CINCINNATI — Like his team, N.C. State quarterback Mike Glennon got knocked down and beat up Thursday night in an embarrassing, 44-14 loss at Cincinnati.
The Bearcats sacked Glennon five times, including one brutal collision in the second quarter in which he was hit by five different players. Cincinnati (3-1) also held N.C. State's offense to minus-26 rushing yards.
Glennon, in his fourth start, threw for 334 yards - his second 300-yard game - and two long touchdowns to receiver T.J. Graham, but he also threw two first-quarter interceptions that led to 14 points for the Bearcats.
Afterward, Glennon said no one on the team expected to be 2-2 four games into this season, but all is not lost for the season, despite the setback in the national glare of ESPN's spotlight.
"We still have eight more games to play, so we have to look on the bright side," said Glennon, who completed 25-of-36 passes.
Fifth-year coach Tom O'Brien wasn't as optimistic as his new quarterback, though. O'Brien cited the Wolfpack's problems on defense (503 yards allowed), its problems protecting Glennon and running the football and a litany of injury woes.
"The list is too long right now," O'Brien said.
In last year's 9-4 breakout season, N.C. State beat Cincinnati 30-19 in Raleigh and routed Wake Forest, 38-3. The Bearcats and Demon Deacons are the only two major Division I teams N.C. State has faced this season and it has lost both games, which caused O'Brien to remark: "We're not the same team."
A year ago, N.C. State went into the last regular-season game with control of the Atlantic Division. A win over Maryland and it would have played in the ACC championship game. (The Terps spoiled State's title hopes with a 38-31 win in College Park, Md.)
Graham, one of N.C. State's few bright spots from Thursday's game with seven catches for 176 yards with touchdowns of 87 and 49 yards, said the Wolfpack can still be that type of team.
"We feel like we're a good team, an ACC caliber championship team, but we have to play like one," Graham said. "We have a lot or work to do."
The defense has given 78 points, and 941 total yards, in two road games. Before the trip to Cincinnati, defensive coordinator Mike Archer said stopping teams on third down was their biggest problem.
The Bearcats proceeded to convert 9 of their first 14 third-down opportunities, including a critical one on their second scoring drive.
On third-and-5 from N.C. State's 21-yard-line, Cincinnati quarterback Zach Collaros missed receiver D.J. Woods. Instead of a field-goal attempt, however, Cincinnati's drive continued because of a roughing-the-passer penalty on Wolfpack defensive end Darryl Cato-Bishop.
Two plays later, Collaros scrambled in for a 13-yard touchdown, one of two for the Bearcats quarterback, who ran for 52 yards and passed for 263.
"We don't contain the quarterback on defense, which will solve a lot of problems," O'Brien said.
Part of N.C. State's struggles getting to the quarterback can be attributed to the injuries that have sidelined key contributors. Senior defensive tackle J.R. Sweezy missed his fourth straight game Thursday with a fractured left foot, defensive end Jeff Rieskamp missed his third straight game with a shoulder injury and linebacker Terrell Manning missed the first of three games he's expected to be out with a knee injury.
Those three Wolfpack players accounted for 13 sacks last season. Then defensive end Brian Slay injured his right ankle in the second quarter (and did not return), forcing N.C. State to plug in Jacob Kahut, a walk-on transfer from Campbell who had been practicing with the offensive line during the week.
"If we get some guys back and get some guys healthy, we might give ourselves a better chance to win," O'Brien said.
But not all of N.C. State's problems against Cincinnati were injury-related. The offensive line struggled to protect Glennon and couldn't create any running room. Even taking out the negative yardage racked up on sacks, N.C. State got only five yards on 10 carries from its top two running backs.
And as in the 34-27 loss at Wake Forest on Sept. 10, Cincinnati jumped out to early lead, exploiting coverage breakdowns and turning mistakes into points for a 24-7 halftime lead.
"They came out fast and furious, and we didn't match that," Graham said. "The score kind of showed it."
All of the problems added up to the Wolfpack's first 30-point loss since October 17, 2009 (a 52-20 road loss at Boston College) and ninth loss in its last 12 road games.
"This isn't what I expected," said senior linebacker Audie Cole, who had 15 tackles and a sack Thursday.
Cole was talking about both the lopsided loss and the Wolfpack's season thus far.
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