WILSON LEADS THE WAY
Hitting the field a few days after arguably his worst performance since the 2009 opener against South Carolina, NC State quarterback Russell Wilson bounced back in a major way. The noticeable difference was a change in gameplan that got the ball out of Wilson's hands quicker and allowed his playmakers to make plays.
After attempting to go vertical a majority of the time against UCF, which left Wilson open to defensive pressure and asked the offensive line to block for longer periods of time, NC State went with a short-passing attack to start the Cincy game and never looked back. Wilson found his receivers out of the backfield, hit his tight end in the middle of the field, exposed Cincinnati's defense down the seam, and took his shots deep when he had the time to do so.
The passing offense was far from one-dimensional, and it allowed the Wolfpack's skill position players to make plays and prevented Cincinnati from applying a lot of pressure on Wilson. When it was all over he had completed 26-of-40 passes for 333 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions which was much better than the 10-of-30 performance he had last Saturday against the Knights.
Look for NC State to be in every game if Wilson continues to be that efficient.
NO HUDDLE, NO PROBLEM
State started the game looking to be the aggressor offensively and did so by implementing a no-huddle offense that consistent of short passes and massive substitutions.
NC State was able to keep Cincinnati from substituting as much and/or altering its defense by not using a huddle, and it eventually wore down the Bearcat defense, which Tom O'Brien stated after the game was a part of their gameplan.
The no-huddle offense was critical in helping Wilson find his groove because it forced him to spread the ball around and take what the defense was giving him with different receivers on the field. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of his night was how he didn't rely on a certain receiver or two to make plays for him. He consistently went through his progressions until he found the open receiver, with tailback Mustafa Greene's five catches leading all pass-catchers. When the night was over 11 different receivers had caught passes for the Wolfpack.
State looked comfortable going no-huddle, as receivers, backs, and tight ends shifted on, but it also led to some miscues. There were a few illegal procedure and illegal formation penalties from not lining up and/or Wilson not giving his receivers enough time to line up correctly and those penalties stalled out a couple of drives early which could have busted the game wide open.
NC State will need to avoid those errors if they are going to continue using the no-huddle offense moving forward.
MOOSE EARNING MORE REPS
NC State has been playing freshmen Dean Haynes and Mustafa Greene at tailback with Haynes serving as the starter, but Greene has continued to make strides and has seen his workload increase in each game.
He began the season rushing for 35 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries in the win over Western Carolina. A week later Green totaled 55 yards rushing and a score on 14 carries versus UCF. Against Cincinnati Greene received a career-high 16 carries for 84 yards and another touchdown, as the true freshman has scored a touchdown in all three games he has now played. Greene has also proven to be a solid receiver out of the backfield, catching eight passes for another 83 yards in the three games.
Each game he has shown improvement, and in the win over Cincy Greene flashed playmaking ability that a lot of folks wondered if NC State would be able to get out of the tailback position this year. He has outstanding feet and the ability to make defenders miss in space, but Greene's most impressive trait might be his vision.
On his 31-yard touchdown run, Greene took the handoff out of the shotgun and ran to his right behind center Camden Wentz and right guard Zach Allen who were pulling on the play. Allen sprung the run by chopping down two defenders and Greene read the block, choosing to cut behind Allen just as his guard made the block. Greene accelerated through the hole and then bounced outside behind blocks from receivers Jarvis Williams and Owen Spencer before finishing the run by extending the ball over the goalline while leaping from the two-yard line. All of Greene's natural gifts were on display on that run.
The increased workload could show that State is starting to transition to Greene being the starter at tailback. Haynes had two fumbles in Thursday night, with the Pack losing one, and he was replaced in the rotation by junior Curtis Underwood. Haynes has ran the ball well, but his workrate continues to decrease while Greene's increases. Haynes totaled 13 carries in the season opener followed by 10 at UCF. Against Cincinnati he had just five totes for 20 yards and zero receptions.
Don't be surprised if "Moose" takes the field on the opening drive against Georgia Tech next Saturday. In a performance-based organization, No. 33 is earning his way onto the field.
