An Examination Of O-Fer On The Road In The Atlantic
One of the most remarkable Wolfpack football statistics you'll read is the number zero. As in, the number of Atlantic Division road victories for NC State during the Tom O'Brien tenure.
Of O'Brien's 37 victories as State's head coach, none of them have come on the road against Boston College, Clemson, Florida State, Maryland or Wake Forest. The Pack has played 13 road games against this quintet of divisional rivals and come up short in all of them. Some have been blowouts, but more than a few of them have been within one score, including a one-point loss in Death Valley. The Pack have certainly had their chances.
Here's a team-by-team look at these losses against divisional foes over the last five years.
Not only is O'Brien winless on the road against his old team, he's managed only one win in five tries overall against the Eagles since leaving Chestnut Hill for Raleigh. There were some real stinkers in that bunch, particularly the last two games. In 2009, State nearly handed Montell Harris the ACC career rushing crown in one game as he rushed for 264 yards and five touchdowns. Last season, State faced a 2-7 Eagles squad in the midst of one of their worst seasons in recent memory, our gained them on offense, possessed the ball longer, broke even in the turnover margin and still came up short.
Losing to Clemson in Death Valley is nothing to be ashamed of. After all, it's one of the more historic venues in college football and one of the toughest places to play. Yet when State came into the 2010 game as the higher-ranked team (#25) and Clemson stood at 4-4, it looked like State's turn to win one in the Tigers' backyard.
State led 10-0 in the third quarter, but two scores from the Tigers in the fourth were offset by only a State field goal and, with possession of the ball, 3:03 left on the clock and facing a fourth-and-two from the Clemson 44, Tom O'Brien elected to punt the ball away and hope for another possession rather than go for it. In an epic moment of NC State "stuff," the Pack managed to net only four yards on a shanked Andy Leffler punt, giving Clemson the ball on their 39. While State would use its timeouts to force Clemson into a three-and-out that used only 0:19 of clock, the resulting Tigers punt pinned State at the 14. Needing to travel over 50 yards with no timeouts was too much to ask of even Russell Wilson, and the Pack left Clemson as the vanquished squad. And as it would turn out, this one-point loss would be key in denying the Pack a trip to the ACC Title Game later in the month.
The games in 2007 and 2011 against the Noles weren't close, but the barnburner on Halloween in 2009 was a hell of a game. Over 1,000 yards of offense and nearly 90 points were posted by both squads, and when the Pack scored their sixth touchdown of the game–a pass to Jarvis Williams with 3:50 to go to take a 42-38 lead–it looked like the Pack might steal one from the Noles on the road.
But as you might expect in a game devoid of defense, almost four minutes of clock remaining is an eternity to leave any team trying to make a comeback in their home stadium. The Seminoles marched down the field for the game winning score, a three-yard run from Bert Reed with 1:36 left. State would get to midfield on their attempt to tie the game but an interception of Russell Wilson would seal the deal for FSU.
Ugh. Maryland. Our red-and-yellow nemesis to the north. They played the role of spoiler during the Philip Rivers era (PhiLLLLip) and have been equally problematic during the TOB tenure.
In 2008, State scored midway through the third quarter to tie the game at 24, but neither team could gain any momentum for the remainder of the game. The Terps were able to line up for–and make–a 20-yard field goal with just six seconds left to prevent overtime and seal the win.
But if 2008 was disappointing, 2010 was the ultimate heartbreaker. In the final regular season game of the best season of Tom O'Brien's time at State, a win against the Terrapins would've sent the #23 Wolfpack into the ACC Title Game with a chance to win their first league title since 1979. In Ralph Friedgen's final game as head coach of his alma mater, the Terps fed State a steady diet of Danny O'Brien-to-Torrey Smith and the Pack mysteriously had no answer for them. What should've been a formality on the way to the title game was a disastrous loss that landed Florida State in the ACC Title Game in the Wolfpack's place.
State has won only once since 2000 in College Park, a 13-3 victory back in 2004. State hopes to win their second game of this millennium in Maryland this afternoon.
Some teams just seem to have your number. No matter how up or down you are, or they are, games against a particular team are always a war. Wake Forest is one of those teams for NC State.
Over their last 15 games, the Demon Deacons–a historically weaker team than the Pack–have won eight, with seven of those coming at BB&T Field in Winston-Salem. Only Philip Rivers was able to break the snide on the road against Wake in 2001.
Both matchups in 2009 and 2011 were one-score games. State jumped out to an early lead in '09, but after a touchdown early in the second quarter gave Wake a 10-10 tie, the Pack would never lead again. Russell Wilson's streak of passes without an interception came to an end this game–he threw two, in fact–and the Deacons pulled off the upset.
Last season, the Pack started off the ACC slate with a trip west in a game most folks predicted the Pack would win. The Deacons were predicted to finish in the Atlantic Division, after all. But Wake Forest jumped out early and never trailed in the game. State trailed by double digits most of the game, and despite a late rally, the Deacs held on and started the Mike Glennon era in the ACC off with a loss.
So there you have it. Thirteen road games in the Atlantic Division–13 losses. Those 13 losses have come by an average of ~13 points. So after 13 losses by roughly 13 points per game, is it time for State's bad luck to finally turn around? If so, it'll come against a team they had some bad luck against lately in Maryland.
A streak like this can't last forever. But that's thing with streaks…when you're in the midst of them, it sure feels like they can.