Saturday, October 2, 2010

N.C. State loses, but will win big games like this

So the first big game in Tom O’Brien’s tenure became a loss. N.C. State, before the third-largest crowd in its history, couldn’t hold a fourth-quarter lead and fell to Virginia Tech, 41-30.

There are ample reasons for why the outcome turned out the way it did. Virginia Tech returned the second-half kickoff for a touchdown, a stunning turn of events that a good team can’t allow to happen. State’s rush defense allowed 317 yards, and a 54-yard scoring run by Darren Evans in the third quarter was a killer.

And yes, Russell Wilson spiked whatever Heisman hopes he had with a three-interception effort that included too many deep-ball shots that were became interceptions.

But the underlying sense of watching N.C. State, playing at 3:30 p.m. in a regional contest while North Carolina and ECU were relegated to the fuzzy video of ESPN3, was the Wolfpack will play in games like this again – probably this year. Don’t be stunned at all if State plays Virginia Tech a second time, in Charlotte for the ACC title.

The ACC’s Atlantic Division this year is weak. Only Florida State (in Raleigh on Thursday, Oct. 28) and Clemson (State travels there Nov. 6) pose real threats.   State can beat Boston College and ECU, its next two opponents. Then comes that showdown with the Seminoles.

But to win, and to keep winning, State must shore up some of the weaknesses that hurt it Saturday. The Hokies smashed the Wolfpack defensive front, especially along State’s left side. That’s were Evans plunged through for his critical touchdown. State’s young secondary allowed too many open receivers, and there are better passers ahead than Tech’s Tyrod Taylor.

N.C. State also needs a running game opponents fear, and Mustafa Greene will improve rapidly. You had to love the catch and cut he made on a vital pass from Wilson.

This is a good team, and good program, despite the sting of Saturday’s loss. There will be more games like this in future years, as Mike Glennon gets his chance, young players like Mustafa Greene and Rob Crisp emerge and State’s  promising group of freshmen mature.

State may be in get position for a game like this again this season. Sometimes programs need to suffer the pain of tough losses to grow and learn to win big games like Saturday.

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