(Sports Network) The Cincinnati Bearcats and NC State Wolfpack are set to meet for the first-ever time on the gridiron this Thursday, as they clash under the lights of Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh.
Cincinnati, the two-time defending Big East champions, picked up its first win of the campaign this past weekend, scoring a 40-7 decision over FCS member Indiana State. It was the 13th straight home win for the Bearcats and their first victory under new head coach Butch Jones, whose squad opened the season with a 28-14 loss at Fresno State.
NC State meanwhile, used a solid defensive performance to top UCF, 28-21, in Orlando last weekend. Coupled with a 48-7 opening win over Western Carolina and the Wolfpack are 2-0 for the first time in Tom O'Brien's tenure as head coach. As a matter of fact, this is NC State's best start dating back to the 2002 campaign, when the team won its first nine games behind QB Philip Rivers.
Following a dreadful season opening performance, Cincinnati's offense got back on track last weekend with 393 total yards in a rout of Indiana State. The Bearcats, who managed just 234 total yards and gave up eight sacks against Fresno State in the opener, did a much better job of protecting QB Zach Collaros and he responded with 130 yards and two scores on 11-of-17 pass attempts. Collaros also added his second rushing TD of the season for the Bearcats, who massed 263 yards on the ground after managing only 15 yards in the opener. TB Darrin Williams, starting in place of the injured Isaiah Pead (sore knee), led the way with 117 yards on 13 carries, while John Goebel added 75 yards and two TDs on nine totes. Armon Binns led the receiving crops, which was without Vidal Hazelton, with 59 yards and two scores. Expected to be the team's top deep threat, Hazelton tore up his knee last weekend versus Fresno State and is expected to miss the remainder of the season.
Defensively, the Bearcats did a good job versus Indiana State, allowing only 254 total yards, including only 161 through the air. The unit wasn't particularly bad versus Fresno State either, although the group did give up 247 yards and four TDs through the air. The Bearcats' third-down defense has been strong through two games, holding its opponents to just a 9-of-30 effort. JK Schaffer headed the defense this past weekend with nine tackles, while Maalik Bomar had two TFLs and one of the team's two sacks.
Facing their first FBS defense of the season, the Wolfpack found it much harder to move the ball and managed only 239 total yards against UCF last weekend. NC State's offense, which totaled 480 yards in an opening win over FCS member Western Carolina, even failed to score after the intermission in last weekend's triumph. QB Russell Wilson struggled to complete 10-of-30 pass attempts for 105 yards and a TD, a big drop off from his four-TD, 306-yard passing effort in the opener. After combining for 104 rushing yards and two scores in the opener, the duo of Mustafa Greene and Dean Haynes went for 55 and 49 yards, respectively, on the ground last weekend. They each had a rushing TD for the second week in a row. Much like the opener, NC State didn't commit a single turnover and that was certainly a big key in the 28-21 win over UCF.
NC State's defense won the game for the team last weekend, as the unit recorded five turnovers and scored what turned out to be the game-winning TD on a C.J. Wilson 43-yard INT return late in the third quarter. The unit, which did allow a pair of fourth quarter TDs, also preserved the victory by forcing and recovering a fumble deep in its own territory in the final minute. Safety Brandan Bishop jarred the ball loose after a 21-yard pass completion and linebacker Terrell Manning fell on the ball to seal the win. Audie Cole paced the defense with an all-around effort of 12 tackles, 3.5 TFLs, an INT and sack.
The Wolfpack defense has been on top of its game early on and this unit should be able to cause all sorts of havoc against a Cincinnati offensive line that has proven vulnerable. The pressure should help create some big plays for the defense, helping NC State to capture the win.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: NC State 31, Cincinnati 24
Thursday, September 16th, 7:30 p.m. (et)