NC State Stuff or no, the Wolfpack must press on
Posted September 2
Updated September 3
After his team's 35-28 loss to South Carolina to open the 2017 season, head coach Dave Doeren faced the media in a crowded Bank of America Stadium press room. "Surprised to lose when you doubled them up in yardage?" one reporter asked.
"I haven't seen any stats," Doeren said.
So the reporter relayed said stats: 504 yards for NC State to 246 for South Carolina.
"Yeah, I mean--" Doeren stopped, shook his head and laughed wryly. "Yeah. But you turn the football over and give somebody a short field, you don't need a lot of yards either, and that happened a couple of times.:
Doeren is right, of course. But the stats are pretty stark: 99 plays to just 50 for South Carolina, 29 first downs to 12, 415 passing yards to 215.
All you can do is shake your head.
Even before the season started, expectations – rightfully-earned, come by honestly, good old-fashioned expectations – were met by NC State fans with a mix of tentative excitement and sheer terror.
They've seen this movie before. They've seen the NC State hype train veer sharply off the tracks and crash spectacularly.
They also feel more comfortable – as most fan bases do, if we're being honest – in the role of the underdog, out to prove everyone wrong as opposed to living up to high praise.
So when the VERY FIRST PLAY of the Wolfpack's 2017 season was South Carolina returning the opening kickoff for a touchdown, HERE WE GO AGAIN.
NC State Stuff, as it's colloquially (and euphemistically) referred to by some fans? Maybe. But the team bounced back from that. Disastrous start to the third quarter that saw NC State down 14 after going into halftime tied? Check. But the team bounced back again from THAT. Late, apparent fourth-down conversion that wasn't by Jaylen Samuels? Yes, and then the Wolfpack STILL drove the length of the field at the end of the game and had four chances from 8 to 10 yards out to tie the game.
NC State Stuff is supposed to mean that a bizarre, crippling moment occurs and NC State can't overcome it. They very nearly did, and more than once.
Nearly isn't enough, though, and here we sit, NC State at 0-1 and turning from the hyped preseason darling into the doubted.
"Criticism-wise, I told them in the locker room, 'Everybody who told you how good you are is going to be the same person telling you how bad you are if you don't play well'," Doeren said. "You (media) guys have a job to do. Obviously, I'm not going to tell you how to do it. You'll write what you need to write. It's our job to win games and play as good as we can, and that's what we're going to try to do."
There were reasons NC State fell short. Points left on the field, like a 29-yard field goal that doinked off the upright, a sign of perhaps more kicking issues to come this season for the Wolfpack. The kickoff return for a touchdown. Drops, penalties, mistakes. Will Richardson being suspended on the offensive line didn't help (he'll be back after next week's game), and NC State couldn't run the ball. But NC State's vaunted defensive line managed just two sacks (against four for South Carolina) and wasn't enough of a factor, letting South Carolina quarterback Jake Bentley slip through their hands (literally).
"Me personally, I left too many plays out there on the field and I feel like that cost us this game," preseason AP All-American defensive end Bradley Chubb said.
When Doeren got his team back into the locker room, he said he asked them if they thought this was their best. They all, from the coaches to the players, agreed that it wasn't.
So maybe the outcome of the game itself was NC State Stuff. A favorite against a South Carolina team thought to be average to good on a neutral field? Or just the fact that NC State, preseason darling, came out flat?
It doesn't matter now.
"Outsiders are going to say what they want to say," Chubb said. "They hyped us up all offseason, and they're probably going to shoot us down now, but we've just got to keep working for each other because those people that write reviews don't win us football games."
Both quarterback Ryan Finley (45 of 64 for 415 yards) and Jaylen Samuels (16 touches for 94 yards) did all they could to win THIS football game for the Wolfpack,. Both ended the game a little nicked up.
Even Samuels made mistakes, like a dropped third-down pass. But he said his team has to take the same approach he did. "It is disappointing, but it's a 'next-play' mentality. I had dropped the ball on a third down. I had to come back, and the team was depending on me. I was a playmaker for them, so I had to go back out there and try to make another play for them," Samuels said. "I came up a little short. But we'll get it back."
Back in 2015, North Carolina lost their season opener to a much worse South Carolina team and went on to win every single regular-season game they played after that and take home the Coastal Division title before falling short against Clemson in the ACC championship game.
The path for NC State to do the same in the Atlantic Division is significantly rockier. But Samuels said their goals are still in reach, and they just have to forget about this game.
"We've been through this a lot of times. This is a tough loss, but we've got a long season ahead of us. We know that loss still hasn't taken us away from our team goals this year: winning an ACC championship," Samuels said. "I hope it's momentum to the next game, just helping the team to come out just like how we came out this game, just take it to Marshall."
Marshall will be one thing. Florida State in Tallahassee the next week will be something else. For now, all NC State can do is not dwell on what might have been, but learn from it and move on.
"Bottom line is when you lose a football game ,it's on me. I own it. That's our philosophy as a program is extreme ownership," Doeren said. "Whatever we did or didn't do, we didn't do it well enough to win. There are several plays during the game and I can go back and watch it and the guys can go back and watch it, but you make it. Like, their one-handed catch was a great play that their receiver played, a phenomenal play. Well, there were some plays we could've made and didn't. There were some calls that we couldn't done better and didn't .
"Those are the things that you're going to critique yourselves on and look at and get better from. That's all you can do in a situation like this."