The N.C. State players probably didn’t want to hear it or think about it while they were still in Miami.
It might have sunk in by the time they touched back down in Raleigh in the wee hours of the morning. In the moment, a 31-30 loss to the Hurricanes stung. N.C. State outgained Miami by a yard, and outscored them 10-7 in the fourth quarter.
Devin Leary threw for two scores and rushed for another and had the ball in his hands late with a chance to win.
It didn’t happen.
Miami got its first conference win of the year and N.C. State dropped its first conference game, falling to 2-1 in the league.
What may be lost in this result, though nobody in the red wanted to think about it, is that their goals are still in front of them.
The Pack is 5-2 after seven games, and Pittsburgh did the team a favor in the Steel City, knocking off Clemson, 27-17. The Panthers and Wake Forest are the only undefeated teams in the ACC. N.C. State doesn’t play Pittsburgh this season, but travels to Winston-Salem for a showdown with Wake Forest next month.
If N.C. State rebounds, takes care of business and can win its division games, including over the Demon Deacons, they could still end up in Charlotte.
Hard to think about that leaving Hard Rock Stadium, but it’s a reality and a bright side they should embrace.
“Right now you have a bunch of dudes who are down in the dumps,” Doeren said. “We’ll watch the film with them, get them back up and go back to it. They’ll understand what’s in front of them when we study it tomorrow.”
N.C. State (5-2, 3-0) hosts Louisville (4-3, 2-2) Saturday in Carter-Finley Stadium. The Wolfpack plays four straight Atlantic Division opponents before closing out the season against UNC, out of the Coastal. The four remaining Atlantic Division foes have a combined record of 9-7 in conference play. Wake Forest is carrying most of that weight at a perfect 4-0 in ACC play and 7-0 overall.
Of course, N.C. State would be crazy to look ahead to Nov. 13, especially with a trip to Tallahassee to face Florida State in two weeks. But if they learn from this game, and bounce back like they did versus Mississippi State, they could still be playing for a trip to Charlotte.
Not that they are thinking that far ahead.
“Something that we always preach here is going 1-0,” quarterback Devin Leary said. “We want to win each and every week, we don’t want to look too far ahead or focus on the past. This game didn’t go the way we wanted it to, but we are going to put it to bed, get back to work and continue to take that 1-0 approach. That’s really it.”
Scouting the Wolfpack’s schedule
The margin for error is very, very slim for N.C. State, but the Pack could get some assistance if someone knocks off Wake Forest -- maybe if a couple of teams knock off the Deacons.
Wake Forest doesn’t play another divisional foe until they play N.C. State. That’s the first of three consecutive Atlantic Division games for the Demon Deacons, who take on Clemson and Boston College after playing the Wolfpack.
Even in a down year, the Tigers could still knock Wake Forest, especially in Death Valley. The Wolfpack’s Triangle neighbors, UNC and Duke, could help as well if the Deacons somehow start to build up conference losses.
But, none of that matters if N.C. State’s season starts to snowball. The players who have been around for a few years know what that’s like and refuse to let that happen again.
“When you start thinking about stuff like that, that’s when your season goes south,” linebacker Drake Thomas said. “When you start thinking what if, or would have, could have, should have, it’s over, what’s happened, happened.”