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NC State redshirt junior quarterback Mike Glennon threw four touchdown passes Saturday to lead the Wolfpack to a 35-13 win over South Alabama at Carter-Finley Stadium.
Glennon went 17 of 20 for 274 yards and the four touchdowns, and his favorite target proved to be senior T.J. Graham for the second straight game. Graham snagged five passes for a career-high 128 yards and a 67-yard touchdown to end the game.
"I think every game I'm getting more comfortable," Glennon said. "I knew that I would have to take some adjustment to playing in a game atmosphere."
NC State improved to 2-1 overall and play at Cincinnati next Thursday. South Alabama lost for the first time in its short football existence (19-1) and fell to 2-1.
"We were certainly not a pretty team, but we found a way to get it done," NC State coach Tom O'Brien said. "We have a quick turnaround now, so the goal is to get ourselves rested and to go play Cincinnati."
Glennon has been on a tear the last six quarters, throwing for seven touchdowns.
"He is a good quarterback," O'Brien said. "I don't think there is any doubt about that."
NC State had a pair of big plays to set up its first touchdown on the Wolfpack's first drive of the game.
Graham returned the opening kickoff out to the NCSU 48-yard line, and later redshirt freshman wide receiver Bryan Underwood took a short pass and went 30 yards down to the South Alabama one-yard line. Junior running back James Washington did the honors two plays later to give NC State a 7-0 lead with 11:03 left in the opening quarter.
South Alabama junior rover Ken Barefield stopped NC State's second drive after he drilled Washington and forced a fumble at the Jaguars' 35-yard line. Glennon hit Graham for 40 yards to get the Wolfpack poised for another scoring drive.
The Jaguars turned the turnover in three points. USA running back Kendall Houston rumbled 24 yards, and Jaguars kicker Jordan Means kicked a career-long 46-yard field goal to cut the score to 7-3 with 2:10 left in the first quarter.
South Alabama tried an onside kick on the ensuing kickoff, but were unsuccessful and called for a penalty on the play. NC State took over at the USA 45-yard line, and quickly moved into scoring territory when Glennon hit Tobais Palmer for a 14-yard gain.
The Wolfpack then caught a break when South Alabama safety D.J. Scott drilled NCSU fifth-year running back Curtis Underwood, Jr. South Alabama recovered the fumble, but then fumbled it right back on the play, and NC State fifth-year senior right tackle Mikel Overgaard recovered it at the Jaguars' two-yard line. Glennon then found senior fullback Taylor Gentry for a one-yard touchdown pass to give the Wolfpack a 14-3 lead with 13:05 left in the second quarter.
"The offense is starting to get better each week," O'Brien said. "The offensive line, those guys are hustling and are starting to communicate better. We had the chance earlier and they knocked the ball out of Washington's [hands]. That would have been a bad, bad situation if we had lost two of them like that in the red zone."
NC State sophomore cornerback David Amerson got his third interception of the season to quickly end a potential South Alabama scoring drive. Jaguars tight end Kevin Helms briefly broke free down the middle, but Amerson closed fast to pick it off at the NCSU seven-yard line.
O'Brien pointed out that it was good the Wolfpack got tested.
"There was a little bit of panic on the field, which was good," O'Brien said. "We have to have that. The margin for error is awful small. It will be very small for this team."
NC State lost redshirt junior outside linebacker Terrell Manning during the second quarter with a knee injury, and replaced by senior Dwayne Maddox, who led the Pack with six first-half tackles and eight for the game. Manning was ruled out for the second half during halftime. The defense quickly made up for Manning's absence to start the second half. NC State defensive end Art Norman also missed action after halftime.
"We are fortunate to have Dwayne," O'Brien said. "He has a lot of experience. He has been waiting his turn and he played a lot as a freshman. He's been playing both the middle linebacker and weak linebacker spot for us."
South Alabama quarterback C.J. Bennett overthrew his target on the Jaguars' first drive of the second half, and NC State junior free safety Brandan Bishop was waiting in the right spot for his second interception of the season. Bishop returned it 36 yards to the Jaguars' 29-yard line.
The Wolfpack turned the turnover into points when Glennon connected with a 5-yard touchdown pass to Gentry for his second score of the game and a 21-3 lead with 10:06 left in the third quarter.
"It's great because I've never had two touchdowns except for high school," Gentry said. "It's definitely a good feeling."
The one-two punch of South Alabama running backs Houston and Demetre Baker powered the Jaguars down the field. Baker capped the six-play drive with an eight-yard touchdown run with 7:44 left in the third quarter.
NC State's Glennon fumbled the snap after the ensuing kickoff, with South Alabama's Will Thompson recovering it at the Wolfpack 39-yard line. NCSU's defense rose to the occasion, and Means missed a 47-yard field goal attempt.
Glennon and the offense faced a big third down and nine, and he hit Washington underneath. The speedy Washington went 29 yards to the South Alabama 43-yard line. Glennon hit Underwood in the flat, and he sprinted 18 yards for the touchdown to give the Wolfpack a 28-10 lead with 1:14 left in the third quarter. The score was Glennon's third touchdown pass of the game.
"I think that was part of the game plan," Glennon said. "We knew going in that was a favorable matchup. We just kind of took what the defense gave us. A lot of times, the running back were the only open receivers we had."
The NC State defense got another break when South Alabama wide receiver Lamontis Gardner dropped a sure touchdown reception after breaking open deep. The Jaguars, facing third down and 21, got 22 yards on the next play when wide receiver Jereme Jones broke free and caught the first down catch. The drive stalled at the NC State 47-yard line after redshirt sophomore defensive end Darryl Cato-Bishop recorded a sack.
Cato-Bishop's timing for sacks help force another field goal by South Alabama. Means hit a 36-yard field goal with 6:48 left in the fourth quarter to cut the Pack's lead to 28-13.
"Any time you are in the red zone and you get a sack like that, that is a big play," O'Brien said. "We were able to keep them out of the end zone there, which was good."
South Alabama jumped offsides and NC State took advantage of the miscue. The Jaguars defense broke down and Glennon threw his fourth touchdown pass of the game to Graham for a 67-yard score to give NC State a commanding 35-13 lead with 4:03 left.
"That was all T.J.," Glennon said. "To my eye, it looked like the guy fell [for South Alabama]. T.J. obviously ran a pretty good route to make a guy fall."
Houston finished with 117 yards on 18 carries, and the Jaguars rushed for 104 yards on 33 carries overall.
"We didn't tackle well tonight, and we certainly didn't play the way the defense was structured against the run, with some of the runs they had," O'Brien said. "That is part of the young guys never playing. We have to get that corrected here in two days."