NC State couldn't afford to start like they did in each of the previous two weeks. As coach Tom O'Brien said following the game, the Wolfpack, "found their footing again, came out at the start and got off to a fast start."
Players said getting off to a good start was a focus all week during practice. Everything that they didn't do against North Carolina and Virginia, they did against Wake Forest at Carter-Finley on Saturday afternoon.
"It was a point of emphasis after last week to play with more energy and get off to a fast start," quarterback Mike Glennon said. "That's exactly what we did. It set the tone for the whole game, and it was a great team win.
"I think we were ready. You felt it in the locker room this week, felt it pre-game. There was a little more energy out there."
Players mentioned that the energy they came out of the locker room was a big factor in getting off to a 17-0 lead in the first quarter.
"We were talking about that all week, about how we needed to play all four quarters and really start off fast," tight end Asa Watson said. "We scored on the first drive and we just came out with energy, that was the biggest thing. We didn't want to come out like we did last week. We knew before [the game] that we would win this game.
"We came into this game with a lot of energy. We just saw it as an opportunity to come back and get a good start to finish out the season."
The last thing that O'Brien told the team before the game was that they were at a crossroads. The team responded by saying that they were heading towards a bowl game, not the other direction, and it showed on the field.
"It inspired us a lot," wide receiver Tobais Palmer. "It gave all of us a fire in our belly that we just needed to play for each other. At the end of the day, everybody in this building, we always have each other's backs. We just needed to play, and that's what we did tonight."
State also got off to a great start in the second half, when Palmer took the kickoff 100 yards for the touchdown.
"Coming out, talking to Sterling Lucas, our defensive captain, he was just telling me, 'we need a big play,'" Palmer remembered. "We always start off the second half slow and he just said we needed a big play. I feel as though I owe that to this team because it's my last year. I stepped up and I made that big play."
The fourth time is a charm
Watson said he was disappointed that he dropped three passes in the first half of the game. He was hoping that he didn't blow his chance to impact the game, and Glennon picked him up on the sideline with words on encouragement. The tight end returned the favor on the field in the third quarter, when he hauled in a 26-yard touchdown pass on a play action play.
"Right before, I was just praying for a second chance," Watson said. "I really stunk it up the first quarter, then I was just asking for a second chance. When Coach called that play, I was just praying for Mike to get open [to pass the ball]. When he did, I just thought in my mind, 'keep running, keep running.' It just felt great to come up with it. I was really humbled by it - to get that second chance and to help the team out.
"[Mike] told me, 'just stay focused, I'm coming back to you.' That really reassured me, and I just stay focused. I guess it's easy to get down after dropping three passes, but I just tried to stay focused, even when I wasn't in the game. [Backup quarterback] Manny [Stocker] threw me a couple of passes [on the sideline] and I was ready to make a play."
"I know what Asa is capable of doing, and I told him that I'm going to keep throwing him the ball," Glennon explained. "The toughest ball that I threw to him all night, he managed to come down with, but it was also the biggest one.
"I'm really happy for Asa, it's his first career touchdown. He's someone that works really hard at it, and I'm just glad to see him have some success."
Shuffled offensive line gets it done again
NC State has not had any consistency up front on offense due to injuries, but the group got it done once again. It was the sixth different starting combination in 10 games, and redshirt senior Andrew Wallace, who was a game-time decision, opened at right guard, where Duran Christophe had started the past three games.
"I think it's great how some guys are a little dinged up, but they came out and did a great job," Glennon said. "Guys weren't in my face and they opened up holes for the running backs. The offensive line played great today."
The fivesome paved the way for 170 yards rushing, more than it had totaled in the previous three games combined. True freshman Shadrach Thornton had the second 100-yard rushing game of his career, and finished with 110 on the ground.
"We were able to establish the run game early and continue it through the game," center Camden Wentz, the one guy up front who has started every game in the same position, said. "That's going to help your efficiency on offense, without having to drop back to throw every time, so that was really the key, I think.
"If you look back at the games where our offense has really done well, you're probably going to see good rushing numbers. Even if we don't run the ball a lot, as long as those runs are efficient - an efficient run for us is over four yards. If the percentage of efficient runs [is good] then you can go back and look, they're probably good games offensively."