The NC State Wolfpack began their Thursday night contest against the Cincinnati Bearcats on a roll, boasting two 93-yard scoring drives in their first three offensive possessions. It was the first time since 1993 that the Pack had two drives of more than 90 yards in the same game, and they accomplished the feat on back-to-back possessions. The Pack never looked back after their quick start and beat the Bearcats by a final of 30-19 for their first 3-0 start in eight years.
The Pack went three-and-out on the game's opening drive, but it was not long before Russell Wilson guided the Pack 93 yards down the field for the game's first touchdown. Wilson finished the night 26-of-40 for 333 yards and three scores while freshman Mustafa Greene totaled 138 all-purpose yards with a rushing touchdown. Greene also led the team in receptions, with five, but Jarvis Williams hauled in four passes for 111 yards, and Wilson found 11 different receivers on the night.
"I think we're playing hard," coach Tom O'Brien said. "Now, we have to play smarter. We can be a much better football team. We gutted it out, and found a way to win. Russell [Wilson] played well, and our receivers made plays. Our defense was pretty good, but we gave up too many long passes tonight."
After punting the ball away on their first possession, the Pack defense forced a three-and-out of their own before Wilson led the first 93-yard drive for the night's first points. Wilson hooked up with Jay Smith for the opening touchdown from 16 yards out and, after the defense held strong again, Greene followed up with a 31-yard scamper for a score. The rookie has now scored a rushing touchdown in each of his first three career games.
The Pack defense held strong once again, forcing the Bearcats to lose 13 yards on the three-play drive before a 20-yard punt by Pat O'Donnell gave the Pack great field position, only 25 yards away from the end zone. After a Wilson to Greene completion, the Pack was threatening again. Jarvis Williams caught a tipped pass and appeared headed for pay dirt before a Cincinnati defender poked the ball free. The fumble rolled into the end zone, where it was recovered by the Bearcats for a touchback.
Cincinnati quarterback Zach Collaros finally got the Bearcat offense moving after the turnover, but it was short lived. After gaining 42 yards and nearly giving the ball back on a Collaros fumble caused by a Terrell Manning sack, the Bearcats' punt sailed into the NC State end zone for a touchback. After an illegal shift penalty on the Pack, Dean Haynes fumbled on first down and Wes Richardson briefly tipped the momentum in the visitors' favor. After not being able to move the ball against a stout defense, though, the Bearcats were forced to try a 52-yard field goal, which Jacob Rogers could not convert.
The Pack could not take advantage of the missed field goal and pinned the Bearcats back deep in their own territory with a Jeff Ruiz punt that was mishandled by D.J. Woods at the eight yard line. Cincinnati recovered the loose ball, though, and began their drive inside the ten yard-line. After moving the ball 47 yards, Nate Irving forced a Collaros fumble that teammate J.R. Sweezy recovered near midfield.
The Pack offense stalled on their next attempt and a 13-yard punt by Ruiz gave the Bearcats the ball back with plenty of time to score before halftime. They wouldn't need much time, though, as they went 74 yards in just two plays, scoring on a 68-yard pass from Collaros to Woods. Wilson led the Pack immediately down the field for an answer on the scoreboard, driving 72 yards in just a little over two minutes. The third touchdown drive was capped with a 12-yard pass from Wilson to Curtis Underwood Jr., but kicker Josh Czajkowski missed the extra point to give the Pack a 20-7 lead with just under a minute before the break. Czajkowski had made a school-record 83 straight extra points before the miss.
Cincinnati began the second half with the ball, but the Pack defense flexed its muscle once more, forcing a quick three-and-out and allowing only five yards. After another O'Donnell punt, Wilson directed the offense 71 yards down the field and Czajkowski converted on a 19-yard field goal to push the lead to 23-7. The drive lasted nearly six minutes and O'Brien said after the game that was a very encouraging drive to start the Pack back up after halftime.
The Bearcats' offense was stifled again, gaining only ten yards before punting the ball back to NC State. O'Donnell forced the Pack to start their drive at the 24-yard line and they could not force another long scoring drive. After gaining 46 yards, the Pack went for it on fourth-and-five at the Cincinnati 30-yard line and could not convert. After the turnover, the Cincinnati drive ended the same after they failed to convert on fourth-and-one.
The Pack could not pick up a first down and gave the ball back to Cincinnati on their own 25-yard line after a 24-yard punt by Ruiz. The Bearcats could not muster any offense, either, but their punt was blocked by Colby Jasckson and the Pack took over at the visitor's 25. Three plays later, Wilson found Taylor Gentry on an eight-yard pass for the score.
Collaros answered immediately on a three-play, 65-yard scoring drive that was spurned by two big completions to Woods. The drive was capped by a 20-yard strike and the score was 30-13 after the Bearcats' two-point conversion attempt failed. Cincinnati kicked the ball out of the end zone for a touchback before Wilson took the field one more time. Wilson and the Pack began killing the clock, as the rookie Greene recorded six straight carries before another punt, although this 34-yarder came from Andy Leffler's foot.
The Bearcats scored one more time, thanks to three more strikes from Collaros, including a 13-yard completion for the game's final touchdown from the signal caller to Marcus Barnett. After that, the Pack simply took the victory formation and bled the remaining clock out with kneel downs.
O'Brien was not happy with the coverage breakdowns or numerous errors during the game, but he says this team is still a work in progress.
"I think we can be a better football team, but more importantly, I think our football team knows they can be better. The good thing is we didn't get shook up when we made mistakes. If we can do a better job of coaching and making [the players] smarter, then we can be a much better football team."