The NC State defense makes a tackle against Louisiana Tech on Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021 at Carter-Finley Stadium. The Wolfpack won 34-27.

There are no two ways around it, Pack football’s loss to Miami was a brutal one, and one that will undoubtedly leave a stain on this team’s reputation. Despite the 31-30 loss in heartbreaking fashion, the ACC championship picture still remains largely unchanged, with the Wolfpack still in control of its own destiny within the conference.

With the Atlantic division of the conference being as wide open as it is, the Pack remains in the same place it was before the Miami loss. Coming in at 2-1 in the conference, NC State is only outdone by No. 13 Wake Forest, who boasts a perfect 4-0 record within the ACC. The Wolfpack is the only team in the Atlantic with a single loss in the division, meaning that the road to a championship appearance will require a perfect runout.

That perfect runout would see NC State finish the season at 7-1 in the conference with a head-to-head win over Wake Forest, should things work out the way that head coach Dave Doeren and company would want them to. The loss against a Coastal opponent isn’t as detrimental to the Pack’s chances at seeing a championship game as some would like to think.

As was true before the matchup against Miami, all roads lead to a matchup against the previously mentioned Demon Deacons on Nov. 13 in Winston-Salem. Despite the fact that a lot could change by then, with NC State still having to rebound from the loss against a couple of talented teams in Louisville and Florida State, the game against Wake Forest will likely make or break the Pack’s season.

Assuming that both teams will win out to that point may be a stretch, especially for an NC State team whose weaknesses were exposed early and often against an underperforming Miami team, but crazier things have happened. In a year where college football is as unpredictable as it is this year, it’s fair to think that the Pack may still have a chance at the ACC’s crown.

There are some aspects to NC State’s chances that aren’t in its control, however, such as injuries that continue to be a thorn in this team’s side. Outside of the big three losses that NC State has suffered so far this year, all of which were key cogs in Doeren’s defense, there are now uncertainties about the Pack’s biggest asset on that side of the ball.

Redshirt junior linebacker Isaiah Moore left Saturday’s game against Miami with a knee injury and, despite an attempt at returning to the field, the issue would prove to be serious enough to send the defensive captain to the locker room. Moore has been the spark that this Wolfpack defense so desperately needed after the loss of redshirt sophomore linebacker Payton Wilson, and if he is forced to miss any significant time this team will suffer for it.

Last night was a clear indicator that Moore is an essential glue that holds the defense together, with the unit falling apart in the later stages of the game against a backup quarterback and banged up Miami offense. Even if Moore misses a single game, which would be against Lousiville this coming weekend, massive question marks will arise concerning the Pack’s ability to stop anyone’s offense.

It’s an unfortunate truth that injuries are a consistent part, albeit a bad one, of football. It was Moore who stepped up in a time of need after the Pack lost Wilson, and it’s not absurd to think that someone like sophomore linebacker Drake Thomas could elevate his play in the same way out of necessity.

This Pack team has already shown its fair share of resilience in what has been a trying year thus far, and should that continue it will be perfectly set up to achieve an ACC title. A lot of season is still to be played, but the loss to Miami doesn’t change the fact that NC State remains in complete control of its standing within the ACC.

Assistant Sports Editor