Head coach Tom O'Brien said during his weekly press conference Monday that he finds no positives when you lose to your rival.
NC State fell behind UNC 25-7 in the first quarter, clawed its way back to a 35-25 lead going into the fourth quarter, before letting it get away and losing 43-35. Slow starts have been a common theme in NCSU's three losses this season.
NC State trailed Tennessee 22-7 in the season opener Aug. 31 in Atlanta at the end of the first quarter, and the Wolfpack had a 23-7 deficit at Miami on Sept. 29 following the opening 15 minutes.
O'Brien feels the Wolfpack needs steadier play up front from its defense to reverse that trend.
"I think that's where we are getting off to the slow starts," O'Brien said. "When we lost five of the front seven from last year, all those linebackers and [J.R.] Sweezy and [Markus] Kuhn in the middle, we don't have the consistency that we had. Sometimes we're really good and sometimes we're really bad. We have to play our technique and be much more consistent."
O'Brien is hopeful that after Saturday's loss, which also featured big plays allowed on defense and special teams and four turnovers by the offense — two other common themes in NC State's defeats — that the players are beginning to take ownership of the team.
He noted that some of his assistants told them that the players were "angry" during Sunday meetings.
"We as coaches have to make sure it's done, and get it done on the practice field, and then they have to take accountability for their actions and get it done on the football field," O'Brien said. "That's where this angry part and guys taking ownership, we're going to find out. You don't want it going on as we are but it's all a learning process. It's all the journey."
NC State is back at home after a lengthy break away from Carter-Finley Stadium. NThe Wolfpack has played just three home games this season as the calendar gets ready to flip to November. Three of the Pack's first four conference games were on the road.
He described himself as "ecstatic" to get back home.
"We do have a home field advantage," O'Brien said. "Our fans are tremendous. They show up, they have great support. This is a tough place to play in. they can make it very difficult to play on the opposing team, and we need that help."
NCSU is hosting Virginia at 12:30 p.m. Saturday. The Cavs have gone just 2-6 this year and are winless in four conference games. UVa has dropped its last six contests after opening with wins over Richmond and Penn State at home.
O'Brien though is not taking them lightly, especially with Virginia coming off a bye week.
"Virginia is a talented football team," O'Brien said. "Things haven't gone their way. They've had an open week, they can solve a lot of problems. They, just as we do, need a win. It could be the fifth game in a row that goes down to the last 30 seconds."
- The big piece of news Monday was senior running back James Washington will miss the remainder of the season, and his college career is likely over after a serious knee injury at UNC.
"He pretty much tore everything in his knee," O'Brien confirmed.
Washington, a product of Orlando (Fla.) Boone High, played in six games as a true freshman in 2009, getting 21 carries for 76 yards and two scores and catching five passes for 44 yards and another touchdown.
He had a more prominent role as a part-time starter in 2010, and then was State's leading rusher last season, carrying 227 times for 897 yards and seven touchdown, and catching 42 passes for 315 yards.
Washington's senior year never got on track. He carried 21 times for 63 yards and a touchdown, and had seven catches for 57 yards in the first three games while sharing time with other backs before hurting his ankle. Saturday was his first game back from the injury, and he carried six times for 14 yards and had a one-yard catch before blowing out his knee.
If Washington's career is over, he had 346 career rushes for 1,265 yards and 11 touchdowns, and 82 catches for 602 yards and two scores.
- NCSU's loss meant that the Pack lost control of its own destiny in the ACC Atlantic Division race. NC State now needs Florida State to lose either at Virginia Tech Nov. 8, or at Maryland Nov. 17 to regain its destiny.
"You have to make Florida State win seven games, and if they don't win seven games we're right back there," O'Brien said. "Strange things happen on a Thursday night in Blacksburg. We just got to take care of our business."
- Players did not have their normal Sunday practice, but O'Brien said that was his intention whether they won or lost.
- O'Brien was an assistant at Virginia for 15 seasons and noted that his family still has a lot of friends in Charlottesville.
"Charlottesville is a great place for us," O'Brien said. "We raised our kids there."
He also has deep admiration for his boss at Virginia, George Welsh.
"I learned everything in coaching from him and the guys that he had on his staff," O'Brien said. "I learned so much on how the game was meant to be played and how it should be played from Coach Welsh."
However, O'Brien joked about how tough it is it to reach Welsh and chat with him.
"Sometimes he doesn't return calls, which is most of the time," O'Brien said.