FACTS & STATS: Site: Rentschler Stadium (40,000) -- Hartford, Connecticut. Television: Big East Network, MASN2 Home Record: NC State 0-0, UConn 1-0 Away Record: Tulane 0-0, UConn 0-0. Neutral Record: NC State 0-1, UConn 0-0. Conference Record: NC State 0-0, UConn 0-0. Series Record: NC State leads, 1-0.
GAME NOTES: The Connecticut Huskies will welcome in a more seasoned FBS program than they had in their first matchup, as the NC State Wolfpack come to town for a showdown at Rentschler Stadium.
The 2012 campaign got off to a dominating start for UConn, as the Huskies routed former Yankee Conference rival Massachusetts 37-0 in the Minutemen's debut at the FBS level. Although UMass clearly will go through some growing pains this season, UConn looked good, winning by more than 30 points for the second year in a row in a home opener.
NC State got its first taste of the college football season with a tougher test, as the Wolfpack battled a solid Tennessee squad in Atlanta. The end result did not go the Wolfpack's way as they fell 35-21 in a game that got away early from Tom O'Brien's squad.
Although this will only be the second matchup between these squads, the first was exciting enough to make up for a lack of history. In 2003 the Wolfpack escaped with a 31-24 victory at home when linebacker Freddie Aughy Lindsay returned an interception 56 yards for the game-winning touchdown with just five seconds left on the clock. The game featured current San Diego Chargers starting quarterback Philip Rivers under center for the Wolfpack.
While the two squads have not met often, the two head coaches in this battle have. UConn's Paul Pasqualoni and O'Brien met eight different times when the two were both in the Big East, Pasqualoni at Syracuse and O'Brien at Boston College. Pasqualoni has the edge with five wins against O'Brien.
With a number of talented players returning from last season's 8-5 squad, NC State had the buzz of a dark horse in the ACC coming into this season. In game number one the Wolfpack's expectations were tested and the offense did make some improvements even in the loss. Offensive coordinator Dana Bible had his team pile up 407 total yards, up from the 344.9 yards-per-game average of last season. The Wolfpack favored the pass more (48 passing plays, 288 yards) in the game and needed to after going down 22-7 early. The Wolfpack also did a good job in the red zone with all three trips ending in touchdowns.
Mike Glennon completed 27-of-46 pass attempts in the game for 288 yards and a touchdown in the contest. He relied heavily on his tight ends with Mario Carter and Asa Watson combining for nine catches and 96 yards, but it was Quintin Payton who had the biggest day catching the ball. The junior had four receptions for 129 yards in his first career start. Payton had a total of 145 yards in his first two seasons with the Wolfpack.
Two of the team's touchdowns came on the ground, but the Wolfpack didn't have much to cheer about in terms of the running game, averaging only 3.7 yards per carry with Mustafa Greene's 53 yards leading the squad.
The Wolfpack's defense allowed 20 points (two came on a safety) in the first quarter but settled in from there, at least in terms of points allowed, only giving up 13 the rest of the way. The 22 points Tennessee scored in the first quarter were the most allowed by a NC State squad since 1997 when it surrendered 27 to Florida State in a 48-35 loss.
However a closer look at the box score shows that NC State had very little success on defense, getting slammed for 524 yards by the Tennessee offense which was without talented receiver Da'Rick Rogers who was suspended from the team in the offseason. The Wolfpack were supposed to have a talented secondary with four returning starters, highlighted by All-American David Amerson, but the Wolfpack was scorched for 333 yards through the air.
With the ball constantly in the air it came as no surprise that the top three tacklers on the squad came from the secondary. Strong safety Earl Wolff had the most with 12 stops, including a pair for a loss. Amerson, who was burned badly for two long TDs, finished with nine tackles, along with Brandon Bishop.
In the 37-0 win last week, UConn looked good offensively, but certainly not overpowering. Surprisingly the Huskies were more successful through the air, despite having 43 rushing attempts to just 27 passing.
Junior-college transfer Chandler Whitmer made his first start under center and did well enough, completing 15-of-25 passes for 219 yards. Geremy Davis quietly pulled in five passes for 79 yards.
The Huskies still relied heavily on running back Lyle McCombs (23 carries, 82 yards), who was second in the Big East in rushing last season. Nick Williams was a surprise contributor with a game-high 143 all-purpose yards.
Helping to inflate the Huskies' point total in the game was the fact that the team scored a touchdown on offense, defense and special teams. Dwayne Gratz returned an interception 37 yards for a TD just before halftime and Max Lorenzo recovered a blocked punt in the end zone in the third quarter.
The Huskies were dominant on defense, holding the Minutemen to just 59 total yards and three first downs overall. The strong performance helped the Huskies record their first shutout against an FBS opponent since 2005.
Yawin Smallwood was a nightmare for the UMass offensive line, recording 3.5 tackles for loss, including a sack. The sophomore linebacker was rewarded by being named Big East Defensive Player of the Week.
With yet another game on the road, NC State is still trying to figure out its true identity as a team. UConn has no such issues as the Huskies are a team that will rely on strong defense and a power running game. However, Whitmer will be facing a very talented secondary in this one which will make his contributions less certain and should provide an opening for NC State.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: NC State 27, Connecticut 21Game Date and Time
Saturday, September 8, 12:00 p.m. (et)