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.
"Any time you lose like that, it's an embarrassing loss," senior linebacker Audie Cole said.
The stat to best sum up N.C. State's performance? Minus-19 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.
"We're not the same team we were a year ago," N.C. State coach Tom O'Brien said.
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 score.
"It gave us a spark," Graham said. "Unfortunately, it didn't last very long."
Glennon (25 of 36 passes for 334 yards) and Graham (seven catches for 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 N.C. State that emerged with a momentum-building win in a 9-4 season. The defensive improvement, and execution, that marked N.C. State's successful 2010 season was a distant memory on Thursday night.
The Bearcats rolled up 505 yards of offense, and, like Wake Forest did on Sept. 10, jumped on early defensive mistakes to build a big 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 N.C. 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 N.C. 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.
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 backward (minus-21 yards in the first half).
N.C. State finally made a positive play at 5:41 in the second when cornerback David Amerson intercepted Collaros at the Wolfpack 4.
The Wolfpack 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.
It was 34-7 before Glennon and Graham found the end zone again.
email@example.com or 919-829-8938