Johnson: Disaster Management

Saturday night's loss to perennial ACC cellar-dweller Duke was the biggest step backwards for NC State since Tom O'Brien took over. Now O'Brien and his team have an uphill battle for a third straight year.

This was Duke. The same team that lost to FCS opponent Richmond to start out the year. The same team that hadn't won an ACC road game since 2003. The same team that State beat on the road last year by a 27-17 score. Duke has been for as long as most people can remember the punching bag of the ACC, the cellar-dweller that takes its beatings and keeps coming back for more.

Let me preface the rest of this column with this – I think O'Brien is a fantastic coach. I think he has the program moving in the right direction, and I think this team will be good in the near future. But what happened on the field on Saturday night was a complete and total failure by his coaching staff, an embarrassing display that marked the biggest step backwards this program has taken since O'Brien took over.

"We need to take more responsibility as a team." O'Brien said. "We were out-coached and out-played."

The problem wasn't that the Pack failed to make adjustments over the course of the game, its that the adjustments they made kept leading to the same result. Blitzes were largely ineffective as Thaddeus Lewis side-stepped defenders or threw too quickly for the rush to have any effect.

It took the coaching staff nearly three quarters to go with a five defensive back line-up, a change that did have positive results that ended up being masked by some really ugly mistakes on special teams. In contrast, Duke's adjustments on defense were far more successful and the Pack offense didn't score in the second half.

"We played three-deep, two-deep and they shredded us," O'Brien said. "We have to look on the field to find guys that will make plays for us, but I still feel we have the right guys out there to make plays for us."

The staff should have seen this aerial attack coming after last week. Riley Skinner and the Wake offense had plenty of success exposing the Wolfpack secondary, and O'Brien had to expect the same thing from Duke this week. But his team didn't seem like it was ready, as Lewis dinked-and-dunked his way down the field at will.

"Duke came out and played very well," O'Brien said. "Now we just have to work on a lot of things before heading to Boston for our game against Boston College."

That now becomes the key for this staff and these players – moving on. O'Brien has shown a remarkable resiliency in his first two seasons, rallying his team in late October and November. This team, even according to O'Brien, was supposed to be further along than his previous two squads. But it appears he'll have to work his magic turnaround magic for a third-straight year.

With six games left, the Pack has to go 4-2 to make a bowl game. Three of those games are on the road, so the Pack needs to defend its home turf and steal a win on the road. Apart from Virginia Tech, none of its remaining opponents are ranked. Making a bowl is still a very attainable goal, but O'Brien has a lot of problems that he needs to find a way to fix for those four wins to become reality.

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