NOTEBOOK: Huge Game For State

NC State (2-1) hits the road tonight to face Cincinnati (2-1) in a huge nonconference game for both teams. Kickoff is set for 8:00 and the game will be televised nationally on ESPN.

This week's game marks the second game of a home-and-home matchup with the Big East's Cincinnati and the second overall meeting in the series. Last season, the Bearcats came to Raleigh for a Thursday night, ESPN matchup.

The Wolfpack won that game handily, 30-19.

Tom O'Brien had coached one other game against the school from his hometown prior to last season. That matchup came during his first year as a head coach at Boston College and his Eagle squad dropped that contest, 24-6.

There is a strong Cincinnati flavor to the Wolfpack coaching staff. Three members are Cincinnati natives, one graduated from the University of Cincinnati and two coached there.

Head Coach Tom O'Brien was born and raised in Cincinnati, where he attended St. Xavier High School, one of the oldest high schools in the nation (founded in 1831). O'Brien graduated in 1966 and a few years later a young running back named Dana Bible joined the Bombers' squad.

Bible, who graduated from Saint X in 1972, was the leading scorer in the Greater Cincinnati league during his prep career.

Bible ended up attending Cincinnati, where he started at cornerback. He earned his B.A. in 1976 and his M.B.A. from UC in 1982. His first coaching job was as a graduate assistant for the Bearcats (1976-77) and then as the full-time quarterbacks coach from 1978-80. He returned to the area in 1990, where he spent three seasons coaching quarterbacks for the NFL's Bengals and then spent the 1994 season back at UC as the offensive coordinator.

Bible's roommate during his graduate assistant days ended up marrying O'Brien's sister.

Tight ends coach Don Horton was born in Cincinnati and went to Indian Hills High School. He attended Wittenberg University in nearby Springfield. Tight ends coach Jim Bridge, who hails from Cleveland, also attended Wittenberg.

Finally, defensive line coach Keith Willis spent two seasons coaching at Cincinnati - 1999-2000.

There are also a few Wolfpack players who hail from Cincinnati and the Ohio area. Starting defensive end Jeff Rieskamp attended Elder High School in Cincinnati, while reserve tight end Anthony Talbert graduated from Winton Woods. Freshman tight end Benson Browne attended Archbishop Alter High School in Cincinnati.

Other Ohio players include redshirt sophomore linebacker Ryan Cheek (Lancaster), redshirt freshman offensive lineman Andy Jomantas (Dayton), redshirt freshman wide receiver Bryan Underwood (University Heights) and freshman offensive lineman Joe Thuney (Centerville).

It's obvious that redshirt junior Mike Glennon has grown more and more comfortable in his new role as starting quarterback over the course of the first three games of this season. Over the last three halves of play, he's completed almost 70% of his passes (34-49) and thrown for seven touchdowns. He threw for four scores versus South Alabama - only three players in Wolfpack history have thrown for more TDs in a single game.

Glennon, who has already graduated from State, opened the South Alabama game with nine straight competitions and was 17-20 for the game. That .850 completion mark was the best for a Wolfpack player since the season opener of 2003.

In that game against Western Carolina, the leading passer in ACC history, Philip Rivers, completed 26-30 passes for an .866 mark.

Things could get a little picky this week when NC State travels to Cincinnati. The Wolfpack currently ranks third nationally in interceptions with seven in its first three contests, while Cincinnati ranks fourth nationally in INTs with six in its first three outings.

The AFCA is sponsoring its fourth annual Coach to Cure MD effort for this week's games. NC State is one of more than 100 FBS schools whose coaches will be wearing a Coach to Cure MD patch to raise awareness and funding for Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy research. Fans are encouraged to donate online at or donate $5 by texting CURE to 90999."

NC State's game with South Alabama ended around 9 p.m. Saturday. Less that five nights later, the Pack will more than likely be at halftime of its next game: at Cincinnati.

This marks the second year in a row that State had a game the weekend before a Thursday night contest. In 2010, the Pack played at Central Florida on Saturday night, then played host to Cincinnati on Thursday. This year, Tom O'Brien will take his team on the road for the second game of a five-day turnaround.

Besides this year and last year, there have been just two other times since 1980 that NC State had a five-day turnaround which included at least one game on the road. In 1997, Mike O'Cain's Wolfpack topped Northern Illinois at home (9/20) before falling at Wake Forest (9/25), while Chuck Amato's 2002 squad beat Duke at Carter- Finley Stadium (10/19) prior to defeating Clemson on the road in an ESPN Thursday contest (10/24).

First the bad news: During the first three weeks of the 2011 campaign, the leading rusher from last season, Mustafa Greene, has been wearing a boot on his foot and sitting in the stands. The second-leading rusher, Russell Wilson, is playing for another team. The third-leading rusher, Dean Haynes, has actually seen action, but is playing safety for the Pack.

The good news is that NC State has two halfbacks who have looked good this season: James Washington and Curtis Underwood. Washington, one of only three returning players who gained yardage rushing the ball last season, has started the first three games. He led the team in rushing last week versus South Alabama with 54 yards.

