Orlando, FL - Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium
West Virginia Mountaineers
(9-3/ Big East)
NC State Wolfpack
It probably wouldn’t surprise you to know that NC State comes into this Champs Sports Bowl matchup with a Top 20 passing offense. Though he’s been inconsistent this season and throughout his career, quarterback Russell Wilson has a big arm and big play-making ability. But what you might not know is that chucking the ball down the field is not the Wolfpack’s best skill. NC State ranks a surprising 12th in the nation is rushing defense– the defensive front has very quietly put together an excellent year at the line of scrimmage.
Tom O’Brien’s crew hasn’t enjoyed great success in opposing backfields, but has done a great job of limiting gains, holding teams to an average of 113 rushing yards per game. And if that impresses you, then you should know that it pales in comparison to what WVU did this year. The Mountaineers actually rank #2 in the nation in stopping the run at 85 yards/ game, and while NCSU has been victimized by the pass, the Mountaineers rank 11th in pass defense. In fact, WVU allows only 12.75 points per contest; that’s also good for #2 in the country. Sure, much of their success came in a very weak Big East and should be taken with a grain of salt. But West Virginia has a legitimately strong stop unit.
That being said, don’t be surprised to see some points scored in this game. WVU’s standout tailback Noel Devine is a senior. Likewise receiver Jock Sanders. QB Geno Smith is going to do his best to help the talented duo go out with a bang. And of course, Wilson’s ability to post points has been well documented.
- NC State: The Wolfpack only go as far as Russell Wilson takes them, and though he has a lot of upside, the junior QB is unpredictable. He is capable of playing impressive games, but has a penchant for bad decisions that has hurt NCSU throughout the season. As a true dual-threat, Wilson poses matchups problems and could be his team’s best weapon against a talented defense. NC State doesn’t have much a run game, so it will be incumbent upon Wilson to keep the chains moving.
- West Virginia: Who else could it be? Diminutive running back Noel Devine has been defying expectations for years, posting gaudy numbers and breaking big plays despite his lack of size. Now a senior, he’ll be looking to make his mark one final time before taking a crack at the NFL. Devine is versatile and elusive, but his offense relies on him heavily. On days when he’s bottled up, the offense can really struggle.
KEY POSITIONAL BATTLE
This game features a powerful WVU rush defense against a weak NCSU rushing offense; on paper, the result of that particular matchup is pretty obvious. What is less certain is how a mediocre passing attack will fare against a mediocre pass defense. West Virginia doesn’t post big numbers through the air, but QB Geno Smith has developed into an effective thrower. The team tends to rely on its defense, simply asking Smith to avoid any big mistakes. But against an NCSU team with quick-strike ability, West Virginia may have to present a more vertical game than usual. That will pit Smith against a pass defense that hasn’t been very good. Ranked 77th in the nation, the Wolfpack have been lit up at times. Will Smith be able to find success? Or will NC State, led by stud linebacker Nate Irving, find a way to make WVU one-dimensional?
TALE OF THE TAPE
Turnovers. It’s a cliche x-factor, but in this case it’s also accurate. Russell Wilson has struggled down the stretch, throwing at least 1 interception in his last 9 consecutive games. He tossed 3 picks in each of the 2 losses to Virginia Tech and East Carolina. In short, when Wilson makes mistakes, the Wolfpack struggle. NC State ranks 114th in the nation in turnover margin. With 25 giveaways against only 14 takeaways, this is a program that has not only had a hard time hanging onto the ball, but hasn’t been able to force its opponents into similar mistakes. The good news is that WVU also has a negative turnover margin and has also coughed up the rock 25 times. Whichever team plays that way on Tuesday will likely fall.
In many ways, this is a pick ‘em game. WVU has a statistical advantage that is minimized by how terrible the Big East was this year; it’s hard to consider anyone out of that league to be a favorite. But on the other hand, NC State has been wildly inconsistent, looking great one week and flat-out awful the next. Dominating wins over Cincinnati and Georgia Tech were balanced out by bad losses to East Carolina, Clemson, and Maryland. It’s tough to know which Wolfpack team will show up. Regardless, it will be facing a very stingy defense and some offensive skill players who wnt to finish strong.
PREDICTION: West Virginia 30, NC State 27