N.C. State's Audie Cole (42) and N.C. State's Brandan Bishop (30) walk off the field after Cincinnati's Zach Collaros scored on them during the first half. ETHAN HYMAN - email@example.com
CINCINNATI — If it could go wrong for N.C. State on Thursday night, it did.
Cincinnati turned the national showcase game on ESPN against the Wolfpack into a national embarrassment with a 44-14 bludgeoning at Nippert Stadium.
N.C. State (2-2) was hoping for a bounce-back from a loss in its first game against a major Division I opponent this season, instead it took a step back with a barrage of turnovers and mental miscues.
The stat to best sum up N.C. State's performance? Minus-26 rushing yards, compared to 242 for the Bearcats (3-1).
Four games into what was supposed to be a successful season for the Wolfpack, it has a pair of home wins over lower-level Division I teams and road losses to teams that went 3-9 (Wake Forest) and 4-8 (Cincinnati) a year ago.
Everything was going right for the Bearcats, who even got a 76-yard punt in the first half and two dropped interceptions by State's defense. Running back Isaiah Pead led the Bearcats with 167 rushing yards and a touchdown (he also caught a touchdown).
Only an 87-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Mike Glennon to receiver T.J. Graham, salvaged an otherwise untenable first half for the Wolfpack, which turned the ball over three times and trailed 21-0 before Graham's first home run.
Glennon (25-36, 334 yards) and Graham (seven catches, 176 yards) connected on a 49-yard touchdown in the third quarter but there was not enough in between for the Wolfpack to repeat last year's 30-19 win in Raleigh.
When the teams met a year ago on ESPN's national game in September, it was State that emerged with a momentum-building win in a 9-4 season. The defensive improvement, and execution, that marked State's successful 2010 season was a distant memory on Thursday night.
The Bearcats rolled up 505 total yards of offense, and, like Wake Forest did on Sept. 10, jumped on early defensive mistakes to build a big early lead.
Pead scored from 2 yards out for Cincinnati's first touchdown, which was set up by safety Drew Frey's interception of Glennon.
Quarterback Zach Collaros hit receiver Kenbrell Thompkins on a 44-yard pass down the left sideline in a breakdown in pass coverage on the Bearcats' second scoring drive. A roughing-the-passer penalty on defensive end Darryl Cato-Bishop on third down, inside State's 20-yard line, was also a key play on the drive, which ended with a 13-yard touchdown scramble by Collaros.
A feeling of helplessness set in for State in the second quarter, with defensive end Brian Slay injuring his right ankle. The Wolfpack defense was already missing three starters — including defensive end Jeff Rieskamp who was expected to play but missed his third straight game with a shoulder injury — needed walk-on Jacob Kahut to plug a hole on the defensive front.
Cincinnati made it 21-0 after an interception by linebacker JK Schaffer. Collaros capped a 12-play drive with a 10-yard touchdown run.
The Wolfpack couldn't respond on offense, with Glennon throwing interceptions, Graham fumbling and a running game going backwards (minus-21 yards in the first half).
State finally made a positive play at 5:41 in the second when cornerback David Amerson intercepted Collaros at the State 4-yard line.
The Pack got a quick strike when Glennon hit Graham on an out route and Graham broke away from corner Camerron Cheatham and out-sprinted the UC defense, about 70 yards, to the end zone.
The Bearcats still had time to tack on a 26-yard field goal from Tony Miliano before the end of the second quarter for a 24-7 halftime advantage.
It was 34-7 before Glennon and Graham found the end zone again but Cincinnati scored the next 10 points to complete the blowout.