I had the honor of talking to Scott, writer at BearcatsBlog, and discuss with him this Thursday night’s game in Raleigh against the Cincinnati Bearcats. Aside from holding the namesake of probably the most misspelled city in Ohio, what challenges does the NC State Wolfpack face this week?
My first concern (for them) was Cincinnati’s 28-14 loss to the famed Fresno State Bulldogs. Fresno State posted an impressive 8-5 record last season… playing in the WAC. It’s kind of like beating Shaq at a free-throw competition: not as impressive as it sounds and furthermore, no one cares. Cincinnati managed to lose by two touchdowns to the Bulldogs so I wanted to get the scoop:
Pack: What happened at Fresno and what guarantee do you have that Cincy will have it back on track for Thursday?
Scott: The main things that happened at Fresno were that UC had a terrible breakdown with their offensive line. They couldn’t run the ball, and the pass protection was very weak. Zach Collaros was forced to run for his life most of the second half. Some of that was him not throwing the ball away, some of that was odd blocking schemes that had a running back trying to block stud DE Chris Carter. Some of it was just first game woes. The defense had a couple of lapses that led to a couple of TDs, including the game changer on a 59 yard touchdown. Some of the air was sucked out when WR Vidal Hazelton blew out his knee in the 3rd quarter.
The Bearcats were able to bounce back a little on Saturday. They played an inferior foe, and it’s hard to get a good read off of that.
Good news for Tom O’Brien and his 2-0 Wolfpack since the strength in NC State’s arguably defensive win over UCF was Jon Tenuta and his blitzing defense. NC State also had big stand-up players penetrating UCF’s offensive line such as Augustin and Cole, who got 3.5 tackles behind the line of scrimmage, 12 tackles total, and and a sack against UCF. Even our defensive players who were missing their tackles in the last minutes of the game were punching through the opposing team’s offense with amazing speed (I’m looking at you Terrell Manning, 48 tackles in 2009).
Pack: What is your read on Cincy this season?
Scott: It’s been a little hard to get a solid read on the Bearcats this season. QB Zach Collaros has looked off compared to his amazing numbers from a season ago. It looks a little like Collaros is feeling the pressure of being the man, and trying to make everything happen at once. He had a great 3rd quarter against ISU, which helped get people back to thinking things will be alright. The Big East, like the ACC, is not loaded with great teams and it’s up for grabs. UC could win the conference, finish 5th, anything is possible right now.
What makes me nervous about this is that NC State may take advantage of Cincy’s weak O-line, get to a big lead, then put it on cruise controls coming out at the half, much like in the UCF game. If Collaros is one of these QBs that simply “takes a while to warm up”, then the timing could be uncanny for the Bearcats and pay off big time in 3rd quarter momentum.
Interesting tangent… there is one thing Scott and I both agree one: the ACC kind of sucks and both the ACC and Big (L)East are definitely up for grabs.
Pack: What should we watch out for?
Scott: The Bearcats have been pretty stout against the run this season. NC St is going to be their first real test at corralling a prolific (so far) rushing attack. The Bearcats secondary has been vulnerable, so if Russell Wilson has a game like in week 1, NC St could very well pull off the homefield victory.
As for offense, the Bearcats continue to run the spread. They haven’t been able to cash in on big plays this season however. Isaiah Pead was electric running the ball last season, but had a rough game against Fresno and didn’t play against Indiana St. The running game is the key to me. If UC can get yards on the ground and take pressure off Collaros, I think they can score a high percentage of the time. DJ Woods leads the team in catches and yards, but Armon Binns has similar numbers. The UC line has been an adventure, so it will be interesting to see if they can stop the NC St blitz attack.
This may be a good challenge for NC State. If the Bearcats are providing NC State with a tight defense against the ground game, we might be in trouble unless Russell Wilson decides to get the peanuts and crackerjacks out of his arm and throw some better passes. It’s OK, Owen, we saw you in the endzone, too. On the contrary, if Wilson adapts quickly back to the football game, which he always has in the past, Cincy could be easy pickings and NC State could find itself on the delivering side of some of those pathetic secondary squads the Pack fielded last year.
The spread offense scares me much less this year than it did last year. With the weakness in our secondary, and the no-blitz/bend-don’t-break approach of Mike Archer, NC State was a sitting duck (or Ram or whatever animal you like shooting in your spare time) for opposing teams’ spread offense. During the UCF game, NC State saw big plays by the secondary to disrupt, block, and intercept big passing plays. The “big play” is already not a strong point for Cincy so this game may be won or lost in the short-passing game. A strategy of short lateral passes for moderate gain might be Cincy’s best option for success over NC State’s newly revived defense.
Thank you, Scott, for your time and even though when I say my prayers at night on Wednesday I will also be praying God doesn’t hear your heathen words… good luck. It’s a great time in Carter-Finley Stadium and make sure to swing by Two Guys or Amedeos on your way out, or grab a drink at NC State’s less traditional but still amazing 5 o’Clock bar.
As for NC State, ESPN shows a favorable match-up for the Wolfpack and the immoral, sinful Lunatic Fringe (of which I am a proud, card-carrying member) informs me that Vegas bets are 80%-20% in favor of NC State. Regardless, the Wolfpack will be hosting the Bearcats as a 2.5 favorite and everyone agrees that its very likely that NC State could start the season 3-0. Let’s never take optimism for granted, but instead be proud of what the Wolfpack has done thus far, cheer them on for the next game, and never, ever forget why we are here: to prove to the world how much better NC State is than Carolina.
Special Note for StateFansNation Admin and Users: Special thanks to StateFansNation for giving me the opportunity to contribute to the Wolfpack community as a SFN author. I have enjoyed the community support of my previous four articles (1,2,3, and another one on its way for Monday) and look forward to serving the Wolfpack community even more during this pivotal year in NC State athletic history.