It was a nearly perfect night for NC State and its fans: great late summer weather for tailgating, followed by a resounding Wolfpack 30-19 victory over the favored Cincinnati Bearcats inside the friendly confines of Carter-Finley and a national ESPN television audience. With both its offense and defense running like well oiled machines, it was clear by the early in the third quarter that this important game was NC State’s to lose, and despite two meaningless late touchdowns by Cincinnati, the Wolfpack strolled to victory in front of a happy and cheering home crowd.
The NC State offense was well balanced, with an effective running and passing game, and was led by Russell Wilson’s 333 yards passing and 3 touchdown throws. Wilson seems to have shaken off the early season rust and quickly found his game — when he wasn’t making smart and accurate passes to wide open receivers, he was running with the ball for positive yards. His 8 carries for 33 yards generally came at timely moments — losses were turned to positive yards, first downs were gained to keep drives moving towards the end zone, and the well-regarded Cincinnati defense was kept off balance, making the entire NC Stat playbook and effective one. Of Wilson, Wolfpack head coach Tom O’Brien commented post-game that “we said all along, it was a matter of time [His game] was going to come. We were just hoping sooner rather than later, and tonight was a good night for him to get on.”
An emerging bright spot for NC State is the play of running back Mustafa Greene, a player who is quickly becoming a crowd favorite. Moose – the cheer that rings out for him after good runs – ran for 84 yards on 16 carries, with the highlight being a 31 yard touchdown scamper. Curtis Underwood was also an effective ball-carrier in limited duty, carrying the ball six times for 23 yards.
Defensively, the Wolfpack was stalwart, recording five sacks, four hurries and a stop on fourth and one. Time after time, Cincinnati QB Zach Callaros was hounded by not only blitzing defenders but also by the State defensive line, a group that utterly dominated the Bearcat offensive front. At times, it seemed like men against boys, and while “only” nine official passing disruptions were recorded, perhaps 20 times Callaros found it necessary to scramble in the pocket while he haplessly looked for open receivers. Most times, the Wolfpack secondary gave him few options and generally speaking, the Cincinnati offense was unable to find its rhythm.
One area that NC State could improve is its predilection to accumulating unnecessary penalties. With a picky crew of zebras eager to call illegal formations, State found itself on the receiving end of six flags for a total of 47 yards. That may not seem like many, but several of those flags were for not lining up properly – a five yard procedure infraction that puts the offense behind in it’s “down schedule” — something that could hurt drives against stingier defenses and something that might be one of the hidden differences in the tight games to come. These penalties are mental errors and they will surely be addressed in the film room. Overall, however, if that’s the only thing to really complain about — and it really is — this point only serves to illustrate just how good a night it was to be an NC State fan.
This weekend, Pack fans can watch other teams play their games, secure in knowing that their team is already 3-0 and already preparing for a trip to Atlanta to play a Georgia Tech team that is sure to be a tough challenge. Given that the Yellow Jackets lost last week against Kansas, and that the Pack is playing as well as it has since the Philip Rivers era, winning this important league game looks very possible. Doing so might set the stage for the special season that Pack fans have been hoping for since 2002.