Thursday, September 22, 2011
8:00 pm (EST), ESPN
NC State (2-1) at Cincinnati (2-1) Sept. 22, 8:00, ESPN
Here's The Deal … NC State and Cincinnati clash for the second time in two years, and just the second time ever, in front of a national television audience. The Bearcats will be seeking redemption for last September's 30-19 loss that was even worse than the score indicated. In three games, Cincy has spanked undermanned Austin Peay and Akron, yet was no match for Tennessee in Knoxville. In other words, the program is going to be a mystery until it starts playing a broader swath of competition.
The Wolfpack is actually in a very similar situation as this week's opponent, wrapping meaningless blowouts of Liberty and South Alabama around a telling loss to Wake Forest. Its 2-1 mark is currently overstated by a weak schedule that includes a pair of FCS visitors. With the need for a quality win evident on both sidelines, the winner will get some wind in its sail. The loser will continue living a lie.
Why NC State Might Win: Yeah, the other team was South Alabama, but the Pack finally has some confidence on offense. Talented QB Mike Glennon has actually played well in consecutive games, throwing seven touchdown passes to one pick over that time. He'll remain hot against an average Cincinnati secondary, teaming up with speedster T.J. Graham and the steady Tobias Palmer. The NC State defense will allow some yards, but compensate with a slew of big plays. The team leads the ACC in sacks and turnover margin behind the all-around disruptive play of LB Audie Cole, DE Darryl Cato-Bishop and CB David Amerson.
Why Cincinnati Might Win: While the Pack defense is opportunistic, it's also missing two of its best players, DT JR Sweezy and LB Terrell Manning, to injury. At some point, depth will become an issue. The Bearcats have the weapons to capitalize on the ground and through the air. They're multi-dimensional and unpredictable, riding the running of Isaiah Pead as well as the accurate throws of Zach Collaros. The senior has thrown seven touchdown passes without an interception, gradually getting more in sync with primary targets D.J. Woods, Anthony McClung and Kenbrell Thompkins. Almost identical to NC State, Cincinnati has been piling up the takeaways to lead the country in turnover margin.
What To Watch Out For: Cincinnati does not have a great defense, but it is making things happen … consistently. Remarkably, the Bearcats have seven fumble recoveries, six interceptions and just one turnover of their own. The catalysts on D have been familiar veterans of the program, DT Derek Wolfe, LB JK Schaffer and hybrid pass rusher Walter Stewart. The key will be which of the quarterbacks cracks under the pressure. Collaros has thrown no picks on 69 attempts, while Glennon has been intercepted just once on his 92 passes.
What Will Happen: This is going to be a key matchup for both schools, which have enough talent and weak spots to go in either direction. While the pair is similar in many ways, Cincinnati holds an important edge in the backfield. The combination of Collaros and Pead will be better on this night than Glennon and the committee of Curtis Underwood and James Washington. The Bearcats' catalysts will lead the charge in a game that'll be dictated by the offenses and turnovers.
CFN Prediction: Cincinnati 34 … NC State 24
Considering the numbers the Cincinnati offense has put up through three games, it's not a stretch to say NC State will likely need to put up 30-plus points to have a shot at beating the Bearcats.
However, equally important when they don't score is to keep the chains moving and the defense off the field. The Pack has done a fairly decent job of avoiding three and outs thus far and need to continue that at Cincinnati. Even if they don't get into scoring position, State needs to pick up a first down or two at a minimum and work to pin the Bearcats deep and force them to drive the length of the field to score.
One area the Pack may be able to take advantage of is on third down. Cincinnati has been generous against Tennessee and two lesser opponents- allowing the opposition to convert on roughly 40% of their third down attempts. This ranks the Bearcat defense No. 76 nationally in third down defense. If the Pack can make plays, eat up clock and keep the defense on the sidelines, their chances for a win should improve dramatically.
SCORE 7... NOT 3
NC State has been efficient in the red zone this year. They've had 10 drives inside the 20 and scored on nine of them. Just as impressive is the fact they've not had to settle for field goals. Of their nine scoring trips inside the red zone, the Pack has hit on seven touchdowns and just two field goals. Of the seven touchdowns scored State has been balanced with three rushing scores with four through the air.
Ironically, as well as State has performed inside the 20, Cincinnati's defense has been equally bad. The Bearcats have had opponents inside their 20 on 10 occasions, allowing scores on nine of them (seven touchdowns and two field goals.) This ranks UC 95th in the nation in red zone.
Clearly once you get Cincinnati's defense moving backwards, your odds go way up for a touchdown. The Pack needs to continue with the efficiency it's had in the red zone thus far in 2011.
DON'T LET THE MISTAKES SNOWBALL
Let's face it, this will be the first real road test of the year for NC State as far as facing a hostile crowd. The Pack played at Wake Forest a couple of weeks ago but there was as much red in the stadium as gold and black.
In addition to the crowd, State will also have to deal with a short week of preparation and the pressure of playing on national TV. All of that means the Pack has to stay composed and maintain its poise or they could be in for a long night against the Bearcats.
