N.C. State's Brandan Bishop (30) reacts after tipping a pass that was caught for a 13-yard touchdown by Miami's Rashawn Scott. ETHAN HYMAN
MIAMI — A frustrated and perplexed Tom O'Brien searched for answers after N.C. State's 44-37 road loss to Miami on Saturday.
After all, N.C. State quarterback Mike Glennon threw for 440 yards and O'Brien's older team out-rushed a younger Miami team, in the throes of NCAA investigation and a rebuilding project, 224 to 85.
But in the end, a series of defensive miscues, offensive errors and mental vacations cost the Wolfpack (3-2) its opener for the fifth time in six seasons under O'Brien.
"I don't know, in 38 years I've never been involved with a team that made this many mistakes," O'Brien soberly admitted.
One of the ACC's least penalized team a year ago? Flagged 14 times, for 100 yards, in Saturday's conference opener. One of the country's best teams in turnover margin a year ago? Saturday's equation was six giveaways to only one takeaway.
O'Brien, the former Marine who has built his coaching career on discipline, took the blame for his veteran team's problems.
"When we lose, it's on me," O'Brien said. "I've got to do a better job and it's going to start with me."
Miami quarterback Stephen Morris was more than willing to accept the kindness of N.C. State's defense, which was plagued by offsides penalties, missed tackles and blown coverages.
Morris put his name in front of Jim Kelly, Bernie Kosar and Vinny Testaverde in the school record book with 566 passing yards and five touchdowns. The last score, from 62 yards out to receiver Phillip Dorsett, came with 18 seconds left.
Morris threw for touchdowns of 14, 24, 76, 13 and 62 yards. N.C. State cornerback David Amerson, who had rebounded from a tough outing in the opener against Tennessee with three interceptions in the past three games, was in coverage on all five touchdown passes.
Miami's sixth score, a 4-yard touchdown run by Duke Johnson, was set up after Amerson jumped offsides on a field goal attempt.
"We've got guys that are turning around and, you know, you're supposed to be covering a guy," N.C. State safety Brandan Bishop said. "You can't just let him run by you and do it over and over and over again. It's frustrating. It's really, really frustrating."
Despite all of the mistakes, and problems with Morris, Dorsett (7 catches, 191 yards, 2 TDs) and Rashawn Scott (6 catches, 180 yards, 2 TDs), N.C. State still had a chance to win the game.
The Wolfpack, which trailed 23-7 in the first half, tied the game at 37 with 1:58 after scoring 10 straight points.
Glennon finished a 13-play, 97-yard drive — which included a pair of fourth-down conversions — with a 6-yard touchdown pass to Rashard Smith to make it 37-34 at 5:43 in the fourth quarter.
Then after a rare stop by the defense, N.C. State kicker Niklas Sade, who missed an extra point earlier in the fourth quarter, nailed a 50-yard field goal to even the game at 37.
Miami (4-1), which improved to 3-0 in the ACC despite giving up 105 points in those three games, actually punted the ball away on its next possession, leaving 63 seconds until overtime.
With the ball on its own 3-yard line, N.C. State was content to run out the clock and take its chances in overtime. Since Miami's kicker had already missed three field goals, including a 19-yarder, that seemed like the safe play.
But on first down, freshman running back Shadrach Thornton (87 rushing yards) busted a routine run for 20 yards. Given the extra room to work, Glennon decided to take a shot down field to Tobais Palmer, but Palmer broke off the route and Miami corner Thomas Finnie ended up with an interception at the Miami 39-yard line.
"It was a bad mistake by me," Glennon said.
The turnover was compounded when Morris eluded N.C. State's pass rush and Dorsett got behind Amerson for a 62-yard touchdown.
Miami's players celebrated. N.C. State's could watch in disbelief, and wonder where it went wrong.