I skipped the post-game press conference after N.C. State’s 38-31 loss to Boston College Saturday afternoon in Raleigh because I could assume most of what would be (and what was, in fact) said: “Tough loss. We’re getting better. We’re inconsistent but playing hard. Someone has to lose, too bad it was us.” Boring: Sometimes, I think athletes—more than the musicians I normally cover, or the politicians that are currently on everyone’s mind—are the world’s best at hiding behind vagaries and generalizations. More often than not, they dissemble through null speech, telling us only a sliver of the surface of the story. Good thing sports themselves aren’t so predictable.
But fans, especially the Wolfpack faithful, aren’t so tightly lipped. So Saturday afternoon, I followed a dozen or so groups of fans in the general direction of their cars, eavesdropping on their post-game conversations. I’d hoped to note their ideas on the dropped passes or the failed drives or the sluggish, spotty secondary. A broadside or two against Tom O’Brien—who dropped his second consecutive game against the team he coached for 10 years—would have been fitting, as would a little bit of hope given the promising play of red-shirt freshman quarterback Russell Wilson (mostly patient in the pocket, two rushing touchdowns, completing 19 of 33 passing attempts for 218 yards and a touchdown: not bad!). But my most remarkable finding Saturday was that—after what should have been a bitter Homecoming loss that was so close to being an improbable fourth-quarter rally—no one really seemed to care.
Sure, there was the intense armchair quarterback guy with the long, gray hair who wouldn’t stop preaching to his wife’s unresponsive ear about the virtues of the blitz. But everyone else seemed keen on talking about parties and yardwork and that girl or this guy or—because this was a noon game—not being as drunk as they were following last week’s game. The disappointment seemed diluted, as though the red-wearing fans were just glad its team had not been crushed for the third (arguably, fourth) time in the season’s six games.
It would be easy to be cynical right about now, and say it’s hard to expect much else from Wolfpack fans at the midpoint of the year. They’ve been beleaguered for the better part of the decade, buying tickets at a much-improved stadium for a team whose progress has been less than tantamount. And, with the team now 2-4 heading into its off week, this season doesn’t seem to be heading anywhere good. A win versus East Carolina that seemed like a possible jumpstart was drained both by a rainy 41-10 rout at home against South Florida and by today’s loss, which came on a 1-yard quarterback sneak by BC’s Chris Crane with 23 seconds on the clock. Crane threw for 428 yards, and a second-string BC tight end with the improbably great name Lars Anderson seemed capable of catching mid-range, mid-field passes like a common cold.
What’s cynical isn’t always true, though, and I don’t think it is here: Saturday’s performance by N.C. State was a sign of promise, even if it was muted by ultimate loss and consistent inconsistencies. T.J. Graham did something that’s never been done by an N.C. State player in returning a kickoff from a yard deep in his own endzone for a touchdown. He had another 60-yard return, while N.C. State limited BC to less than 24 yards per return. Graham, a small-built true freshman from Wakefield High School, could be a star someday. And, lo and behold, so could Russell Wilson. He’s not there yet, but his career-long pass to sophomore wide receiver Owen Spencer was a jolting indication of ability. Fellow redshirt freshman tight end George Bryan continued to impress, grabbing a tough Wilson pass with one hand late in the fourth. And, at times, the struggling defense made impressive stands against long odds.
This is all to say that all is not lost, even in this loss. A 2-4 record isn’t the end of the world, and of the remaining roster—Florida State, Maryland, Duke, Wake Forest, North Carolina, Miami—only Wake Forest is ranked (No. 25 in both polls). The season is salvageable. Unless, of course, those taciturn fans stop caring so much that they stop coming.