If Saturday was NC State's first big test of the season, then the Pack passed, but in the end not by much. The Wolfpack jumped out to a 28-7 lead going into the fourth quarter, but had to withstand a Central Florida rally to preserve a 28-21 victory and move to 2-0 on the young season.
Here are the Keys To The Game:
Play to your strengths
What we wrote: NC State prefers to have a 50-50 pass-to-run percentage ration on offense, though sometimes 60-40 works just as well. Teams last year clearly showed that Central Florida's pass defense is susceptible. UCF does have an experienced back seven with nearly eight players with past starting experience at linebacker or defensive back. However, quarterbacks put up big numbers against the Knights last year, and NCSU redshirt junior Russell Wilson is one of the best in the country. Miami then-sophomore quarterback Jacory Harris passed for 293 yards and a touchdown in a 27-7 victory on Oct. 17. Texas senior Colt McCoy overcame a slow start to throw for 470 yards and two scores on Nov. 7, and Houston junior Case Keenum followed the next game with 377 yards and three touchdowns on Nov. 17. ECU senior Patrick Pinkney tossed for 293 yards and a touchdown on Sept. 26, and UAB senior Joe Webb had 322 yards and three scores on Nov. 28. Rutgers true freshman Tom Savage continued the trend with 294 yards and two scores in the bowl victory Dec. 19.
What happened: The fact that South Dakota hung up 41 points in a win at Minnesota Saturday after scoring just seven the week before at Central Florida may have been a suggestion that the Knights defense is much improved. Wilson never got into a rhythm all night, completing just 10 of 30 passes for 105 yards. It was actually the rushing game, which accounted for 139 yards on 37 carries before the final three kneel downs to end the game, that carried the offense.
Make a statement
What we wrote: Central Florida is favored by three points, which is obviously affected by the game being played at Bright House Networks Stadium in Orlando. It is also a reflection of how NC State is perceived. UCF finished 8-5 last year, while NC State battled injuries and youth and stumbled to a 5-7 mark, going 2-6 over the last two months of the season. The Knights lost to BCS conference members Miami, Texas and Rutgers, by an average margin of 24.3 points per contest. UCF also lost at Southern Miss and at East Carolina a year ago. NC State needs to make a statement in the first half that they are bigger, stronger and faster than the Knights, which will signal that Wolfpack will be a serious player for a good bowl berth this season.
What happened: The Pack did that. NC State thoroughly dominated the first half, and thanks to the defense that dominance extended to almost three full quarters. The Pack led 21-7 at halftime, and UCF's lone score was on a kickoff return for a touchdown by sophomore receiver Quincy McDuffie. The Pack led 28-7 heading into the fourth quarter, although UCF was driving as they changed sides for the final time. That dominance gave State the necessary cushion to hold onto the win.
Make UCF one dimensional
What we wrote: Central Florida's passing game has the potential to be pretty good, but the teams that have had success against the Knights stuffed the run and then went hard after the quarterback. The Knights allowed 33 sacks last year in 13 games, including six against Rutgers in the St. Petersburg Bowl game loss. New quarterback Rob Calabrese, a 6-2, 220-pound junior, has some speed, but could be susceptible to a good pass rush. Sophomore running back Jonathan Davis is a solid runner with some wiggle and speed, but is on the small side at 5-9 and 194 pounds. He is filling in for injured star Brynn Harvey, and the depth at the position has taken a hit. Stopping Davis on the early downs and getting an early lead will help make the UCF offense be more one dimensional.
What happened: Central Florida coach George O'Leary bemoaned the fact that NC State's defense completely shut down UCF's ground attack. Davis ran 16 times for just 32 yards in the loss. NC State was able to make life more difficult for Calabrese after he completed 8 of his first 10 passes. He completed just two of his last eight throws before being benched with one interception that was returned for the eventual game-winning touchdown.
Know where Bruce Miller is lined up
What we wrote: The 6-2, 255-pound Bruce Miller, a defensive end, was named the Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year after posting 13 sacks, 18 tackles for loss and 69 tackles last year. Central Florida likes to move Miller up and down the line to try to create mismatches and get its best four pass-rushers on the field. Wilson is pretty elusive in the pocket and not prone to fumbling. Miller has 27 career sacks and 44 career tackles for loss, leading all active players in the former category and ranking second in the latter. His first career sack went for a safety in the 25-23 victory over NC State on Sept. 1, 2007. He had three tackles and two quarterback hurries against South Dakota in the season opener last Saturday.
What happened: Miller was a royal pain for Wilson Saturday. An elbow injury to starting redshirt junior right tackle Mikel Overgaard complicated matters as well. Overgaard did not return to the field after getting hurt in the first quarter. State tried three different right tackles the rest of the game. Miller finished with five tackles, including a sack, but more importantly he had four quarterback hurries and altered NC State's offensive attack.
