NC State Hopes to Channel Frustration Into Wins

Virginia (2-6, 0-4) at NC State (5-3, 2-2), 12:30 PM, ACC Network

NC State-Virginia football from 1973. (From the NC State University Archives)

Last year when NC State’s basketball team soundly thumped Wake Forest, the Deacons’ head coach Jeff Bzdelik said after the game that without a few double-digit runs by the Wolfpack (runs of 12-0, 20-4, 13-2 and 11-2), Wake Forest would have won by 19 points. And now whenever a team is getting blown out, Bzdelik’s name is used a reference point.

In NC State football’s case, though, the runs they have allowed early in games – particularly in losses – have put them in holes that are ultimately too big to climb out of. While it might sound silly to say that the Wolfpack would have won if they had played better in all the first quarters of all their losses, it’s sort of true in their case.

NC State’s 14 points against North Carolina were the most it has put up in the first quarter against an FBS opponent this year. The problem is, North Carolina put up 25 points, the most NC State has allowed in the first quarter all year. In three losses, NC State has let up 70 first-quarter points while scoring 28.

In its three FBS wins, NC State hasn’t scored any first-quarter points, but they’ve allowed just six. In the second, third and fourth quarters combined of their three losses, they’ve outscored opponents 65-52, but it hasn’t been enough. In three wins, they’ve outscored opponents 47-35 – almost the same margin – in the other three quarters. That first-quarter defense is what made the difference.

NC State head coach Tom O’Brien doesn’t have the answers for the slow starts. “Not ready to play, that’s something that we’ve talked about, we’re going to emphasize and make sure – sometimes, it’s easier to do it when you’re at home,” O’Brien said. “That speaks to maturity and that speaks to experience in a lot of cases when you’re on the road.”

NC State is back at home for the first time since its October 6th. But the team is still smarting from their first loss to arch-rival North Carolina in five years that came on a game-winning punt return by Giovani Bernard. And it was a costly for other reasons. NC State controlled the Atlantic Division after upsetting Florida State, but now they have to hope the Seminoles lose another one if they want to win the division. Last week still stings, but O’Brien wants his team to be angry about.

“Guys finally were starting to get angry (on Sunday) and start taking accountability in meetings for some of the things that have been happening, which is good. That translates onto the field,” O’Brien said. “Even though we’ve lost the hammer, we haven’t lost anything in the fact that we still have to play because you have to make Florida State win seven games. And if they don’t win seven games, then we’re right back there.”

Quarterback Mike Glennon would have a right to be angry. NC State is 0-2 when he’s had 400-yard passing days, and he tied an NC State record with five touchdowns last week. And he did all that despite his receivers dropping anywhere from eight to ten well-thrown balls. He said it was more a sense of frustration at letting wins slip away than it was anger.

Senior linebacker Sterling Lucas, who is doing all he can to lead a group of inexperienced linebackers and encourage the defense as a whole to forget about mistakes, said the team can’t dwell on last week. “From a competitive standpoint, guys obviously want to win. I don’t know if it’s anger, but I know guys just want to win. Maybe emotions show through that,” Lucas said.

“Our morale is pretty high. Obviously, we wanted to win the game. It was a big game, big rivalry game, but we believe in the next game up. You don’t want to allow that past game to beat us this upcoming game. I believe that the morale is pretty high. Everyone still has confidence in the team. We had our opportunities to win. When we go back and watch film, we see that we had plenty of opportunities. We just have to make plays on both the defensive side of the ball as well as the offensive side of the ball.”

Virginia has also had slow starts lately: in their last two games, the Cavaliers have been outscored 24-0 in the first quarter by Maryland and Wake Forest, then outscored them 30-19 the rest of the way. On the road all season, the Cavaliers have been outscored 125-44 in three games. And 20 of those points came against a bad Georgia Tech defense.

But the Cavaliers have had plenty of issues in general. They’ve lost six in a row after a 2-0 start, and their only hope is that they were able to fix their offensive problems during the bye week. A quarterback controversy between Alabama transfer Phillip Sims and veteran Michael Rocco is only a controversy because neither have been great, though Sims has been marginally better.

The Cavaliers desperately need a win, but so does NC State. “This is a back against the wall game for both of us and we’ve got to be ready to come and play,” O’Brien said. “Thank goodness we’re at home and we get our fans out there and play the way we can play. One of the goals is to stay undefeated at home and we need to accomplish that if we want to accomplish the goals that we have to get done.”

O’Brien, whose teams generally don’t hurt themselves, seemed as puzzled as anyone else how inconsistent his team can look from quarter to quarter. Even the game-winning punt return for North Carolina last week was as much a lack of special teams discipline for NC State as it was Giovani Bernard’s punt-returning skills.

NC State had its best win of the year against Florida State on October 6th. They were coming off a loss at Miami, and they played like a team in need of a win. Before that game, safety Earl Wolff said the team called a meeting and hashed out some issues, basically asking for everyone to declare themselves in or out. There’s been no talk of that this week, but O’Brien alluded for the need for his players to take ownership of this team’s success.

“We can get as angry as we want, and certainly we’re angry at certain things. But until it comes from the team, until they learn how to take control of the team, you can’t be in a championship mode to get there,” O’Brien said. “That’s where the difference is – you take that step from being a good to great team.”

Moments in Virginia-NC State history: There have been some close ones in the series history, but two of the most memorable games could not be more different. In 2003, NC State won 51-37 at home in a game that pitted Philip Rivers against Matt Schaub, two veteran NFL starters. But in 1944, at a neutral site in Norfolk, NC State won 13-0 in the rain despite not making a first down the entire game and gaining just ten yards of total offense. It was an NCAA record for the fewest yards by a winning team and one of just two games in FBS history where a winning team failed to get a first down. The defense won that classic by recovering two Virginia fumbles in the end zone.

Since Virginia is at NC State this time, we’ll miss videos like this one! Crazy Cavman.

Bryan Underwood provided the offensive highlight from last year’s game with this touchdown (TOB was not happy with him afterwards). And it’s a part of a fan video about officiating. Naturally. (Although it doesn’t appear the guy is complaining.)

Also, I believe this guy should be angry at the now famous pole-dancing NC State fan, as he seems to have invented the drunk, shirtless, fat guy dancing thing against Virginia in 2008:

Hamster Race fail:

Prediction: NC State, 34-16. Virginia might be coming off a bye week, but the Cavaliers have also lost six straight and will be playing at an NC State team which is home for the first time in nearly a month, and plenty angry after losing to a rival.

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