Drama-free and N.C. State rarely go together, especially when the Wolfpack goes on the road.
But there was N.C. State on Saturday at Raymond James Stadium cruising to a care-free 49-17 road win over South Florida.
The Wolfpack (3-0) matched its win total from all of 2013 and put its recent road woes in the rearview mirror, at least for one scorching hot September afternoon.
That wasn’t a mirage in the blistering Florida sun, it really was N.C. State blasting the hapless Bulls (1-2) after going winless on the road in 2013.
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“I’m happy with the progress,” N.C. State coach Dave Doeren said. “I expected to see that kind of performance in Game 2. It took them another game.”
Five different players scored in the Wolfpack’s most lopsided road win since a 41-10 rout of North Carolina in 2008. The Wolfpack hadn’t scored that many points on the road in regulation since a 65-19 win at Navy in 2002.
The Wolfpack didn’t just improve from last year’s road misery, it put together its best game of the young season.
The 315 rushing yards were the most since 1994 and first time since 2004 it cracked the 300-yard mark. Four backs – Shad Thornton (70 yards), Matt Dayes (68), Tony Creecy (68) and Dakwa Nichols (57) – had more than 50 yards.
Receiver Bra’Lon Cherry scored three touchdowns, including rushing scores of 17 and 3 yards. The offensive line, Cherry said, is the main reason the ground game has been an asset this season, after being a problem for so many years.
“I give all the credit to them,” Cherry said.
N.C. State averaged 162.7 rushing yards per game last season. Through three games, the Wolfpack’s average is 243.3 yards per game.
“I think our O-line is playing at a high level, they’re protecting and getting some big lanes,” Doeren said.
Cherry also caught a 17-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Jacoby Brissett (20 of 29, 266 yards) as N.C. State jumped out to a 35-7 lead at the half.
N.C. State needed second-half comebacks to beat Georgia Southern and Old Dominion at home in the first two weeks of the season. There was no such drama on Saturday.
“Offensively, we came out and played a great game,” Brissett said. “We kind of fell off at the end, but the defense did a great job of stepping up.”
After giving up 504 yards last week to Old Dominion, the Wolfpack defense held the Bulls to 159 yards and eight first downs.
South Florida popped a 75-yard touchdown pass to tie the game at 7 in the first quarter but amassed only 19 yards on the other 22 plays of the first half.
Mike White’s 75-yard touchdown pass to Ryeshene Bronson tied the game at 7 at 9:10 in the first quarter. Cherry followed with a 17-yard touchdown catch from Brissett and a 3-yard touchdown run after defensive tackle Thomas Teal forced a fumble and gave the Wolfpack the ball at South Florida’s 19-yard line.
Freshman running back Jaylen Samuels tacked on a 3-yard TD run and Tony Creecy had an 8-yard TD catch in the second quarter.
The running game cranked up even more in the third quarter with rushing touchdowns from Thornton (8 yards) and Dayes (34).
The Bulls got a field goal after fumbled punt and returned an interception from backup quarterback Garrett Leatham for a touchdown to make it 49-17 at the end of the third quarter.
Brissett came back in the game and N.C. State settled down and picked up its first road win since Oct. 2012.
“We won our first road game in two years,” Brissett said. “That speaks volumes for our team and the mentality that we have to come out and take someone else’s field.”