It was easy to look at the schedule and mark next Thursday as the day that NC State's flaws would be exposed. Instead, it happened 12 days early.
The Pack had to overcome a halftime deficit and needed a 48-yard field goal in the final minute to avoid being another in a growing list of FBS teams shamed in their own building by a lower-division opponent. The Pack snuck away with a 23-21 win, but Richmond spent 59 minutes providing evidence of what many already knew – no matter the schedule this is a rebuilding season for Wolfpack football.
In his postgame press conference, head coach Dave Doeren seemed keenly aware of that fact. Instead of lambasting his players for their mistakes and how close they came to losing to a lower division opponent, he applauded the team's resiliency.
"They played really hard and they were coached really well... I think that's a really good football team that we played today, and I was proud with the way we battled," Doeren said.
The Pack showed resiliency and heart, but they also showed carelessness and lack of discipline. Let's start with discipline, which the Pack showed plenty of a week ago only to abandon the concept against Richmond. The Pack was flagged for three roughing the passer penalties, one of which was declined, which help the Spiders on two separate touchdown drives in the first half.
"We were getting to the quarterback – just a little bit late," Art Norman said. "We just had like minor adjustments; we didn't make a whole lot. It was just an attitude adjustment."
In the second half, the Pack got a delay of game penalty on its first play after a turnover – the kind of unnecessary pre-snap penalty that drives every coach crazy (the Pack would still score a touchdown on the drive, however). The icing on the cake was Jarvis Byrd's late hit penalty, which took place after the whistle had been blown about five times and with the Pack desperately needing to get the ball back midway through the 4th quarter. The team was also tagged for offsides on Richmond's last drive – erasing an interception returned for a touchdown. All told the Pack was flagged for 10 penalties for a total of 89 yards.
Then there was the inability to stop the Spiders on 3rd, or 4th, down. Richmond scored its second touchdown of the day thanks in part to a 3rd and nine conversion in its own territory. The Pack put six defensive backs on the field during the play and Richmond used it as an opportunity to pick on the inexperienced Tim Buckley – who lost his man in coverage and allowed the Spiders to keep the drive alive. The Spiders finished the first half 3-for-6 on 3rd down conversions and 1-for-1 on 4th down conversions, the Pack held them to 3-of8 as part of the second half shut-out.
Finally, the turnovers. Those drive-killing, point-stealing turnovers. The box score will tell you that the Pack went 2-of-3 in red zone opportunities, one of the most misleading stats of the game. In reality, the Pack turned the ball over four times inside Richmonds 40-yard line. The first was the fumble on the first offensive series at the 19-yard line (on a play that started at the Richmond 45-yard line, so technically not in the red zone). Then the tipped-ball interception at the Richmond 17-yard line on the opening drive of the second half, with the Pack marking down the field against. Finally the one red-zone turnover that actually counted as such, when Bryant Sherriffs coughed it up on doorstep of the end zone. The final one was Pete Thomas' poor pass to Rashard Smith – caught at the Richmond 12. The box score might read 2-of-3, but the reality was 2-of-6.
"We made it hard on ourselves," Doeren said. "If you turn the ball over four times it's hard to win. The first thing I said to the team is you found a way to win.
Thanks to Sade's heroics, this game won't be a black mark on Doeren just two games into his career with the Pack. His team avoided embarrassment, but it doesn't change the real problems that Doeren and his staff will have to correct going forward.