RALEIGH — Before the Wolfpack left the field at Doak-Campbell Stadium last week, the whispers and snarky tweets had already started.
“Now watch them turn around and lose to Syracuse next week.”
Over the years, that seemed to be standard operating procedure for NC State — follow up an improbable upset win with an inexcusable loss.
Time and again, just as their program seemed poised to turn the corner, NC State walked into a pie in the face.
There was the season-opening loss to South Carolina this year. An early-season loss to 3-9 East Carolina last season. In 2013, a 3-1 start to the year led to a loss to Wake Forest, who finished 4-8. Three weeks after dancing on the goalposts after knocking off Florida State in 2012, the Pack lost at home to Virginia, another 4-8 team.
The tendency for the team to shoot itself in the foot, right when things looked ready to turn for the better, has been cynically termed “NC State stuff,” or, depending on how much the speaker has been served, something a little less printable.
So, with State facing a pedestrian Syracuse team at Carter-Finley, seven days after beating FSU in Tallahassee, the trap seemed set and baited.
Instead, the Pack came out strong, took care of business and held on to dispatch the Orange, 33-25.
Coach Dave Doeren was well aware of the past stuff, and spent the week trying to find a way to avoid it.
“When you play North Carolina, it doesn’t matter what the record is,” Doeren said. “If you play a ranked team, if you play Notre Dame, it doesn’t matter. It’s Notre Dame. If you play a team that beat you the year before, you’ve got that bad feeling about playing them. Like Boston College (who beat State at Carter-Finley last year), our guys will be angry to play them. We didn’t have that (against Syracuse). We won last year at their place. There was zero that I could go to. The team we played today was just the opponent we had to beat to go 2-0 in the ACC, and we had to do it coming off a huge win.”
So, rather than trying to manufacture motivation for his players, Doeren laid it out for them.
“You guys have talked about wanting to be in a better bowl game,” Doeren challenged his team. “You better have leadership this week, because if we don’t, it’s on you.
“If you want to be who you say you do,” he continued, “if you want to be in a real conversation, we’ve got to win this week.”
The Pack scored on their first five possessions and rushed for 256 yards and three scores, while the defense held Syracuse to just 59 rushing yards on the day to move to 2-0 in the ACC for the first time since 2006. Just as importantly, the Pack moved to 1-0 after the signature win over the Seminoles.
“Discipline is a choice,” Doeren said. “They had to make the right choices about discipline and not listening to people saying, ‘Great win!’ I thought our guys did that. They did a great job. Getting that win was huge. Looking at the schedule going forward, all the marquee matchups against ranked teams. I know we’ll be excited to play them. This was the one I was most concerned about.”
The team took its coach’s concerns seriously, and, for one week, the Pack was able to put all the stuff behind them.