RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) – Dave Doeren hopes his second season at North Carolina State will be better.
The first one sure couldn’t have gone much worse.
For the first time since 1959, the Wolfpack failed to win an Atlantic Coast Conference game. They enter the offseason on an eight-game losing streak after a 41-21 loss to Maryland.
N.C. State (3-9, 0-8) lost seven league games by at least 12 points – only the North Carolina game (27-19) was decided by single digits – after needing a field goal in the final minute to beat FCS member Richmond.
An adjustment period was expected when Doeren came in from a successful two-year run at Northern Illinois to revive a stagnant program and replace Tom O’Brien, who was fired after leading N.C. State to four bowls in six seasons.
This 0-for-the-ACC showing leaves the Wolfpack 22-34 in conference play since 2007.
“Every week, when we went to the field, we thought we had a chance to win,” Doeren said. “Every week I came to work, I expected to win. We always did a lot of film watching and prep. I thought we had a good game plan. But when you call good plays against good defenses, they are still good plays. You just have to execute.”
Execution was a season-long struggle for the Wolfpack, who also struggled with injuries at key spots on offense and had trouble stopping both the run and the pass during their slide.
“There’s always room for improvement. Nothing’s ever perfect, so I don’t want to point out one area where we need to improve,” cornerback Juston Burris said. “We need to improve everywhere, and that just goes into the offseason. We need to go in with that mindset that we’re coming to work and we’re going to improve. Every day.”
N.C. State lost starting quarterback Brandon Mitchell to a broken foot early during the opening win against Louisiana Tech, and by the time he returned for a visit to Florida State on Oct. 26, the Wolfpack’s tailspin had already begun.
During the losing streak, N.C. State gave up 24 points in every game while scoring that many only once – and most of those came in the garbage time of a 42-28 loss to East Carolina.
One sequence in the ACC opener against then-No. 3 Clemson seemed to encapsulate everything for an N.C. State team that had a knack for compounding its mistakes.
The Wolfpack hung with then-No. 3 Clemson for a half and appeared to have momentum after receiver Bryan Underwood’s long sideline run for a game-tying touchdown – only to have an official rule him out of bounds, perhaps incorrectly.
The Wolfpack fumbled three plays later, Clemson followed with a touchdown pass from Tajh Boyd – and just that quickly, the game went from being tight to one-sided.
From there, the lowlights were plentiful: Boston College’s Andre Williams rolled up 339 yards rushing, by far the most ever allowed by the Wolfpack. QBs Shane Carden of East Carolina and C.J. Brown of Maryland each accounted for five TDs in consecutive weeks to end the year.
N.C. State knows it has plenty of work in the nine months until the Aug. 30 opener against Georgia Southern.
“Losing’s never fun,” Burris said. “You’ve just got to keep going through it, keep fighting. You never want to give in, and we didn’t. We never gave up. … Hopefully, we’ll turn things around.”