What to watch in tonight's N.C. State-Cincy showdown

While it isn't quite the showdown that we saw last week when LSU traveled to Starkville to take on Mississippi State, the Thursday night matchup between North Carolina State and Cincinnati is an intriguing contest for a variety of reasons.

The Wolfpack will show off their replacement for Russell Wilson, the talented pocket passer Mike Glennon, while Butch Jones' Bearcats will look to prove to the country that they are for real after a disappointing 2010 campaign.

Here's what to watch tonight when this ACC-Big East showdown kicks off.

Can the Bearcats pressure Glennon?

Mike GlennonMike Glennon gets his chance on a national stage to show N.C. State fans that they are in good hands at QB.

N.C. State's Tom O'Brien praised quarterback Mike Glennon throughout the offseason when many wondered if the veteran head coach was making a mistake by letting Russell Wilson out of his scholarship. O'Brien said that Glennon was as talented as any signal-caller he had ever coached, and that included former BC quarterback Matt Ryan. So far this season, Glennon has shown that he is getting more comfortable as the new starter following a slow start. He completed 17 of 20 passes last week against South Alabama for 274 yards with four touchdowns and has thrown for 745 yards (59 of 92) with eight touchdowns and an interception in three contests. And this Cincy defense faltered in its 45-23 loss at Tennessee because the unit lacked aggressiveness. The Bearcats defense looked much better against Akron, returning three turnovers for touchdowns, but the competition picks up again tonight against the Wolfpack.

N.C. State's defensive depth will be tested

The Wolfpack, meanwhile, are really banged-up defensively, with several starters out with injury. Starting outside linebacker Terrell Manning will be out three weeks after having surgery on his left knee, so he will be replaced by senior Dwayne Maddox. N.C. State is already missing defensive tackle J.R. Sweezy and his replacement, redshirt freshman Thomas Teal, but starting defensive end Jeff Rieskamp is expected to play after missing the last two games. And that's good news for the Wolfpack, as Rieskamp's replacement, redshirt freshman Art Norman, was injured in the South Alabama game.

O'Brien's defense will face a dangerous Bearcats quarterback in Zach Collaros, who's thrown for seven touchdowns against zero interceptions thus far for the No. 4 scoring offense in the country at 51.3 points per game. Of course, Jones' squad has feasted on lesser opponents with the exception of the loss in Knoxville. However, N.C. State's secondary is strong, already recording seven interceptions, led by cornerback David Amerson. But on the short week, can this depleted defense get enough stops against a high-powered offense? The defensive line depth is lacking, in particular, and that's not a good thing against an up-tempo offense.

Cleaning up the mess

The Wolfpack won last year's meeting in Raleigh 30-19, thanks in large part to the Bearcats' error-prone ways. Cincy scored two late touchdowns to make the final score respectable, but Collaros was sacked five times and couldn't move the ball down the field. Although the Wolfpack are banged-up defensively, can the Bearcats play a more crisp game and give Collaros some help? The offensive line and underrated running back Isaiah Pead must help make this offense balanced and not one-dimensional. The great news for Cincy is that Pead is averaging 9.4 yards per carry and had his best game against Tennessee when he gained 154 yards on 14 carries. This offense will continue to produce as long as the big boys up front are steady.

Email dave.miller@nationalfootballpost.com or follow me on Twitter at Miller_Dave

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