NC State’s ‘new-look’ offense finding new ways to lose

Louisville’s Cam’Ron Kelly forces North Carolina State quarterback Brennan Armstrong (5) to fumble the ball during the second half of an NCAA college football game in Raleigh, N.C., Friday, Sept. 29, 2023. (Karl B DeBlaker / AP Photo)

RALEIGH — NC State’s “new-look” offense reached new lows Friday night after yet another poor outing squandered a tremendous defensive effort in a 13-10 loss to Louisville.

The Wolfpack’s defense did everything that could have been asked from them. 

Two interceptions, a fumble, four sacks, eight tackles for loss and it held Louisville — who entered the game with the ACC’s top offense — to zero points in the first half and a grand total of 20 rushing yards for the game.

“That’s what we do,” said senior linebacker Payton Wilson. “That’s our mentality. You’re not going to run the ball on us. We’re going to shut that down and try to make you one-dimensional, and I feel like we did a good job of that tonight.”

Despite that, the veteran defense was still trying to take responsibility for the game following the loss.

“At the end of the day, our job is to stop them from scoring points and they scored more points than we did, so the defense, we put that on our backs,” Wilson said.

But the reality is that the defense did more than enough to win.

In a game where the defense ground the ACC’s best offense to nearly a halt, it was squandered by a pitiful offensive performance. Again.

“Very, very tough locker room right now,” said NC State coach Dave Doeren. “There’s really not a whole lot to say. Defense played extremely well, offense did not. Pretty obvious what the issues were between penalties and turnovers.”

The defense forced three turnovers over the course of the game and it amounted to only three points.

In fact, coming off of those turnovers, the offense generated a total of 14 yards, and it was only the interception on the Louisville 32 that even managed to come away with points off of a field goal after the offense moved the ball just a single yard.

The statline for the offense: six 3-and-outs, 3 for 15 on third-down conversions, a single drive over 10 plays, a fumble and two bad interceptions by Brennan Armstrong, including the game-ending interception on his first throw of the final NC State drive with less than two minutes to go and down by three points.

“He’s hard on himself first of all,” Doeren said about his quarterback. “Nobody feels worse than Brennan does right now. We’ve got work to do with the whole team. I know he’s going to own his part of it. There’s a lot of things that happened around him that made it a hard night at that position too. Every player has a part in a win and every player has a part in a loss. There’s a lot of things we have to improve on.”

Armstrong has struggled through five games with the Wolfpack. Friday’s game was another game with him hovering around the 50% completion mark, and he threw for just 112 yards — 45 of those coming off of a single deep ball which he immediately followed up with an interception. 

But Armstrong isn’t solely to blame.

The offensive line has struggled, his receivers have had trouble getting open, and the running game is nonexistent.

The Wolfpack’s defense is still good enough to keep them in games, it just needs a bit more help.

It’s not a quick fix, and Doeren’s biggest task might making sure his team doesn’t fracture in the meantime.

“These ones hurt a lot and these guys are going to have a lot to do with what happens next,” the coach said. “Good teams stick together in tough times. It’s easy right now for people to want to point fingers because that’s what everyone on the outside is going to do, and I understand why, but as a team, you can’t do that.

“The leadership is going to be tested, and like I’ve told our team from the beginning, leadership is most profound in difficult situations. That’s when leaders really step up. It’s easy to be a leader in good times, so we’re going to need those guys to do that now.”