NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A season that started with so much promise for N.C. State ended badly on Monday in the Music City Bowl.
Without their new head coach and lacking fight, the Wolfpack bookended an uneven 2012 season with another loss to an SEC team.
Vanderbilt turned five Wolfpack turnovers into a 38-24 win over N.C. State for the third bowl win in program history.
Under interim coach Dana Bible, N.C. State (7-6) was sloppy and undisciplined, racking up turnovers and penalties. Coming into the season, N.C. State was a veteran team, coming off back-to-back bowl wins, with a star quarterback and an opportunistic defense.
Instead of a banner season, the Wolfpack sputtered out of the gate, with a two-touchdown loss to Tennessee in the opener, and a seven-win regular season that cost coach Tom O’Brien his job.
There were high points, like the upset of ACC champion Florida State on Oct. 6, but they were offset by too many lows.
“It’s tough, when you look back at our season there were a lot of games that we could have won if we didn’t turn the ball over or made mental mistakes,” senior center Cam Wentz said. “But you can’t change the past.”
N.C. State turned the ball over 26 times in six losses this season, compared to just seven in its seven wins. Turnovers cost the Wolfpack against the streaking Commodores (9-4), who closed the season with seven straight wins.
Senior quarterback Mike Glennon (35 of 53, 383 yards) struggled in his bowl showcase for NFL scouts with three interceptions and one touchdown.
Vanderbilt, which entered the game ranked 10th in the country in pass defense, turned Glennon’s first two interceptions into 28-14 halftime lead.
While Glennon struggled, Commodores quarterback Jordan Rodgers was efficient, with three total touchdowns.
Senior running back Zac Stacy was a headache for the Pack defense with 107 yards, most out of a Single Wing formation, and a touchdown.
“We knew it was coming but we didn’t execute enough on defense to stop it,” junior cornerback David Amerson said.
State’s defense held Vandy to 225 yards, compared to 424 for the Pack, but couldn’t overcome its turnovers or penalties. State was flagged nine times for 90 yards, including five of the 15-yard variety.
“We hurt ourselves and when you play against a team like Vanderbilt, you can’t make mistakes like that,” Bible said.
The Commodores scored on their opening drive, a 5-yard pass from Rodgers to receiver Chris Boyd, and then went up 14-0 after Stacy cashed in an interception by safety Kenny Ladler for a 6-yard touchdown.
Running back Tony Creecy got the Wolfpack on the scoreboard with a 1-yard touchdown run, to cut Vandy’s lead to 14-7 but the Commodores answered with a 7-yard touchdown run by Wesley Tate.
Receiver Tobais Palmer, who dropped a touchdown pass on the Pack’s first scoring drive, atoned for his early mistake with a 94-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.
Palmer’s second kickoff return for a touchdown in three games cut Vandy’s advantage to 21-14 but the Commodores turned Glennon’s second interception, with 54 seconds left in the half, into another touchdown.
Receiver Jordan Matthews took a screen pass from Rodgers 18 yards to give the Commodores a 28-14 lead with 41 seconds left in the half.
Glennon threw a pick on the Pack’s first possession of the second half, a jump ball in the end zone intended for receiver Charlie Hegedus, which Trey Wilson returned 65 yards to set up a field goal for Vanderbilt.
Glennon, who set a Music City Bowl record with 383 passing yards, tacked on a late 19-yard touchdown to receiver Rashard Smith but it was too late.
“In the end, it was just a lot of missed opportunities,” Wentz said.
Wentz was talking about the game but the same could be said of the 2012 season.