Is it my imagination or does coverage of college football on the local level really come to a screeching halt after the last bowl game? With basketball proclaimed “king” in these parts, football takes a back seat except for occasional stories about new assistant coaches, underclassmen opting out of school for a shot at the pros, and, eventually, the start of spring practice.
Though it’s been since December 31 when N.C. State last played a football game, now is as good a time as any to take a critical look at the 2018 season.
To get started, consider my opinion (for what it’s worth): The Wolfpack’s four losses were worse than the nine wins were good.
Interesting idea, I was told. “Painful losses show they are not where they want to be,” the sage said, hearing my summation after the Wolfpack’s 52-13 loss to Texas A&M in the Gator Bowl and N.C. State’s 9-4 final record.
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Think about it. Except for players and coaches, does anyone remember the details of the wins, save the late season overtime win in Chapel Hill?
Losses are painful yet remembered; wins are good but not committed to memory unless it’s an upset or against an annual rival.
To jog memories, the 2018 wins, with opponent’s final record, were James Madison (9-4), Georgia State (2-10), Marshall (9-4), Virginia (8-5; 4-4 ACC), Boston College (7-5, 4-4 ACC), Florida State (5-7, 3-5 ACC), Louisville (2-10, 0-8 ACC), North Carolina (2-9, 1-7 ACC) and East Carolina (3-9). Remember anything in particular other than running up the score on an inept East Carolina team?
On the other hand, the losses, in order of devastation:
WAKE FOREST (7-6, 3-5): The season back-breaker was an early November home game. Pre-game hype had the Wolfpack in a big-time bowl game with a win. N.C. State led 23-13 early in the fourth quarter when the team seemed to lose its focus. The Deacons scored two final period touchdowns and held off the Wolfpack, taking the air out of the Wolfpack’s ball and out of the N.C. State fans. Final: Wake Forest 27, N.C. State 23.
TEXAS A&M (9-4): The Dec. 31 Gator Bowl was a second half calamity on offense and defense. A&M never trailed, scoring in the first half on the second play from scrimmage, a 62-yard run, and leading 21-13 at the half. The Aggies added four TDs and a field goal in the second half. For the Wolfpack, the game wasn’t a pretty sight; the defense was shredded; the game was embarrassing for State, losing 52-13.
Are two key players, one on offense (Kelvin Harmon) and one on defense (Germaine Pratt), to blame for the Wolfpack’s play in the Gator? Well, they skipped the game to prevent injury, protecting them for the NFL. Maybe two coaches — offensive coordinator Eli Drinkwitz and offensive line coach Dwayne Ledford who left the team for jobs elsewhere — are at fault. The players should have played and the coaches could have coached; they would have made a difference.
SYRACUSE (10-3, 6-2): In the late October loss, the Wolfpack’s offense couldn’t keep up; neither could the defense. Syracuse jumped to a first quarter 24-7 lead and never trailed. Behind 44-41 with just over three minutes to go, the Wolfpack started a desperation drive from its own 15-yard line but three plays later Syracuse intercepted a pass. The Orange added a final touchdown with a minute left. Final: Syracuse 51, N.C. State 41.
CLEMSON (15-0, 8-0): Though the final score was lopsided, the mid-season result was not unexpected. With N.C. State fans dreaming of close games in recent years, the Wolfpack punted on its first four possessions, followed by drives ending with a fumble and a pass interception and trailed 24-0 at the half. The second half was much of the same. Understatement: Clemson is awesome on and off the field. Final: Clemson 41, N.C. State 7.
The Thanksgiving weekend 34-28 overtime win at North Carolina was the season’s most satisfying and memorable victory. Considering the Tar Heels finished 2-9 overall and 0-8 in the ACC, the game probably shouldn’t have been as close as it was. N.C. State fans will take a win over North Carolina by one point or a million points. Call it the bright spot of the nine wins.
For what it’s worth, the average overall opponent record of the wins was 5-7. For the losses, the competition average was 10-3. The average score for the losses was 43-21.
Years from now, the 9-4 record will be celebrated as one of the Wolfpack’s best; the players who left before the bowl game will be distinguished for their college and NFL careers. But, stuck in the fans craw will be memories of the four losses; details of the nine wins not so much. The season could have, should have been better.
The 2018 losses were worse than the wins were good.
The sage is right. The Wolfpack is not where it wants to be. Even with nine wins in 2018, there’s plenty of room for improvement.
By the way, the Wolfpack’s spring drills start March 2, a week before the end of college basketball regular season, and end April 6, the date of the NCAA basketball semifinals.
Jim Pomeranz is a Cary writer.