TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Tom O'Brien tried his best to dissect the lengthy list of miscues — turnovers, a rattled quarterback, poor tackling, youth. In the end, however, North Carolina State's head coach exhaled and simply credited Florida State.
"We didn't play very well and when you don't play well against a team of this caliber, it ends up the way it ended up today," O'Brien said.
Needless to say, the Wolfpack's pattern of strong finishes under O'Brien might be in jeopardy following Saturday's numbing 34-0 defeat against the Seminoles here at Doak Campbell Stadium.
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NC State's (4-4, 1-3) modest two-game win streak, punctuated by its first road win of the season last week at Virginia, ended with a thud as it suffered its first shutout since the 2008 season opener against South Carolina, 38-0.
It also represented the program's first road shutout in the Atlantic Coast Conference since a 31-0 setback at Virginia in 1990.
The Wolpack was really never in a game that history suggested would be close.
It managed only 166 yards on offense and surrendered 444. NC State's deepest penetration of the game was to FSU's 28 — and that was the benefit of a penalty late in the second half.
Quarterback Mike Glennon, who had thrown for 1,717 yards and 19 touchdowns entering the game, completed 19 of 34 passes for 130 yards and two interceptions. He appeared uncomfortable in the pocket as FSU recorded four sacks and forced a season-high three turnovers.
"They stay after you, they're quick," O'Brien said of FSU's defense.
"We didn't give our quarterback enough time to throw, we didn't protect him well enough and it got to him a little bit, I think. It's a learning experience for him and he will be better because of this as we go down the road."
Graham, the nation's leader in all-purpose yards, picked up 76 of his 116 yards on kickoff returns. Cole, a semifinalist for the 2011 Dick Butkus Award given to the nation's top linebacker, had a team-high 10 tackles. It marked the fifth time this season Cole has registered double-digit tackles.
It wasn't nearly enough to slow the onslaught.
The Wolfpack averaged just 2.7 yards per play, compared to 6.3 for FSU. Not much worked in any area. After averaging 157 rushing yards per game in its last three games, NC State had 36 rushing yards on 28 attempts
"I mean 36 yards — I guess their sacks figured in there — but if you can't run the ball and let them pass rush against you all day, you are in trouble," O'Brien said.
N.C. State didn't have an answer for FSU quarterback EJ Manuel, who threw for 321 yards on a career-high 25 completions and two touchdowns. He orchestrated a 24-0 halftime lead and directed FSU to its first win of the season over a team that had a winning record.
"He's a special player," O'Brien said.
"When he went down (injured shoulder last month) they had problems. He's back and that's what I said — the last couple of weeks they are back to being a top-10 football team they were."
FSU scored on a pair of runs, a pair of passes and two field goals.
The Seminoles produced 249 yards before halftime while its defense limited the Wolfpack to 106. Manuel completed 17 of 22 for 212 yards and two touchdowns in the opening two quarters.
Of course, NC State, which entered the game averaging 31.4 points and 370.6 yards a game, needs to correct its mistakes and put the defeat behind it as soon as possible.
The good news is the Wolfpack plays three of its final four regular season games at home, starting Saturday against North Carolina. November home games also include Clemson and Maryland. NC State is at Boston College Nov. 12.
Last year the Wolfpack finished the season 3-3, including wins over No. 16 FSU and UNC.
"It's the same thing as I said to them in the locker room," O'Brien said. "You had a heck of a win last week and you were all excited. Well, as good as that win was is as bad as this loss is. You have to be able to forget about it."
Not before O'Brien further explained what went wrong.
"We have got to tackle; we didn't tackle well — we could have gotten off the field," he said. "You have got to protect the quarterback and you have got to catch the ball and make plays when you've got a chance. Pre snap penalties got us, too. The five-yard penalty before the field goal that we botched ... that's a 10-3 game. So, a lot of things but a lot of that was young guys playing their first time against a defense like that."