The ending to Saturday’s loss to Wake Forest left a familiar feeling in the taste of Wolfpack fans. State was once again in a back and forth game and invented a creative way to lose after seemingly being the better team. Moments of disaster such as the goal line fumble have defined both of the last two years of NC State football. The substantial progress the program has made has been hidden behind a curtain of pain, and Saturday’s series of unfortunate events only pushed it further out of view.
The numbers don’t lie here either. State is awful in close games, especially over the last two years. The Pack is actually 5-7 in games decided by eight points of less in said time period. When you dig deeper into the numbers though, things begin to darken. State never trailed in four of those wins and led by double digits in the fourth quarter of three of them. Most of the Pack’s close wins are close because State allowed them to become close games late. In one possession games where the Pack had at some point trailed in the fourth quarter, it is 1-7 over the last two years.
Every one of these losses seems to carry with it at least one event of unlikely disaster, and it becomes hard to identify an actual problem to be fixed. Obviously the kicking game is an outstanding and very blatant issue, and it often hurts the Pack. But State has been hit with, or hit itself with, far more game altering catastrophes than only the ones that come off a kicker’s foot.
It’s always something, but it’s not often the same thing. In addition to State’s kicking unit being putrid, State has seen a fumble at the goal line (Wake Forest 2017), A blown PI call that was blatant (Clemson 2017), an illegal shift that voided a 4th down conversion (Clemson 2017), and illegal formation that voided a touchdown pass (BC 2016), and egregiously poor PI call that resulted in a go-ahead touchdown (ECU 2016), A fumbled punt down by seven in the fourth (Miami 2016), and an easy game sealing interception dropped (FSU 2016) heavily influence the outcome of close games over the last two years. (Note: this list is not exhaustive)
Some of these are State’s own doing, while some are out of its control. There’s no pattern to it though. There’s nothing you can look at and say for certain is the underlying problem that results in all the events listed above (and no, it isn’t NC State stuff). It’s absolutely wild that State has had this many game altering mistakes ruin them in just a span of two years. Especially since almost all of them are mistakes that are very easy to not make.
The kicking game and the coaching blunders are real problems and easy to point to, but when a sure handed punt returner fumbles the ball at the most important juncture of the game, or an easy pick falls right off the hands of the defender, what are you supposed to say? Every team makes mistakes and catches bad breaks. Most catch good ones too. Outside of Boston College gift wrapping this year’s game for the Pack, it doesn’t seem like many of those good breaks have come State’s way this year.
So here we are, with a very good football team that is somehow 7-4. There isn’t a lot to say other than “the other team just made the plays when it mattered.”