards on the ground (2.9 yards per carry). Headed into the game, those numbers were as good as anyone could've expected. The only play State struggled to stop was the Commodore's wildcat formation and they used that effectively to sustain drives. Even on those plays, the Pack appeared to be in position to make a tackle but seemingly couldn't get the Vandy running backs on the ground.
Late Emergence of Tobais Palmer
What a shame that the emergence of Tobais Palmer didn't materialize until the final few games of his senior season. But man what a weapon he turned out to be when the light finally clicked on.
Palmer totaled 173 return yards and a 94-yard kickoff for a touchdown to break the Wolfpack single season return yardage record previously held by T.J. Graham. Palmer's numbers would have probably been even better if he hadn't muffed his first couple of attempts.
What Palmer has managed to do is likely play his way onto an NFL roster for 2013. While size could be a hindrance as a receiver on the next level, Palmer has all the skills to become a lethal threat in the return game.
Future Looks Bright for Pittman
We mentioned Pittman earlier this year as a player that we felt had a bright future ahead at NC State. While the season has been up and down for the sophomore, he once again flashed some big time potential against Vanderbilt.
Primarily used in pass rushing situations through much of the year, Pittman received some of the most substantial playing time he's seen all season against Vanderbilt. He responded by tallying 8 tackles and .5 tackles for loss. What jumped out most, however, was that he looked like the fastest defender on the field for NC State at times. Pittman has tremendous closing speed and has proven to be a sure tackler. He needs to get bigger and another year to mature physically should be huge for his development. Headed forward you have to list Pittman as one of the Pack's potential breakout players on defense.
Saying Goodbye to Earl Wolff
It seems like just yesterday, there was Earl Wolff, between his junior and senior season in high school out on NC State's practice field working to earn an offer from the Wolfpack at Tom O'Brien's football camp.
Wolff wowed the coaches with his athleticism but impressed them just as much with his attitude and work ethic. Offering him a scholarship was a no-brainer.
Over the course of his career, Wolff wasn't flashy but he was consistent and dependable. While others around him had flashes of brilliance mixed with head-scratching mistakes, Wolff gave the same effort game in and game out. He tackled well. He covered well and was rewarded with all-conference honors. While making it on the next level may be a longshot, Wolff has all the intangibles and we definitely wouldn't count him out.
Turning the Page
The final page has now turned on the Tom O'Brien era. He built a squeaky clean program that graduated players and stayed out of the news but in the end, couldn't win enough to hold onto his job.
In a time where more is better, seven and eight win seasons weren't enough to meet the expectations of many. One thing is for sure. O'Brien left Dave Doeren a program on solid ground, a far different situation than the mess O'Brien inherited from Chuck Amato. The team may not be loaded with five star talent but the pieces are there and a culture of doing things the right way is in place.
For Doeren, his regime unofficially starts in earnest today. Debbie Yow wanted a young energetic recruiter and so far the early returns have been stellar. In just a few weeks and with a staff spread over several states, Doeren has the Pack back in the car with several prospects boasting numerous offers. State may not be in the front seat just yet but it's been a while since the Wolfpack has fished in this kind of water.
The next month and a half will be all about recruiting and then the emphasis will shift to spring ball and getting ready for next season. The feedback so far suggests that Wolfpack fans have a lot to be excited about on the recruiting trail. That will likely fuel even more optimism for the kickoff to 2013.