ATLANTA The NFL scouts lined up across the end zone to watch David Amerson warm up before the game Friday night.
They had high expectations for the N.C. State cornerback, just as the Wolfpack had high expectations for the season, for this night.
It didn’t take long for the scouts and the Wolfpack alike to begin a rapid reassessment of those expectations.
Amerson was beaten deep for two Tennessee touchdowns in a nightmarish first quarter and N.C. State had just as much trouble keeping up with the rest of the Volunteers in a 35-21 loss that never felt that close.
The ACC has lost six of these games in a row, and Clemson will play Auburn on this same field Saturday – but another summer that harbored such great hopes ended with immediate and bitter disappointment.
Strengths – Amerson and the vaunted secondary, senior quarterback Mike Glennon, team discipline – were suddenly weaknesses.
The Volunteers made Amerson look painfully slow. Glennon made uncharacteristically bad decisions on his way to four interceptions. And the Wolfpack took some really awful penalties.
For all of that, you couldn’t script much worse of a first half for the Wolfpack, and yet, there they were, down a mere touchdown and two-point conversion.
Inside the dome, amid the sea of orange, it felt like much more – 80 points, not eight.
Two years ago, North Carolina was down 30-10 to Louisiana State at the half, left for dead with a dozen players suspended. The Tar Heels came within a couple dropped passes of winning that game, which only goes to show how fluid football can be, particularly on the first weekend of the season.
So all was not lost for the Wolfpack, although it certainly tried to lose it in the first quarter.
A Glennon interception led to an instant Tennessee touchdown, followed by Glennon refusing to throw the ball away and fumbling it for a safety instead, followed by another instant Tennessee touchdown.
The Volunteers scored 16 points in all of three plays and 38 seconds.
But the Wolfpack answered, with a Glennon-to-Quentin Payton pass to set up a James Washington run, then got a break of its own.
With time running out in the second quarter and the Volunteers just outside the N.C. State end zone, Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray tried to sneak across the goal line.
But as he stretched the ball across, Brandan Bishop knocked it loose and the Wolfpack recovered – and went into halftime down one touchdown instead of two.
But the second half was too much like the first, and when N.C. State’s opening drive fizzled thanks in large part to a personal foul, the Volunteers reeled off a 14-play drive that drained the clock and the Wolfpack in equal measures.
The touchdown, after an N.C. State timeout to try and staunch the flow, put Tennessee up three scores.
It may just be that Tennessee is a far better team than anyone thought a week ago. (Wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, a junior-college transfer making his Volunteers debut, certainly is worth every extra consonant.) And there’s nothing stopping N.C. State from taking care of business in the ACC.
But the Wolfpack was once again denied the big nonconference win on a national stage that fans have been yearning so long for, with so many flaws exposed in the process.
It was a rough night for Amerson, a rough night for Glennon and a rough start to what was supposed to be a smoother season for N.C. State.