Bearcats Looking To Make Statement

Cincinnati's starting offense has played barely one half in two of three games this season. In the other contest the Bearcats were playing catch-up for much of the second half in a loss at Tennessee.

Head coach Butch Jones says the offense is still looking to establish its identity. No better time to find itself than Thursday night before a national television audience and a quality opponent in North Carolina State.

"So much on offense is continuity and getting in a rhythm," Jones said. "They've played really one full game and a couple quarters. But our players have great confidence in what we're doing."

Heading into this season UC knew it needed to run the ball effectively to be successful. A consistent rushing attack takes pressure off senior quarterback Zach Collaros and keeps the Bearcats much-maligned defense off the field. Enter Isaiah Pead, who quickly has emerged as one of the nation's most explosive backs.

"We've had great balance in the first three games," Jones said. "We've invested a lot of time, effort and energy into our run game. We want to get the ball into No. 23's hands as much as possible. In today's age of football you have to be able to establish the run."

Pead, in barely one full game, has rushed for 257 yards and 4 touchdowns including TD runs of 65 and 40 yards. He's averaging 9.5 yards per carry, tops in the Big East.

Pead's explosiveness hasn't convinced the Bearcats to ditch their pass-happy spread attack entirely. Also in limited duty Collaros has thrown for 521 yards and 7 TDs without an interception. Wide receivers D.J. Woods, Anthony McClung and rising star Kenbrell Thompkins have combined for 35 catches and five touchdowns.

Thursday night at Nippert Stadium the Bearcats offense is hoping for its coming out party against an injury-riddled Wolfpack defense which has recorded 11 sacks.

"We're going to be challenged with the speed of the game," Jones said. "Their defense dictates the tempo of the game. They have great depth."

-- Cincinnati, which finished minus-15 in turnover margin last season, is plus-12 this year. The Bearcats have forced 13 turnovers, most among NCAA FBS schools.

-- Following Thursday night's game UC will not play at Nippert Stadium for 71 days. The Bearcats' next two home games -- Louisville and West Virginia -- will be played at Paul Brown Stadium.

-- NC State head coach Tom O'Brien is a Cincinnati native and 1976 graduate of St. Xavier High School.

SERIES HISTORY: NC State leads 1-0 (Last meeting, Wolfpack won 30-19 at Raleigh in 2010).

SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: While Butch Jones says the offense is still trying to find its identity, it's obvious that a great portion of its persona is the running game. Isaiah Pead seems primed for a huge game on Thursday night especially after being hampered by injury in last year's loss to the Wolfpack. Senior QB Zach Collaros' QB rating of 159.2 leads the Big East.

SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: With seven interceptions and five fumble recoveries, UC's defense has lived off turnovers this season. When the Bearcats don't get takeaways, they give up yardage in big chunks. UC opponents are averaging 385 total yards including 258 passing. UC, which has five sacks in three games, must generate a consistent pass rush.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I know there are a lot of things going on behind the scenes that right now we can't comment on. But I think we have an unbelievable product here. We're sitting in a good position. What's going to happen in the future will be good for UC. We're going to be fine." -- Cincinnati head coach Butch Jones on the upheaval in the Big East Conference after Syracuse and Pittsburgh announced they were moving to the ACC.

North Carolina State at Cincinnati, Sept. 22 -- The Wolfpack beat UC 30-19 before a raucous crowd last year in Raleigh.

KEYS TO THE GAME: The Bearcats defense must continue its opportunistic ways and find a way to create some turnovers. Wolfpack junior QB Mike Glennon is similar in many ways to Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray who shredded UC's defense two weeks ago. In a close game, special teams could turn the tide.

PLAYERS TO WATCH: Senior RB Isaiah Pead gets a chance to perform on the national stage. Pead is averaging 9.5 yards per carry with TD runs of 65 and 40 yards. Freshman K Tony Miliano and junior K/P Pat O'Donnell are back under the microscope. Miliano has had two field goals blocked. O'Donnell filled in last week on kickoffs with mixed results.

Freshman kick returner Ralph David Abernathy IV, who leads the Big East with 31.3 yards per return, could be a factor in a game likely decided by special teams play.

ROSTER REPORT -- Earlier this week UC received a commitment from 3-star wide receiver Nate Cole from Mitchell Road High School in Memphis. Cole had offers from Alabama, Stanford, Mississippi and Tennessee.

-- The Bearcats added LB Greg Blair. Blair, a junior college transfer, practiced in the preseason but was not eligible due to academic issues that have since been resolved. He could be active for UC's game at Miami (OH) on Oct. 1.

-- Junior DB Malcom Murray tore his ACL in practice earlier this month and will miss the remainder of the season.

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