N.C. State(6-6) takes on Rutgers(7-5) in the Papajohns.com Bowl this afternoon in Birmingham, Alabama. Let’s check out the basic layout of the game and then take an inside detailed look at the contest from Tony Haynes at gopack.com…..Here’s the basic partiuculars and be sure to read on to get Tony’s full look at what will be going on in this contest.
NC State vs. Rutgers
Birmingham, Ala. (Papajohns.com Bowl)
Birmingham, Alabama â€”With all due respect to Miami and Pasadena, a bowl trip to Birmingham, Alabama has been like a weekend in paradise for the football teams at Rutgers and NC State.
Itâ€™s all about perspective.
At the beginning of November, the likelihood of the Scarlett Knights and Wolfpack making it to a bowl game seemed about as remote as a blizzard in the Bahamas. Rutgers was 1-5 at the midpoint of the season, while the punchless Pack owned a 2-6 mark following a four-game losing skid that stretched from September 27 through October 25.
Between them, Rutgers and NC State were a combined 3-9 in the first half of the season. And in the second half? Try 10-2.
Thanks to the financial support of a national pizza maker, Mondayâ€™s game between the two comeback kids of college football is called the PapaJohns.com Bowl. It very well could be dubbed the â€˜what have you done for me latelyâ€™ bowl.
And while several other bowl games will put more fans in the stands and draw bigger television ratings, this matchup could conceivably be one of the most compelling of the postseason.
Winners of their last six games, the Scarlett Knights (7-5) ended their season as the hottest team in the Big East. Ditto for the Wolfpack (6-6), which became the team no one else in the ACC wanted to play in November. The Packâ€™s season-ending four-game winning streak included dominant victories over North Carolina and Miami the last two weeks.
â€œItâ€™s been a great experience,â€ said NC State quarterback Russell Wilson. â€œWhen you have a lot of adversity, thatâ€™s a true test. When you experience a lot of adversity and overcome it and keep fighting, even it means you have injuries, that says a lot. Youâ€™ve got to have guys to step up and keep fighting hard, and thatâ€™s what we did.â€
Wilson became perhaps the singular most intriguing player in the ACC this season. After being knocked out of the Wolfpackâ€™s season opener at South Carolina with a concussion and then missing another game with a shoulder injury three weeks later, he became the first freshman quarterback in conference history to be named first team, All-ACC.
Wilson led his league in passing efficiency (134.3), total offense (211) and touchdown passes (16). He enters the PapaJohns.com Bowl having thrown a school record 226 consecutive passes without an interception.
Likewise, Wilsonâ€™s Rutgersâ€™ counterpart is similarly hot. Mike Teel was No. 1 in the Big East in passing yards per game (273.6), pass efficiency (165.5) and total offense (265.7). But as good as Teel is, the best player in uniform any time Rutgers takes the field is big-play wide receiver Kenny Britt.
The schoolâ€™s all-time leader in receiving yards, Britt, a 6-4, 215-pound junior, averages 88.6 receiving yards per game (No. 2 in the nation), has recorded back-to-back 1000-yard seasons, and has gone over the 100-yard barrier 13 times in his career.
For the sake of providing some context, Brittâ€™s production the last two seasons closely rivals the types of numbers former NC State receivers Torry Holt and Jerricho Cotchery put up the last two years of their illustrious careers.
Momentum, like everything else in life, can be fleeting. Rutgers and NC State were indeed rolling at the end of the regular season, yet neither team has played a game in five weeks. Can both teams pick up where they left off?
â€œThe biggest concern in bowl games is, No. 1, the passing game on offense,â€ said NC State head coach Tom Oâ€™Brien. â€œThen thereâ€™s special teams play and tackling on defense.â€
But if Rutgers and NC State can quickly find some rhythm and recreate the level of performance they were producing late in the year, fans watching and listening will indeed be in for a treat.
Now to the breakdown…
Playing defense on offense: One of the main reasons the NC State defense played better late in the year is because the Wolfpack offense was staying on the field. Over its last three games, victories over Wake Forest, North Carolina and Miami, the Pack won the time of possession battle decisively. Wilsonâ€™s ability to make key plays with his arm and his legs had something to do with it, but there was also the brute force of an efficient running game that averaged 191 yards as well. The Wolfpack also converted an astounding 51 percent (23-of-45) of its third downs in those last three games.
Time of possession and third down conversion will be especially critical against Rutgers. Perhaps the only way to slow down Mike Teel, Kenny Britt and the Scarlett Knights offense is to keep them on the sidelines.
â€œTeel is playing really well and obviously, Kenny Britt is a big-play guy,â€ Oâ€™Brien said. â€œThey make a lot of big plays in their passing game and the streak theyâ€™re on is indicative of how good their offense has been lately.â€
How good? How about 49 points in the first half of a season-ending 63-14 victory over Louisville? The Scarlett Knights averaged 46 points per game over their last five outings.
Pittsburgh couldnâ€™t stop them (54-34), neither could Syracuse (35-17), South Florida (49-16) or Louisville.
In other words, NC Stateâ€™s best defense in this game could be an offense that moves the chains, converts a steady rate of third downs and stays on the football field for lengthy periods.
Bend but donâ€™t break: NC Stateâ€™s defensive style generally employs schemes that are designed to limit big plays and keep receivers in front of safeties and cornerbacks. In this match-up, such a philosophy makes sense. An overabundance of gambles that expose defensive backs to man coverage would give Rutgers the opportunity to make big, quick-strike plays, momentum moments that the Scarlett Knights relish.
By gameâ€™s end, the NC State defense should be judged by two statistics: points allowed and turnovers forced.
Rutgers will gets its share of yards and may very well pile up better than 400 yards for the sixth straight game (the Scarlett Knights had 671 against Louisville), but if those yards donâ€™t come too quick and too easy, the Pack will be in the game.
Tackling in the secondary will be crucial for the Wolfpack defense in this game. The Rutgers receivers will, at times, likely have room to operate underneath zone coverages, but a solid tackling game will be essential to limiting their yards after catches.
Rutgers can and will move the football, but timely defensive plays four or five times during the course of the game could ultimately allow the NC State defense to have success. Whether that means Willie Young coming off the edge to record a big third down sack, or linebacker Nate Irving prying the ball loose with a jarring hit, or tipped balls that lead to two or three interceptions, the Wolfpack can compensate for the yards it gives up by making the right play at the right time.
The NC State defense recorded a whopping total of 10 takeaways in the final regular season games against North Carolina and Miami. Against Rutgers, it will be vital to continue that trend and then capitalize when those opportunities present themselves.
*****from Tony Haynes at gopack.com*****
Wolfpack Sports Network coverage of the PapaJohns.com Bowl begins Monday afternoon at 2 p.m. (Eastern Time).
(Locally on WSJS 600/1200AM and on FM 101.5 WRAL out of Raleigh)