In between defeat and disappointment, NC State receiver Bryan Underwood stood unbowed.
If anybody had reason to be bitterly upset after losing to Clemson it was Underwood, whose controversial tiptoe down the sideline became a major focal point in the Wolfpack's 26-14 loss. But rather than dwell on the touchdown that was not to be, Underwood had reason for hope.
"I feel like this game helped us see who we are," Underwood said. "Even when things were going badly, we just kept fighting. Even when the game was pretty much clear and over in people's eyes, we just kept fighting. We didn't give up. ... We learned that we're a really tough team."
Indeed, NC State opened some eyes with its performance. Three things became pretty clear.
1. The defensive front is solid. This is the group that has the most veteran leadership and the most depth, so it stands to reason it should be the most active. NC State harassed Tajh Boyd for most of the night, and came away with two sacks and 13 tackles for loss. The last time the Wolfpack had more TFLs was against Clemson in 2011. So far this season, NC State has played between nine and 11 players on the defensive line in each game. Eight have taken 65 snaps or more, allowing players to stay fresh and rotate in. The key to balancing out a secondary that is not as strong is solid play up front. If NC State can continue to play the way it did against Clemson, the Wolfpack will be thrilled.
2. Dave Doeren has the program going in the right direction. NC State only had 11 starters back this year, tied for sixth fewest in the entire nation. He completely changed the offensive and defensive schemes and yet, the Wolfpack hung with Clemson for nearly the entire game. There are disjointed parts on offense right now but we have seen flashes from this group, especially some pretty key freshmen contributors. When quarterback Brandon Mitchell returns from injury, NC State will resemble more what Doeren wants from his offense moving forward. The fact this team seems capable of winning nine games at this point speaks volumes to the work he has done in a few short months.
3. Speaking of win totals, look at the schedule. The reason NC State has a chance to win at least nine games is its extremely favorable schedule. It should win its final two nonconference games -- this Saturday against Central Michigan and then East Carolina on Nov. 23. The Pack won’t have to play a game outside their home state until Oct. 26, when they go to Florida State. The only other game played outside North Carolina is at Boston College on Nov. 16. Of the remaining conference games, Florida State is the only team with a clear upper hand. North Carolina has looked beatable and Maryland has not playing anybody with a winning record yet. Both those games are in Raleigh.