Matchups to watch
What we wrote: NC State interior line vs. UCF's defensive tackles: NC State will need to know where Miller is at all times, and attack the two young defensive tackles up the middle, redshirt freshman Victor Gray and true freshman E.J. Dunston. Of course, the Wolfpack are also young on the interior with two redshirt sophomore guards, Andrew Wallace and Zach Allen, plus sophomore center Camden Wentz. The Wolfpack offense should be able to expose the Knights' defense if Wilson gets some time, just like Rutgers did in the bowl game.
What happened: It did not help so much the passing game, but the interior line was able to open some huge holes for redshirt freshman running back Dean Haynes and his backup, freshman Mustafa Greene. The two combined to rush 24 times for 104 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
What we wrote: UCF senior strong safety Reggie Weams vs. NC State skill position players: Coaches always like to pick on the newcomer and that is Weams for the Knights' secondary. Cornerbacks Josh Robinson and Justin Boddie, and free safety Kemal Ishmael are all returning starters and established players. Weams has played the last three years, starting four games in 2009, but is still an unknown. He had 24 tackles and one interception last year, backing up former NC State quarterback Michael Greco.
What happened: Kudos to Weams and the rest of the Knights secondary who did more than an admirable job covering NC State's skill players. The Pack's passing attack was out of whack all night from all aspects. Pass protection struggled, Wilson was off the mark and receivers did not get open near as much as hoped against UCF's secondary.
Stats to watch
What we wrote: 0: Tackles combined by fifth-year senior middle linebacker Nate Irving and redshirt junior outside linebacker Audie Cole against Western Carolina in the season opener Sept. 4. The Catamounts schemed away from both Irving and Cole and attacked redshirt sophomore outside linebacker Terrell Manning, who led the Wolfpack with 10 tackles. Both Irving and Cole should be busy against UCF's I-formation that mixes in some option.
What happened: Cole was huge by any standards. He had 12 tackles, including nine solo hits, 3.5 tackles for losses of 19 yards and a sack that went for a 10-yard loss. He also had an impressive interception. Irving was much more active but still finished with just three tackles, including an assist on a tackle for a 3-yard loss. Irving had two quarterback hurries but both times was unable to get the elusive Jeffrey Godfrey on the ground.
What we wrote: 80: Several stories mentioned how future NFL running back Kevin Smith went 80 yards for a Central Florida touchdown on the first play of the game. The run helped spark a 25-23 upset victory against NC State on Sept. 1, 2007, at Carter-Finley Stadium. NC State's defense doesn't have any players remaining that started that game, and just Irving and fifth-year senior defensive end Audi Augustin even saw action for the Wolfpack. That doesn't mean they haven't been reminded through the week about the importance of making a defensive stand on the first series of the contest.
What happened: There was no such run today. Davis did run for 12 yards on the game's first play, but Central Florida failed to get a first down after that. That was also Davis' longest run of the night.
NC State offensive player of the game: It's a tie between Haynes and Greene. Greene led State in rushing with 14 carries for 55 yards, including a 21-yard touchdown. Haynes added 10 rushes for 49 yards and a touchdown of his own. Greene also added a six-yard catch out the backfield/
NC State's defensive player of the game: No contest here as Cole had what O'Brien referred to as a "breakout game" with his performance.
NC State special teams player of the game: Long snapper Corey Tedder handled his assignment well, and he also recovered the football when it glanced off UCF special teams player's leg at the Central Florida 20.
Play of the game: It would prove to be the game winner. NC State redshirt sophomore cornerback C.J. Wilson was behind the receiver on coverage, but he was fortunate that Calabrese badly overthrew the attended receiver. Wilson had an easy pick at the UCF 43, and then he did a nifty return down the sideline for a touchdown with 5:22 left in the third quarter, giving State a 28-7 lead.
Run of the game: Greene had a huge hole on the right side when he took a handoff on third and 11 from the Central Florida 21 yard line. The Knights were probably surprised by the call, and by the time they reacted it was too late. Greene was already reaching the end zone on a 21-yard touchdown run to give State a 21-0 lead with 3:26 left before halftime.
Pass of the game: Wilson had an off night, but on NC State's second scoring drive, he was a perfect 4 of 4, capped off by a nice 26-yard touchdown pass to a wide open fifth-year senior Darrell Davis, giving State a 14-0 lead 9:39 left in the first half.
Hit of the game: There were some nice hits. UCF senior receiver Kamar Aiken knocked Wolfpack redshirt sophomore Earl Wolff's helmet off to stop Wolff's interception return. However, Cole had an exclamation point of sorts for his night when he delivered a jarring hit to Godfrey in the fourth quarter on an option play, dropping Godfrey for a 3-yard loss in the process.