Although he has come off the bench in the first three contests, Curtis Underwood is the team's leading rusher with a 73.3 yard per game average - the ninth-best mark in the ACC this week. He became the first State back to rush for over 100 yards since 2009 when he gained 114 yards on 14 carries in the opener. For the season, he is averaging 6.1 yards per carry. However, he has fumbled the ball twice this season.

The Pack's rushing game looked pretty solid over the second half of the season opening win over Liberty and the entire Wake Forest game, as the team averaged 4.8 yards per carry (52 rushes for 248 yards - doesn't include a 15-yard sack on Glennon in second half versus Liberty). In addition, the Pack lost only three rushing yards at Wake Forest and three against Liberty (not counting sack yardage).

The numbers weren't so impressive in the win over South Alabama, as the team gained just 95 total rushing yards (that includes 24 yards lost in sacks) and averaged just 2.6 yards per carry.

Senior T.J. Graham has become the go-to guy for the Wolfpack early in the 2011 season in two facets of the game: offense and special teams. The senior has averaged over 194 all-purpose yards in his three games this season, the second-best mark in the ACC and the sixth-best mark in the nation.

Graham boasted his first career 100-yard receiving game at Wake Forest, when he had six grabs for 117 yards and a 63-yard touchdown - the longest catch of his career. He followed that with his second 100-yard game on a 5-128 performance against South Alabama, and set a new career long with a 67-yard TD grab-and-run.

It marked the first time a Pack wideout had tallied back to back 100-yard receiving games since Jerricho Cotchery did so in five games to close out the 2003 campaign.

Entering the season, Graham had already made a name for himself as a kick returner. He entered the season as the school record holder in kickoff return yards for a single game (202), single season (1,028) and career (he now has 2,402). That career mark ranks fourth in ACC history.

Graham has also picked up his pace as a punt returner. In the last six games (including last three games of 2010), he has posted two of the top six single-game punt return totals in school history. He had two returns for 88 yards and a touchdown in the 2010 win at UNC and had three for 88 yards and another score in the opener versus Liberty. His big return in the opener was an 82-yarder, the 11th-longest in school history.

Graham now boasts 530 career punt return yards, the sixth-best mark in school history. He has tallied 3,876 all-purpose yards for this career, which ranks seventh on the Wolfpack career list.

Sophomore cornerback David Amerson is currently the ACC leader in interceptions with three in as many games. That mark is tied for second nationally.

The field corner pulled down a pair in the season opener versus Liberty and then had another versus South Alabama. Just a quarter of the way into the season, he is just one pick shy of last year's team leader (Brandan Bishop had four in 2010).

The State defense has done a good job getting to the opponent's quarterback this season - tallying 11 sacks this season for a loss of 61 yards. That mark leads the ACC and is currently tied for fifth nationally. On the flip side, however, the Pack has allowed Mike Glennon to be sacked eight times this season - the next-to-last mark in the ACC.

For the third straight year, NC State is leading the ACC in fewest penalty yards per game. The Wolfpack has been flagged a league-low 11 times this season for a loss of just 99 yards. That 33.0 penalty yards per game ranks 10th nationally.

Against South Alabama, the Wolfpack drew just one yellow flag - Tom O'Brien's squad led the ACC in fewest yards penalized in 2009 and 2010 as well.

One glaring statistic regarding the Wolfpack defense has been its performance when the opposition gets into the red zone in 2011. In three games, NC State's opponents have moved into the red zone eight times and have scored on every single trip. That percentage is the worst in the ACC.

The Pack has allowed four touchdowns and four field goals from the redzone.

Wil Baumann is one of only seven true freshmen starting at punter in the FBS ranks this season, but he certainly hasn't looked like one at times this season.

Baumann currently is tied for the ACC lead in punts inside the 20 yard-line with six for the season.

Baumann was one of the brightest spots of the game for State in the loss at Wake Forest on September 10, as he averaged 41.8 yards on his four punt attempts. He pinned the Deacons inside their own 20 yard-line three times and put then inside the 10 twice.

The injury bug has definitely bitten the Wolfpack defense so far in 2011, as the Pack has opened the past two games without two starting defensive linemen and finished the South Alabama game with four starters on the bench.

Senior captain J.R. Sweezy suffered a broken foot in preseason practice and is still in a walking boot. His absence paved the way for redshirt freshman Thomas Teal to move up to second team at that position. In the first game, Teal went down with the exact same injury and is now in a walking boot as well.

The week prior to the Wake Forest game, starting end Jeff Rieskamp went out with a shoulder injury. He has missed the last two games and his status is still unknown for Thursday night versus the team from his hometown. Redshirt freshman Art Norman has been starting in his place, but he left the South Alabama game with an injury and did not return.

Also during Saturday night's game, starting weak side linebacker Terrell Manning left the game in the first half with a knee injury, meaning the Pack finished the game with four starters and one second-team player missing. Manning is scheduled to undergo knee surgery this week.

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