O'Brien Takes Wolfpack on Cincinnati Homecoming
Game 4: NC State (2-1) at Cincinnati (2-1)
NC State head coach Tom O’Brien and offensive coordinator Dana Bible hope to have a triumphant return to their hometown on Thursday night, but neither expects to get the red carpet treatment from the Cincinnati Bearcats (2-1).
Game time at Nippert Stadium is set for 8:06 p.m. The Wolfpack Sports Network begins its coverage at 7 p.m.
For O’Brien and Bible, the surroundings will be quite familiar. A Cincinnati native, O’Brien attended St. Xavier Senior High before accepting an appointment to play football at the United States Naval Academy in 1966. Also a St, Xavier graduate, Bible chose to stay at home and was actually a cornerback at UC, earning his B.A. in 1976 and his MBA from the school in 1982. Bible later coached quarterbacks for the NFL’s Cincinnati Bengals before returning to his alma mater to serve as offensive coordinator in 1994.
“I’m going to take the team out to ‘X’ High where coach Bible and I played,” O’Brien said. “Of course, coach Bible played at Cincinnati and was there at Nippert Stadium. I never got the chance to play at Nippert, but I’ve always been a Xavier guy.”
The NC State football team O’Brien will carry with him back to the old stomping grounds won’t be at full strength, not even close. With the news that boundary linebacker Terrell Manning will miss up to three weeks after undergoing knee surgery on Monday, the Wolfpack has lost yet another key defender in its front seven. The Pack continues to be without tackles J.R. Sweezy (broken foot) and Thomas Teal (broken foot), although defensive end Jeff Rieskamp, who’s also a Cincinnati native, is expected to return after missing two games with a shoulder injury.
“It’s always bad when we have one of the starters go down,” said defensive tackle Markus Kuhn. “When it happens, one of the young guys has to step-up.”
The absences of Sweezy and Teal have created a trickle down impact on the Wolfpack defense. The most obvious repercussion is the glaring void left by two very productive run-stoppers and pass-rushers. But their injuries also cause players like to Kuhn to stay on the field longer. The redshirt senior was in on a personal record 57 plays in last weekend’s 35-13 victory over South Alabama.
“It’s just something we have to do,” he said. “It’s hard for us especially on the defensive line because we like to keep our legs fresh so that we can create a good pass rush and things like that. It’s harder to have fresher legs when you’re out there for 57 snaps.”
And in Cincinnati, the Wolfpack will be trying to slow down an offense that has been putting up points and churning up yards in bunches. Through three games, the Bearcats are averaging 240 yards rushing and 51 points per game. Cincy scored 72 and 59 points, respectively, in wins over two outmanned opponents, Austin Peay and Akron.
But even in a 45-23 road loss at Tennessee, the Bearcats managed to move the football, putting up just shy of 400 yards. Quick and powerfully built, tailback Isaiah Pead rushed for a season-high 155 yards at Tennessee and averages 9.5 yards per carry. Savvy quarterback Zach Collaros has completed 62.3 percent of his passes (43-of-69 for 521 yards and seven touchdowns), and is also a threat to run the read option out of coach Butch Jones’ spread offense.
A year ago at Carter-Finley Stadium, NC State did a good job of containing Collaros and company in a 30-19 victory over the Bearcats. But with Jones starting his second year in the program, Cincinnati’s 16 starters seem to have a better handle on the system on both sides of the football.
“They have the same skill guys back, the quarterback and one new offensive lineman that didn’t play against us a year ago,” O’Brien said. “Defensively, they have 10 starters back from a year ago. The difference is they’ve played in the system for a year, so they’re more into coach Jones’ style of play than they were in his third game last year. They’re much more aggressive coming off the ball at the line of scrimmage on the offensive line than they were a year ago. They’ve made big strides.”
Just three starts into his college career, NC State quarterback Mike Glennon has perhaps surpassed expectations by hitting 64 percent of his passes for 745 yards, eight touchdowns and just one interception. Protecting the football against a Cincinnati defense that leads the nation in takeaways (13) will be essential on Thursday night.
“He’s come along great,” said fullback Taylor Gentry, who caught two scoring passes from Glennon last week. “The first ball I ever caught from him it almost took the skin off my hand. He’s come a long way and waited patiently.”
Dating back to the second half of the Wake Forest game, a span that covers six quarters of football, Glennon has completed 34-of-49 throws (69.3 percent) for 537 yards and seven touchdowns.
“Glennon has been better than I would have expected at this point,” said O’Brien, who has always expressed confidence that his redshirt junior signal caller would get the job done. “When you complete 17-of-20 (against South Alabama) which is the second best completion percentage [in a game] in school history next to Philip Rivers, who’s the marquee marker as far as quarterbacks go here, that’s pretty good. From halftime of Wake Forest until now, for a guy who has played and started only three games, it’s been a pretty remarkable stretch. The good news is he can be better. He has the talent to be a better quarterback if we can protect him.”
Glennon did get sacked four times in the South Alabama game. On the flip side, the Bearcats have only registered five sacks through three games this season.
Needless to say, this homecoming will only be celebrated if NC State manages to get out of there with a win.
“One person who stands out to me is coach Bible,” Gentry said. “In our meeting the other day he was pretty amped up.”
By Tony Haynes