Friedrich Nietzsche popularized the idea of eternal recurrence, that given enough time, events will occur again and again. NC State’s performance against UNC was proof positive of the theory — as well as a good reason to embrace Nietzsche’s nihilism — with NC State once again losing a game after being blown out in the third quarter.
“It kind of felt just like the Louisville game, going up in the first [half] and the second half just losing it,” said graduate defensive tackle Larrell Murchison.
The Wolfpack continued the story of its entire season Saturday as its offense returned to form thirty minutes into the game. After taking care of the ball in the first half, the unit turned the ball over on three of its five third-quarter possessions, and UNC capitalized each and every time the Wolfpack did. The Tar Heels were forced to punt on their first drive of the second half. Drives two through six? All touchdowns.
“We did absolutely everything possible to lose that game in the third quarter,” said head coach Dave Doeren. “It started with the penalties in the first drive that we got the football, and it went downhill from there.”
Freshman running back Zonovan Knight has been playing hurt pretty much this entire season, and it’s no secret that when he’s forced to leave the game, NC State’s offense struggles. Knight had a great first quarter, responsible for 59 yards, before having to briefly leave the game. The freshman returned but never looked the same, adding only 13 more yards and a fumble for the rest of the game.
With the Wolfpack starting to trail and the run game drying up, Devin Leary had the ball in his hands with a chance to stop the bleeding in the third quarter. Leary went 2 for 8 with two interceptions before injuring his foot, forcing him to leave the game. The defense, routinely put on the field in tough spots, seemed to fold. Tackling was a non-starter, and stopping the pass even more hopeless, and the Tar Heels did whatever they pleased.
NC State entered the half up 10-6. It entered the fourth quarter down 34-10.
The game was a fitting end for a season no one expected the Wolfpack to have, a disastrous 4-8 campaign caused by injuries, bad QB play and sloppiness with the ball. There’s a lot Doeren’s squad needs to clean up this offseason, and it starts with more disciplined play.
“[We] talked about it in the locker room,” Doeren said. “The only way that they had success in the first half was us jumping offsides on third down, us having stupid discipline-type penalties. We need to go out and play clean and execute. We come out, and we have three penalties on the first five plays on offense. That’s not good. That’s not executing, that’s not maturity, that’s not the type of football team we can win with.”
Doeren was noncommittal when asked about offseason changes, which was hardly surprising, but a common theme among the older players was that the adversity the young players have gone through this year will only make them better going forward. It has to. Doeren is in no danger of being fired this season, but he will go into his eighth year with a hotter seat. Player recruitment and development has been the foundation of his tenure with the Wolfpack, and the results need to come for these young guys.
“I’ve been on a 3-9 team before,” said graduate receiver Tabari Hines. “I know how the offseason is [afterward], how seriously the coaches take it, and next year is a better year. I just keep telling the guys, ‘Regardless of how this season ends, next year is going to be way better. You’re going to feel how you felt last year and play with that passion every game.’”