RALEIGH — At the end of a football Saturday that left three ACC teams to sort through losses to Big East opponents, it wasn’t difficult for N.C. State to count its blessings after a 31-7 win over South Alabama.
“It’s a win and I liked the way we got off to a good start,” N.C. State coach Tom O’Brien said. “We knew we were going to have a big crowd. We wanted to get them involved right away. It was fun to be home.”
Having opened its schedule on a neutral field with a loss to Tennessee and then barely surviving a trip to Connecticut, the Wolfpack was due an early-season breather.
But cupcakes sometimes can be difficult to digest. For each South Alabama on the dessert cart there’s a potential Louisiana-Monroe just waiting to poison a potentially impressive season.
In that regard, the Wolfpack got what it wanted and needed against the Jaguars. But on a couple of secondary fronts – offensive line blocking and ground-game production – the game left with something of a split decision.
While quarterback Mike Glennon was near perfect (24-for-34 for 257 yards, three touchdown passes, zero interceptions) and State defense was almost totally dominant, questions about the blocking front and the Pack’s ability to consistently run the ball weren’t completely resolved.
In fact, a new question arose when running back Mustafa Greene, the team’s leading rusher through the first two games with 104 yards on 28 carries, was suspended for the game.
O’Brien didn’t elaborate on Greene’s situation.
“It was a coaching decision. We’ll see where it goes from here,” O’Brien said.
Without Greene, sophomore Tony Creecy (15 carries, 68 yards) and senior James Washington (7-31) were good but hardly great.
That same good, not great description also applied to the Pack’s banged-up blocking front – a group that had extensive trouble protecting Glennon in the first two games.
South Alabama sacked Glennon three times but more often than not, the senior had more than enough time to sort through his reads.
State offensive coordinator Dana Bible opened the game with a steady dose of quick, short passes by Glennon to a rotation of receivers.
“We wanted to have a quick start,” said freshman receiver Quintin Payton, who had five catches for 61 yards and a touchdown reception of 13 yards.
“We’d been a little up and down on offense the first two games. We wanted to set the tone right from the start.”
Considering that the Wolfpack was a slight underdog against Tennessee in the opening game at Atlanta, the 2-1 record is spot-on with most expectations. But the one-sided nature of that loss, coupled with the uncomfortably close call at Connecticut, have combined to give State a mysterious persona.
Within the team’s locker room there was a feeling in preseason that big things would be possible this season. Big things are still possible, of course.
Even though The Citadel is up next and coming off a fairly startling 52-28 win at Appalachian State and a trip to Miami is scheduled for Sept. 19, the Pack should be able to get to October with a 4-1 record and in decent shape to be bowl eligible entering November.
So in the sense that most expectations are generally being met, State is on course after three games. But as long as questions remain about the blocking and running, the Pack has no choice except to methodically connect the dots on a schedule that will get tougher.”