It took less than six minutes for Pittsburgh to confirm my nagging suspicion that they were going to expose NC State's defense. Their offensive line looked like the experienced group I'd expected to see, Dion Lewis seemed impossible to tackle, and good lord it's 10-0 and I still don't know if the Pack's going to able to move the football against a I-A team. Another flameout seemed a foregone conclusion at that point.
Fast forward to the fourth quarter and the offense is moving the ball at will, Russell Wilson's asserting himself, doing whatever he wants through the air, running wild, and suddenly it's like that wonderful part of 2008 all over again, and what was that about doom, again? It's amazing how much your perception of the overall picture can change week to week, quarter to quarter.
If Tom O'Brien were sitting next to me right now, he'd say I had it right the first time. This team is not good. The defense got stops when it mattered--allowing the offense to climb out of the 31-17 hole, saving Ted Larsen's day--but the truth is they were exposed. Penalties were numerous, special teams were atrocious, and I have no idea what was going on with the clock management at the end of the first half.
But I don't figure the penalties or the special teams play are trends, and Russell Wilson sure makes the faults easy to gloss over. I don't know what there is to say other than, damn, he's fun. 21-35 for 322 yards (9.2 yds/att) and 4 TDs through the air, 91 rushing yards on 10 carries. When I think about both the number and the magnitude of the mistakes the Wolfpack made, and that they prevailed anyway, I don't think there's any doubt about it: he's never played a better game here.
He was hardly the only big time performer or reason for enthusiasm, of course. They can wait. So can a more reasoned approach to the big picture.