RALEIGH — With few openings down field, N.C. State quarterback Mike Glennon checked down to his other options.
Whether because of tight coverage or the light mist that fell all night, Glennon checked down play after play. Every time he did, Glennon found one of his running backs out of the backfield.
Glennon knew going into Saturday’s game against South Alabama that the running backs would be an advantage for N.C. State.
He took every opportunity.
Glennon didn’t throw an incompletion until just minutes before halftime — connecting on his first nine throws — and led N.C. State to a 35-13 victory at Carter-Finley Stadium.
“We knew going in that could be a favorable matchup for us,” Glennon said. “We just kind of took what the defense gave us, and a lot of times the running back was the only receiver that we had.”
Glennon went 17-for-20 for 274 yards and four touchdowns — by far the best performance of his three-game career as the starting quarterback for N.C. State (2-1, 0-1).
His 85 percent completion rate is the highest for a Wolfpack quarterback since Phillip Rivers completed 86.6 percent of his passes in 2003 against Western Carolina.
“He’s a good quarterback, I don’t think there’s any question about it,” N.C. State coach Tom O’Brien said of Glennon.
O’Brien hasn’t called a running play for a fullback in his 14-year career.
He certainly called a few passing plays for fullback Taylor Gentry. Glennon completed two touchdown passes to Gentry, and his third to running back Curtis Underwood.
“We were really just throwing a bunch of short routes and taking what the defense gave us,” Glennon said. “Last week, we kind of had to throw the ball over the top, and this week, we had to throw the ball short. Eventually, they came up so we got to throw over the top.”
In the fourth quarter, Glennon finally was able to go long.
He found T.J. Graham on a deep post route, and Graham turned it into a 67-yard touchdown — a career-long for both Glennon and Graham.
“It’s always nice when a play gets called, and you know there’s a chance for a deep one,” Glennon said.
Eight of Glennon’s 17 completions were to running backs, but Graham finished as Glennon’s favorite target.
Graham hauled in five catches for 128 yards — his second straight 100-yard game and the second of his career.
O’Brien was concerned with his team’s sluggish starts the first two games of the season.
That concern dissipated with the team’s opening possession — a 56-yard scoring drive.
“There was a little bit of panic on the field, which is good,” O’Brien said. “We have to have that because the margin of error is so small.”
Graham made sure the Wolfpack started quickly against South Alabama (2-1) by returning the opening kickoff just shy of the 50-yard line.
On the legs of running back James Washington and the arm of Glennon, it took N.C. State less than four minutes to find the end zone. Glennon threw for 45 yards on the opening drive and Washington ran for the rest — including the final 1-yard plunge into the end zone.
“We went right down the field and scored,” O’Brien said. “That got us off on the right track.”
The N.C. State offense continued to benefit from special teams. A botched onside kick from South Alabama, which suffered the first loss in school history Saturday, turned into a short field and a 44-yard touchdown drive in the second quarter.
After an interception by Wolfpack defensive back Brandan Bishop, Glennon threw his second touchdown pass to Gentry.
“We were happy to make it out with a victory,” O’Brien said. “Some teams aren’t pretty, and we certainly are one of those teams. We found a way to get it done.”
Justin Hite can be reached at 407-9951 or firstname.lastname@example.org