RALEIGH — Thursday's child may have far to go, but at least ACC football finally managed a positive step on this Thursday night in Carter-Finley Stadium.
In the first of several Thursday television appearances for ACC teams, N.C. State had the faded dignity of a humiliated, bumbling league in its hands against Cincinnati of the Big East.
Thanks to quarterback Russell Wilson (26 completions, 333 yards, three touchdown passes) and his underrated receivers, the Pack's 30-19 win provided the conference some refuge.
Relief was needed, too. Those ACC losses were against big- and small-name opponents from Virginia's sleepy Shenandoah Valley to the streets of Los Angeles and to the doorstep of Canada.
Cincinnati made a late bid to add to the ACC's misery, but State was never in serious danger.
"We gutted it out," Wolfpack coach Tom O'Brien said. "We're playing hard. Now we have to learn to play smart.
"We can be a much better team. That's apparent to the coaches and I think to the team, too. That's the key right now. That's really important. But we have to do a better job coaching."
Who would have guessed in preseason that so much scrutiny and stress would have fallen to a Wolfpack team (3-0) that was picked to finish fourth in the ACC Atlantic Division and was seen as a long shot to win more than four or five games overall?
So much for that logic and so much for the once-popular opinion that Wilson would be fourth in the conference quarterback pecking order - behind Florida State's Christian Ponder, Miami's Jacory Harris and Virginia Tech's Tyrod Taylor.
Against a Bearcats team that was picked to finish second in the Big East, Wilson debunked that handicapping and fast.
After a unusually flat passing performance in the previous week's escape at Central Florida, the junior completed 10 of his first 15 throws for 154 yards, with a 16-yard scoring strike to Jay Smith, and staked the Pack to a 14-0 first-quarter lead.
By the end of the third quarter, when the Pack led by 16 points, Wilson had 111 yards in completions to Jarvis Williams alone and had connected with prodigal running back Curtis Underwood on a 12-yard score.
Wilson, of course, has had big passing games throughout his career. But many of those performances ended in defeat, largely because the Pack couldn't scrounge up enough defense to turn big scoring totals into wins.
Based on Thursday's work, the defense has made remarkable improvement.
The Bearcats (1-2) did some damage, but quarterback Zach Collaros generally didn't have a wealth of time to throw until the final few minutes, and the running attack generally was checked throughout by State's aggressive defensive front.
In short, it was an impressive night for the Pack.
It wasn't enough to move the team into the national rankings or rock the world, but it did put something of a bandage on the ACC's wounds.
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