Wolfpack's defense shows some bite

Cincy's totals are misleading

Staff WriterSeptember 17, 2010 

— The final stat line for Cincinnati's Zach Collaros looked good. The junior quarterback threw for 310 yards and three touchdowns against N.C. State's defense.

That Collaros picked up 153 of those yards and two of the scores on the final two drives, after the Bearcats fell behind 30-7, was not a forgivable excuse for Wolfpack coach Tom O'Brien.

"We still made too many mistakes," O'Brien said. "If we can learn to play the coverage called, maybe we can end up being a good football team."

Three games into the 2010 season, there's already a noticeable difference to N.C. State's defense, which is blitzing more and breaking down less, Collaros' late yardage notwithstanding.

With amped-up pressure, the Wolfpack sacked Collaros five times and turned the Bearcats into a one-dimensional team (75 rushing yards, compared with 310 passing).

There were still missed coverages, notably on D.J. Woods' second-quarter touchdown catch, a 68-yarder, and Marcus Bennett's 13-yard TD reception in the fourth quarter, but there are fewer mistakes on defense than in 2009 when the Pack ranked 106th in pass efficiency defense.

"We're going to make our fair share of mistakes, but we're learning from them and we're not letting them knock us down like we did in the past," said linebacker Audie Cole, who had five tackles and a sack.

The defense's best stand came at 11:19 in the fourth quarter with Cincinnati at the Pack's 43-yard line and trailing 23-7.

Defensive end Michael Lemon and defensive tackle J.R. Sweezy swarmed running back Darrin Williams on fourth-and-1 to give the ball back to the offense.

"We are maturing," O'Brien said of his defense, "but it's still September."

Underwood sighting: Junior Curtis Underwood finished the spring as the starting tailback but fell to third on the depth chart when the season started.

With Dean Haynes fumbling twice in the first half, Underwood got a chance to play.

Underwood caught a 12-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter to put the Pack up 20-7. He also had six carries for 23 yards.

In the first two games, Underwood totaled six carries for 28 yards and zero catches.

Haynes had five carries for 23 yards, all in the first half. Freshman Mustafa Greene led the team with 84 rushing yards.

Redemption for Smith: Junior receiver Jay Smith pulled in his first career touchdown catch in the first quarter. Smith caught a 16-yard pass from Russell Wilson to give State a 7-0 lead.

It was the same end zone as in last season's opener against South Carolina, when Smith had a would-be game-winning touchdown pass bounce off his hands.

Smith was one of 11 Wolfpack players to catch a pass Thursday. It was his only catch of the game.

Notes: N.C. State kicker Josh Czajkowski missed a PAT in the second quarter, snapping his school-record streak of 83 consecutive conversions.

Linebacker Nate Irving went to the sideline with 2:41 left in the first quarter after a skirmish with Cincinnati running back Isaiah Pead. Irving, who missed the entire 2009 season due to injuries suffered in a car crash, returned after missing one series.

jp.giglio@newsobserver.com or 919-829-8938

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