NC State kept shooting itself in the foot in Greenville and last week in Clemson. The Louisville Cardinals, however, were in no mood to accommodate the Wolfpack while it tried to find its way.
The seventh-ranked team in the nation spanked its visitors at Papa John's Stadium. Louisville embarrassed NC State by opening up a 44-0 lead at halftime en route to coasting to a 51-13 victory that was not nearly reflective of the dominance shown by the Cardinals.
If Lamar Jackson was looking to bolster his Heisman chances and Louisville as a team was looking to respond after a lackluster effort last week at home versus Duke then NC State was exactly what the doctor ordered. The Wolfpack could not stop Jackson nor could they stop themselves from making mistakes. The sophomore quarterback, who could not hit the broad side of a barn last season in Raleigh, was electric passing the ball Saturday -- throwing for over 300 yards and 3 touchdown passes in the first half alone.
Meanwhile NC State's first 10 drives resulted in six punts, three interceptions and one drive mercifully ended by time expiring in the first half. The Wolfpack has seen many halves of football that were better but only a few, if any, that were worse.
The Cardinals led 44-0 at the half and frankly the Wolfpack was lucky it was not worse. The Wolfpack forced three field goals in the first half and recovered a fumble to spare themselves further anguish.
Looking ahead for NC State, a home game with a Boston College team working on a potential second straight winless season in the ACC may give the Wolfpack a much needed respite from the rigors of back-to-back road games against top-10 teams.
Should the Pack hold serve against the Eagles, the task will then be using the game against Boston College as springboard, as NC State managed to do after defeating Wake Forest. The win over Notre Dame, for several reasons, was one for the ages. Wins in the final third of the season will make the Wolfpack bowl eligible. Right or wrong, that is where the program is in 2016. A third straight bowl appearance is critical.
Great teams, including one competing in national title games, have been drubbed like NC State was in Louisville Saturday. The Wolfpack picked up the pieces after losing a game they probably should have won at East Carolina. The challenge now is to see if they can respond again. There is enough remaining on the schedule to drown out the blowout defeat to the Cardinals but only if they seize the opportunity.