RALEIGH — “This is Us” is the title of one of the most popular shows on television these days. It’s also the theme of the week for the NC State football team as it looks to bounce back from its first loss of the season.
The Wolfpack stepped out of character in several key areas during its 41-7 defeat at Clemson on Saturday.
In order to get back on the winning track, coach Dave Doeren is stressing a return to the things his team does best in preparation for this week’s game against Syracuse.
“I told the whole team let’s get back to being us,” Doeren said at his regular weekly press conference Monday. “As much as we wanted to win that football game, we didn’t play well enough to win and they did. Everybody has to own that and move on and not let it beat us again.”
The most frustrating aspects of Saturday’s loss were the Wolfpack’s problems on third down, ill-timed turnovers and the inability of receivers to make catches they usually make.
State (5-1, 2-1 ACC) came into the game leading the ACC in third-down conversions at a rate of 60.9 percent. But against the Tigers, they were just 2 of 12 on possession plays.
The Wolfpack wasted an opportunity to get back in the game when the usually sure-handed Kelvin Harmon dropped what might have been a momentum-swinging touchdown pass after getting a step on his defender late in the first quarter.
Even with those mistakes, State was still within striking distance until the final two minutes of the half.
That’s when a bad snap and an interception thrown by quarterback Ryan Finley turned into 10 quick Clemson points just before halftime to all but decide the outcome.
“As bad as we were playing early in the game, with two minutes left in the half we’re down 14-0 and have the ball, moving across the 50 and we had back-to-back turnover drives,” Doeren said. “That’s not us, really, which is probably the most disappointing part of the game to me.
“Win or lose, we all expected to go in there and play the way we’ve been playing — not beating ourselves, playing hard, playing tough and giving ourselves a chance. We just didn’t get that done.”
The task now is to figure out why, something safety Jarius Morehead and his teammates were already talking about doing before they even left Death Valley.
“We can’t take anything back,” Morehead said. “We’ve just got to go in watch film, see what we did wrong, see why we got beat so bad and just fix it.”
One thing the 22nd-ranked Wolfpack can’t fix is the damage the loss at Clemson did to its hopes of winning the ACC’s Atlantic Division.
Although State isn’t mathematically eliminated from contention, its chance of earning a shot at its first conference title since 1979 now depends on the second-ranked Tigers losing twice in their final four league games.
And that’s only if the Wolfpack win out.
It’s a longshot at best, considering that Clemson has only lost two ACC games in an entire season once in the last seven years. But that doesn’t mean Doeren is ready to start reassessing his team’s goals.
“The only thing we’ve lost at this point is the right to control our own destiny,” the coach said. “We control everything else. We’ve got six games on our schedule and we need to approach it the same way we did the first five, one at a time.”
It’s a process that begins Saturday indoors at the Carrier Dome against Syracuse, a motivated team one win away from gaining bowl eligibility for the first time since 2013. Unlike the Wolfpack, the Orange (5-2, 2-2) are coming into the game on a high after rallying from behind late to beat North Carolina in double overtime last Saturday.
According to Finley, the key to getting back on the right track is having a short memory and not letting the Clemson game beat his team twice.
“It was a bad loss and we are a better football team,” Finley said. “We’ve got a lot of football ahead of us.
“We are going to get right. We are going to bounce back. I’m confident in our guys. We are great players and have a good offense. This is just a bump in the road.”