HIGH RISK, HIGH REWARD
NC State's defense is going to make a bunch of plays this year due to an attacking scheme that relies heavily on applying pressure through blitzing from various angles.
The Pack is forcing turnovers, generating sacks, and stifling opponents on third down. State has forced seven turnovers through three games and has generated 11 sacks, both stats on-pace to far exceed last year's numbers. The biggest plus has been the Wolfpack's ability get off the field on the "money down." Third-down defense killed NC State last season, but that hasn't been the case thus far in 2010. NC State's defense has allowed just nine conversions on 38 attempts, a rate of 23.7% which is top-15 nationally. Against Cincy's spread attack the Wolfpack allowed just three conversions in 13 attempts, and it prevented the Bearcats from sustaining any long drives.
With that being said, teams that play an aggressive scheme like NC State will give up big plays from time-to-time, and Cincinnati was able to expose some missed assignments defensively, particularly late in the game.
On Cincy's first 12 drives, they had just one drive of longer than 47 yards, and that was the 2-play, 74-yard scoring drive in the second quarter which included the 68-yard touchdown pass to D.J. Woods. Lining up at slot receiver, Woods exposed NC State deep down the middle of the field. The Wolfpack appeared to be in a Tampa-2 defense with the safeties having outside coverage and the middle linebacker, Nate Irving, expected to cover the deep middle of the field, essentially making it a cover 3. However, Irving didn't get a bump on Woods, who was able to run free down the middle of the field right into the open hole of the zone with Irving trailing him. A receiver with great speed, Woods outran the safeties for the touchdown.
Cincy wouldn't have much success again until late in the contest when State had some missed assignments after substituting in second-teamers with a 30-7 lead. There were gaping holes in the zone, but look for NC State to use the film and correct those mistakes moving forward.
Blitzing and sending defenders from various angles requires the rest of the defense to remain disciplined and play their zones. At times NC State is going to force its fair share of turnovers and get off the field, but each week the potential is there for a big play by the opposing offense. The question is will the quarterback have enough time to find the receiver?
LOADED AT LINEBACKER
The strength of NC State's defense is at linebacker where the Pack has three players who could potentially earn All-ACC honors if they play up to their level.
In the opener sophomore weakside linebacker Terrell Manning led the Wolfpack in tackles (10) and had a fumble recovery to seal the win over Central Florida. Manning was back making plays against Cincy, recording two sacks, a forced fumble, a pass breakup and a quarterback hurry. He is explosive as a pass-rusher and extremely instinctive, and his development has allowed NC State to move Nate Irving inside to middle linebacker.
Junior Audie Cole had a breakout game against UCF when he totaled 12 tackles (nine solos), 3.5 tackles for a loss, one sack, and an interception, and he chipped in another five tackles and a sack versus Cincinnati. NC State might rely on Cole more than any player defensively as he has a host of responsibilities from his strongside linebacker position. The 6-foot-5, 240-pounder has developed into a sure-tackler and has made tremendous strides in pass coverage.
Finally middle linebacker Nate Irving is starting to get his legs back after missing all of his last season. Playing a position that asks him to take on more blocks than when he starred at weakside linebacker, the senior totaled just four tackles in first two games. However, he bounced back to lead State in tackles versus the Bearcats (7) and forced a crucial fumble that ended a drive in the second quarter.
The three linebackers seem to have good chemistry right now and are working well together in the middle of State's defense. The Wolfpack will only improve defensively if all three can stay healthy and continue to develop.
J.K. Schaffer made a bunch of plays for Cincinnati. The junior linebacker totaled 16 tackles to lead both teams... Junior wideout Jay Smith caught his first career touchdown pass for the Wolfpack in the first quarter, and freshman wideout Quintin Payton recorded his first career catch in the third period... Freshman lineman Duran Christophe received snaps at guard for State... A gameball should go to junior defensive tackle J.R. Sweezy. Double-teamed at times and particularly when State went to three down-linemen, Sweezy consistently brought pressure and managed to record six tackles and a fumble recovery. He's a difference-maker in the interior.