N.C. State's frustration and surprise at being outplayed by Ohio could disappear with one blocked punt and the friendly bounce it took Thursday night.
The concern cannot go away so easily.The Wolfpack reconvened Friday with an eye toward second-ranked Florida State, which it hosts a week from today, after beating Ohio 34-31 on Roderick Brown's block and Chris Coleman's touchdown return with 1:59 to play. While State coach Mike O'Cain and the Bobcats' Jim Grobe praised the Wolfpack's tenacity in overcoming a 31-14 deficit, the Pack knows it will probably get buried by the Seminoles without major improvement between now and then.
``This week, we're going to work hard and build on things because we saw tonight there were a lot of things we need to work on,' said free safety Jason Perry, who intercepted two passes.
The biggest trouble spot was run defense, which tormented the 1996 team but improved dramatically last season. The Bobcats ran 75 times for 361 yards - nearly 5 yards a carry - and converted nine of the first 12 third-down situations in which they ran. When starting tailback Steveland Hookfin was injured and missed three possessions after topping the 100-yard barrier, Jamel Patterson, a backup from Hickory, came in and got 61 yards.
The Bobcats, doing most of their running behind 290-pound right guard Mike Solominsky and 300-pound right tackle Erik Davis, were in no way undersized or intimidated. They frequently blew away the Wolfpack line, then broke tackles from an inexperienced linebacking crew.
``We've got to find out why we missed those tackles,' O'Cain said. ``If we had made the tackles on first contact, they would have had only half their (yardage) total.'
In fairness, State did improve after permitting 233 yards in the first half. Ohio gained a more modest 64 yards on its final 18 runs.
``Coach O'Cain was pretty mad,' wide receiver Torry Holt said, describing the halftime chat. ``He challenged us to play like men, to play like champions.'
All in all, FSU offensive coordinator Mark Richt probably won't lose much sleep when he studies this game film.
It will be difficult for N.C. State's offensive coaches to grade what their players did against the Bobcats because Ohio possessed the ball for more than 41 minutes. In less than five minutes of the second quarter, the Bobcats ran as many plays - 21 - as State would get the entire half.
Quarterback Jamie Barnette had one of the least productive games of his career, 8-for-18 for 157 yards and two interceptions.
Holt found his opportunities limited, but he made the most of them. He set up one touchdown with a 27-yard run off a reverse, and with his team down 31-14 with four minutes left in the third quarter, he dashed down the right sideline for a quick-strike, 61-yard TD that jump-started the comeback.