NC State seemed poised to pick up a blowout victory in the first half. In the third quarter, no one seemed interested in emerging with a triumph. In the end, East Carolina looked like they wanted it badly, but special teams play failed them all afternoon.
NC State took a dip in the national polls due to its narrow win at ECU, but the truth is the victory will be easier to gauge in November than it is after only one week of games. The Pirates look solid, and a terrific season in Greenville could add clout to the Wolfpack's accomplishment.
What is clear now is twofold.
For starters, the is no genuine advantage for NC State to gain playing East Carolina, perhaps sans the experience of competing in front of a hostile crowd. If the Wolfpack wins big, nothing is gained. If they struggle in any way, supporters and pollsters alike will frown. If the Pirates beat NCSU, the sky falls.
The second thing Saturday's game showed, and the one that probably troubled Dave Doeren and his team the most, is NC State not creating separation when the chance presented itself, which led to an almost infamous wilting in the game's final quarter. Everything the Wolfpack did worked right into ECU's hands. The Pirates typically would have won that game.
NC State will have trouble if they do not make the most of their chances. When it gets late, the opposition could simply run the ball in tight games to control both the line of scrimmage and time of possession. The running backs or slots can be sent into the flats or run crosses against the Wolfpack linebackers -- the latter of which helped the Pirates set up for what would have been its game-winning field goal.
For the Wolfpack, the schedule provided some likely respite in Charleston Southern. After that comes a big game at home against Texas Tech, then another lesser opponent, UConn, visits Raleigh before the massive ACC opener at Clemson.
A lucky win is better than a cruel loss, so NC State can take solace in two things. ECU did provide opponents a template for dealing with the Wolfpack, but NCSU also gets a chance to address its flaws ahead of teams like Texas Tech, Clemson, and then the remainder of the ACC. Most importantly, they get to do it from a perspective of an undefeated team that still has every single preseason goal available in front of them to achieve.
Of course, if they do not address them, all the games -- including the two projected to be breathers -- are up in the air.