It's inevitable that State will have a turnover, bad penalty or find the going tough on offense at some point. The Pack has to make sure that those issues are overcome and aren't allowed to take the team out of the game mentally.
When you're trying to win on the road, it really boils down to limiting mistakes and execution. If the Pack can avoid those problems or limit them at the very least, a win is certainly possible.
The most dangerous player on the field tonight is going to be wearing No. 23 for Cincinnati: senior tailback Isaiah Pead. An explosive talent, Pead has played sparingly the first three games but that hasn't prevented him from rushing for 257 yards and four touchdowns, including TD runs of 65 and 40 yards.
He's averaging 9.5 yards per carry, which is the top mark in the Big East and one of the best in the country. Cincinnati loves to get the ball in his hands out in space, where he can make defenders miss and take it to the house.
"We've invested a lot of time, effort and energy into our run game," said Bearcat head coach Butch Jones. "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."
Can NC State stop Pead? That's the biggest question, and key for the Wolfpack defense, heading into tonight's game. Thus far, lead runners have been able to grind out yardage versus NC State. Wake's Josh Adams rushed for 96 yards in their win over the Wolfpack, and last Saturday South Alabama's Kendall Houston totaled 117 yards on just 18 carries.
NC State can't allow Pead to reach those numbers. If he does, then it will allow Cincy's offense to remain multidimensional and the Bearcats possess a much more potent passing attack than Wake Forest and South Alabama. State's defense will be off-balance all night and likely get steamrolled by a powerful Bearcat offensive unit that has skill at all three positions and experience along the offensive line.
The Wolfpack's No. 1 priority... shutdown Isaiah Pead.
LIMIT THE BIG PLAYS
Even with Pead's production, Cincinnati is still a team that loves to throw the football. In their lone loss of the year, Pead rushed for 155 yards and a touchdown, but he had just 14 carries. Quarterback Zach Collaros was 21-of-34 for 230 yards and two touchdowns, and his numbers could have been even better if Tennessee didn't possess the ball for nearly 38 minutes.
With that being said, State must prevent Cincinnati from scoring on big plays. The Bearcats aren't necessarily a team that consistently sustains long drives. The majority of their scoring this year has come on big plays, either through the air, on the ground, or even defensively... and they've done it very quickly.
In last year's win over the Bearcats, Cincinnati had only one turnover and Collaros passed for 310 yards and three scores. However, for most of the game State prevented the big play and made Cincy drive down the field, which led to five sacks and the Bearcats converted just 3-of-13 3rd-down opportunities.
UC has had only two scoring drives all year that lasted longer than four minutes. Two. They have scored on 13 drives where they held the ball less than two minutes. Cincinnati has done a great job of generating good field position and capitalizing on mistakes but also scoring very quickly through big plays.
Cincy is No. 104 nationally in time of possession but No. 4 in scoring offense. They put points on the board and do it in a hurry. NC State has to prevent them from scoring quickly and make the Bearcats earn everything they get tonight.
WIN THE TURNOVER BATTLE
On paper, this is a game that should be played fairly clean from a turnover standpoint. Cincinnati is No. 1 nationally in turnover margin (+4) and NC State checks in at No. 8 (1.67). While the Wolfpack has forced 11 turnovers, they've given the ball away six times.
The Bearcats have been outstanding in this area. Their defense has forced 13 turnovers, and the offense has just a lone fumble on the year... one turnover all season. Their ability to create turnovers and take care of the football is a major reason why they are scoring at such a prolific rate and doing so very quickly.
NC State has to win the turnover battle tonight. In a game that should be close and with both teams likely airing it out, the Wolfpack defense has to get to Collaros and pressure him into mistakes. State runs a pressure defense that will yield yards to opposing offenses. Their hope is they can force you into field goals in the redzone and or third-and-long situations that could lead to turnovers and sacks when they can consistently dial-up their blitz packages.
Both teams defenses have proven they can force turnovers. For NC State to win, their defense has to come up big and win the turnover battle.
NC State Game Notes
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.
THE CINCINNATI CONNECTION - COACHES
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.
THE CINCINNATI CONNECTION - PLAYERS
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).
GLENNON IN A GROOVE
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.
YOU'RE INVITED TO A PICK PARTY
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.
COACH TO CURE MD
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 www.CoachtoCureMD.org or donate $5 by texting CURE to 90999."
PACK FACES QUICK TURNAROUND
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).
GETTING RUSHING RIGHT
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.
AMERSON LEADS LEAGUE
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 FACTS ABOUT SACKS
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.
NO FLAGS FLYING FOR NC STATE
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.
PACK NOT SEEING RED
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.
BAUMANN PINS ‘EM DEEP
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.
UC-NC STATE TIES
FIGHTING THE TURNOVER STIGMA
GIVE HIM THE BALL
FIRST TIME'S THE CHARM
THE ZACH ATTACK BREAKING DOWN THE RECORD
LEARNING THE TRADE
KEEP AN EYE ON THIS ONE
FRESHMAN MAKING HIS MARK
NC State Depth Chart
NOTE: *- Indicates a player has redshirted a season.
|2011 NC State Depth Chart|
Thanks to NC State and Cincinnati Athletics for much of the information in this preview.