NC State took advantage of its opportunities against an overmatched South Alabama squad, leading to some players getting some "firsts."
NC State fifth-year senior quarterback Mike Glennon shredded the Jaguars defense for three first-half touchdowns to help the Wolfpack win 31-7 on Saturday in front of 54,132 fans at Carter-Finley Stadium. NCSU improved to 2-1 on the season and host The Citadel at 6 p.m. Saturday.
"All in all, I'm satisfied with the victory," NCSU coach Tom O'Brien said. "I like the way we started the game, and I like the way we played for three quarters.
"We did a better job of protecting [Glennon] and did a better job of running routes. People were where they were supposed to be. We had better timing in everything, and that's something we worked on all week."
Glennon finished going 24-of-34 passing for 257 yards and three touchdowns, all to three different receivers. The Wolfpack balanced the passing game with 127 rushing yards on 43 attempts.
"Going into the game, I knew this was going to be a game where our passing game was going to have to find a rhythm," Glennon said. "If we could find a rhythm, it was going to be a high-completion kind of game."
NC State's defense came through with seven sacks, two interceptions and one fumble recovery. South Alabama went 0 for 11 on third-down conversions, and came up empty on its one fourth-down try.
"The main focus of the game plan was to stop the run," NCSU sophomore defensive tackle T.Y. McGill said. "When you stop the run, that makes you want to pass the ball a lot. Our main focus is to not allow over 100 yards rushing in any game."
The fireworks for the offense started early for the Wolfpack, who were making their home debut this season.
Glennon found a streaking redshirt junior wide receiver Rashard Smith for a 33-yard touchdown with 9:22 left in the first quarter to take an early 7-0 lead. Smith's first career touchdown catch fired up the filled out stadium, and was exactly the kind of start the Wolfpack were looking for through the air.
"He had man-to-man coverage and ran away from the guy," O'Brien said.
The defense came through with the next big p lay. South Alabama sophomore wide receiver T.J. Glover had the football go right through his hands, and straight to star junior cornerback David Amerson, for his 15th career interceptions. Amerson returned the ball to the NC State 38-yard line with 6:36 left in the first quarter.
"I saw the ball and that he had it in his hands and I just kind of ripped it from him," Amerson said. "I guess it was good awareness.
"The offense was definitely feeding off our turnovers. The more turnovers we create, the better chance we have of winning."
The offensive line did a superb job on NC State's second scoring strike. Glennon had all day in the pocket and threw a pretty 44-yard touchdown to redshirt sophomore wide receiver Bryan Underwood, to give the Wolfpack a 14-0 lead with 4:06 left in the first quarter. The quick-strike drive last just four plays.
"I thought our offense really executed those first two series, and really set the tone for the entire game," Glennon said.
O'Brien was impressed by the pretty passes Glennon made to Underwood and the prior Smith touchdown.
"Bryan just took off and he's almost back to full speed now," O'Brien said. "That's good for us."
In case the energy was going down a bit, the defense rose to the occasion to set up the third touchdown of the half.
Junior reserve defensive tackle A.J. Ferguson sacked South Alabama backup quarter Ross Metheny, and redshirt junior outside linebacker Rickey Dowdy recovered the fumble at the Jaguars 33-yard line with 8:44 left in the first half.
NC State eventually faced a fourth down and three at the South Alabama 11-yard line. O'Brien decided to go for it and redshirt sophomore running back Tony Creecy went untouched for a touchdown to give the Wolfpack a 21-0 lead with 6:52 remaining in the second quarter.
Joining Smith in the "first touchdown club" was redshirt junior wide receiver Quintin Payton, who made a beautiful 13-yard catch in the corner of the touchdown, giving the Wolfpack a commanding 28-0 lead with 2:33 left in the first half.
Redshirt sophomore fullback Logan Winkles helped set up the score with a 26-yard reception to the South Alabama 44-yard line, and two plays later the Jaguars had a personal foul penalty.
NC State did a great job of turning points into turnovers to help build its 28-0 lead.
"The good thing was that when we got a turnover, we did a good job of making something happen for the most part," O'Brien said. "That is what you have to be able to do."
South Alabama had one chance of cracking the scoreboard in the first half, but junior field goal kicker Michael Chapuseaux never got a chance at trying to make a 49-yard attempt due to a botched snap and hold. Redshirt junior defensive end Darryl Cato-Bishop was credited with the sack after chasing junior holder Scott Garber out of bounds.
USA botched the snap on the 49-yard field goal attempt. Cato-Bishop was credited for the sack after running Garber out of bounds to end the half.
"The offense was definitely feeding off our turnovers," Amerson said. "The more turnovers we create, the better chance we have of winning."
NC State tacked on three points on a 22-yard Niklas Sade field goal with 7:36 left in the third quarter. The sophomore capped a methodical 15-play drive.
South Alabama pieced together a drive - highlighted by a 25-yard completion to sophomore tight end Wes Saxon to the NCSU 44-yard line - but eventually turned it over on downs at the NC State 33. Cato-Bishop and Dowdy broke free for half-sacks against starting sophomore quarterback C.J. Bennett.
NC State had another opportunity to tack on three points, but Sade's 39-yard field attempt hit the upright in the fourth quarter.
Glennon called it a day with 8:50 left in the game, allowing freshman quarterback Manny Stocker to make his NC State debut. The Wolfpack went three-and-out during his first series. Stocker was sacked once and didn't attempt a pass.
South Alabama needed just two big plays to get in scoring position at the NC State10-yard line. Metheny connected on a wide-open junior wide reveiver Corey Besteda down the right side for 44 yards, and the slipped a screen pass to sophomore running back Demetre Baker for 21.
Metheny stood strong in the pocket and lofted an 8-yard touchdown pass to sophomore wide receiver Jereme Jones to break up the shutout 31-7 with 5:20 left in the game.
"I wasn't excited about the way we played the fourth quarter, and we tried to get some guys into the game that hadn't been to get them some playing time," O'Brien said. "We gave up a score and a big play, and some stuff that we can't do.
"For as much experience as we have, we are still an immature team and do some dumb things when we should get control of the game."
NC State redshirt freshman safety Hakim Jones came through with the last big play of the game for the Wolfpack. He sprinted over to pick off a pass and stayed in-bounds near the side to thwart the Jaguars last-gasped drive.
"I thought we fought hard defensively, and the positive thing was that I though we won the second half," South Alabama coach Joey Jones said. "I challenged them at halftime to win the second half, and we came out and did that. We didn't quite. Our kids fought hard."