Missed tackles, turnovers – you name it – all lead to Florida State blitzing the Pack to the tune of 35-0 before the end of the quarter. It's hard to recall an NC State team being blown out of the water that quickly, but the game was essentially over before the second quarter started.
"We put our defense in the opposite position that we wanted to with the turnovers, and they did a good job of maximizing the opportunities with a short field," head coach Dave Doeren said.
The Pack, in every position to give up and allow the Seminoles to record another 63-0 type of win (which they had done to Maryland just two weeks prior), instead picked itself up off the mat and fought for the last three quarters. In fact, the Pack outscored the Noles over those last three quarters by a 17-14 score. As pointless as it may seem, the Pack actually gave the Noles its biggest challenge at home to date and stayed closer than top-10 ranked Clemson a week prior.
It's easy to brush aside the final 45 minutes of the game, with Florida State in complete control and trotting out its second string not long after halftime. But for the Pack, and particularly for Brandon Mitchell, it was much needed reps and a chance to build a rhythm against a non-practice opponent.
"They are very fast," Mitchell said after the game. "I underestimated their d-line a little bit, trying to get out of the pocket. They remind you of a LSU-type of defensive line."
The rust, combined with the sheer dominance of the Florida State defense combined to force some very poor decisions out of Mitchell. He often tried to back-pedal to buy time only to end up having to make a throw while falling backwards. In his first six possessions, Mitchell was 3-for-11 with two interceptions. From midway through the second quarter to the end of the game, he was 14-of-22 with no turnovers.
"Brandon's first game back didn't start the way we wanted to, pressed a little bit, tried to make too many plays, then settled down and started to play better later on," Doeren said.
The most impressive aspect of the Pack offense wasn't the quarterback however, it was sophomore back Shadrach Thornton. Thornton scored the Pack's longest run of the season and finished with 173 yards on 23 carries and over 200 yards of total offense.
Given their next opponent, North Carolina, has struggled with tackling all season it was good to get Thornton running with confidence again. The Pack clearly needs both him and Matt Dayes over the last five games as its running game has been a weak spot for most of the season.
"I just went out there and gave it my all. I felt like I should have made plays earlier on in the first half."
There's no getting around the fact that this was an ugly loss, but that doesn't mean the Pack can't build on the last three quarters of play. The Pack has now lost three straight, and it needs to win three of its final five to make a bowl game.
Every game on the schedule is winnable, but the Pack needed some positive momentum going forward and the last three quarters of Saturday's loss gave them that – regardless of whether or not it was the Seminole starters.