On the surface, NC State has looked like one of the most inexplicable teams in college football this season -- reaching an all-time high with a monumental upset of then-ranked No. 3 Florida State last month, only to crash last week in a baffling 33-6 loss to Virginia, a team that had previously lost six straight.
Look a little closer, though, and you’ll see 19 very good reasons for NC State’s struggles: 19 combined turnovers in the four losses, and 19 dropped passes in the past two weeks. Also a factor has been the numerous injuries to offensive linemen, and the dismissal of running back Mustafa Greene, both which have compounded the problems in the running game.
“We’ve gotten great effort,” said coach Tom O’Brien. “We didn’t seem to have it last week. [There are] a lot of hypothesis on what happened last week, and I haven’t accepted any of them, because I think you can play well each and every week. It still comes back to the fact, we don’t turn the football over and we don’t give up the big play on defense. That’s been the underlying fact when we’ve lost four football games. When you turn the ball over four times in five wins and you turn it over 19 in four losses, it’s pretty apparent what you have to do to be successful.”
O’Brien will be the first to admit his team hasn’t handled success too well. The program has struggled to translate big wins into a lead in the division standings, and this season is no different. The loss to Virginia last week increased the heat on O’Brien, and how the team fares in its final three games of the regular season -- all against Atlantic Division opponents -- will help determine whether or not he returns to Raleigh for another season. A home win against Wake Forest this weekend would make the Wolfpack bowl-eligible, and a road win at No. 13 Clemson next weekend would likely make it tough for athletic director Debbie Yow to make a change.
This past summer, O’Brien touted this season’s team as one of the most talented and experienced he has had since he was hired at NC State. After back-to-back losses to rival North Carolina and Virginia, NC State is in the all-too familiar place of having to readjust its goals.
“I’ve been around long enough to know that there’s only one team that meets its goals every year, and that’s the team that wins the national championship,” O’Brien said. “That’s what you go in, you try and win 14 games, that’s what you want to do. Life’s about readjusting and setting different goals as you go along. You only worry about the things you can control. … You don’t know what team you’re going to have until the trainer tells you who’s going to practice and what you have. You take that product and you do the best you can and try to put yourself in a position to win each and every Saturday.”
The problem now, though, is that every Saturday has become a must-win for O’Brien.