CINCINNATI, Ohio — A career day for wide receiver T.J. Graham was spoiled when his seven catches for 176 yards was not enough production for NC State to avoid a 44-14 loss to the Cincinnati Bearcats.
"I don't look at the numbers at all," said Graham. "I'd rather win. I'd rather catch zero balls, make a couple blocks, and win the game. I had a couple drops and I had a fumble that was recovered by the defense, so I didn't have a very good day."
In the first quarter, a miscue by NC State (one of many on the night) got the action started, when Mike Glennon's pass was tipped and intercepted by Drew Frey at the Wolfpack 35. Cincinnati's Isaiah Pead dashed to the 14-yard line on the second play of the drive, and four plays later he took a pitch to the left into the endzone and the game's first score.
The Wolfpack's response was a quick three-and-out, and Zach Collaros made NC State pay. On third and 17 from his own 30-yard line, Collaros broke contain to his left, and floated a pass down the left sideline to Kendrell Tompkins, who had broken behind the NC State defense, for a 44-yard gain. Collaros finished the deal by again escaping the Wolfpack pass rush and scrambling 14 yards for the score.
"Collaros is a great athlete," said linebacker Audie Cole. "We let him get to the sideline, and he'll hurt you."
Glennon found a rhythm on the ensuing drive, moving his team down the field with a series of short passes. However, the Wolfpack drive stalled, and Glennon threw his second interception of the game on 3rd-and-five. J.K. Shaffer made the interception for the Bearcats, and Cincinnati wasted little time in cashing in. Collaros moved his team down the field, including two third-down passes to move the chains. On first and goal from the NC State 10-yard line, he once again finished the deal himself on a quarterback draw that found the endzone.
"We don't contain the quarterback on defense," said NC State coach Tom O'Brien following the game. "Which would solve a lot of problems."
On the ensuing NC State drive, Glennon appeared to be in a rhythm, but the Wolfpack couldn't establish anything on the ground. That would be a theme for the day, with a grand total of minus-26 rushing yards on the day.
"We came out and tried to block them early and didn't, and next thing we look up and we're down 14-nothing," said O'Brien. "We came in knowing that they were tough against the run."
Following a Cincinnati three-and-out, Graham made one of his few mistakes on the day. He caught a Glennon pass beyond the sticks, but fumbled the ball on the tackle. Fortunately for the Wolfpack, Cincinnati was unable to cash in on the good field position. A false start on third-and-one forced Cincinnati to throw the ball, and Collaros's pass was intercepted by David Amerson.
On that drive, NC State finally managed to find pay dirt. On third and one, Glennon hit Graham on a short route, and Cincinnati's Cameron Cheatham missed a tackle near the line of scrimmage. Graham outraced the entire Cincinnati defense 87 yards to the endzone, bringing the Wolfpack back to a 21-7 deficit.
Cincinnati once again moved the ball into the red zone thanks to the legs of Pead and Collaros, but Collaros was brought down short of the first down on a third-and-five scramble, and the Bearcats settled for a field goal. At the half, they held a 24-7 lead, despite only outgaining NC State 212-205.
The Bearcats' first drive of the second half resulted in a field goal to open the lead to 27-7, but pressure on Glennon prevented NC State from answering with a score of their own.
"Pretty much what we saw on film is what they did," said Glennon. "I have to give them credit, they're very strong up front in their defensive line."
Later in the quarter, Glennon evaded the rush and found Graham behind the defense for another easy touchdown catch, Graham's second of the day.
When the opposition scores 44 points, the defense takes much of the blame for the loss. Pead accounted for 191 yards and two touchdowns, while Collaros threw for 263 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 52 yards and another pair of scores. According to O'Brien, however, that is mostly due to the Wolfpack's injury situation.
"If we can get some guys back and get some guys healthy, we might give ourselves a better chance to win," said O'Brien. "We lost Slay early in the first half again, [T.Y.] McGill played most of the game as a true freshman. We played a walkon at defensive tackle. We're not the same team that played last year."
According to Cole, the performance will not be repeated.
"We didn't perform," he said. "We haven't performed yet, and we have to figure something out. We're 2-2 right now, and we've just got to move forward."
The Wolfpack next faces Georgia Tech in Raleigh on Oct. 1.