Thursday, December 24, 2009
Meineke Car Care Bowl preview
By Brian Bennett
Previewing Saturday's Meineke Car Care Bowl between No. 17 Pittsburgh (9-3) and North Carolina (8-4):
WHO TO WATCH: Pittsburgh running back Dion Lewis. North Carolina ranks ninth nationally in rush defense and has held nine of its 12 opponents to under 100 total rushing yards. Can Lewis and the Pitt offensive line break that trend? The superb freshman won Big East offensive MVP honors by running for 1,640 yards and 16 carries this season, including 207 yards on a whopping 47 carries in the season finale against Cincinnati. Lewis holds the key to Pitt's entire offensive game plan.
WHAT TO WATCH: The Tar Heels' defense has spectacular stats, ranking sixth nationally in total defense, third in tackles for loss and leading the nation in interception return yardage. But Pitt had the best offensive line in the Big East this season and averaged 33 points a game with dynamic weapons like Lewis, Jonathan Baldwin and Dorin Dickerson surrounding quarterback Bill Stull. Can Pitt hold off North Carolina pass rusher Robert Quinn and can Stull avoid turnovers? If so, the Panthers should score enough points to win against a Tar Heels offense that doesn't have a lot of big-time playmakers.
WHY TO WATCH: These two teams are mirror images of each other, as Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt and North Carolina's Butch Davis are both defensive-minded Jimmy Johnson disciples. You'll see two pro-style offenses and attacking, 4-3 defenses with plenty of future pros on the field. Both teams spent several weeks in the Top 25, with North Carolina peaking at No. 19 and Pitt cracking the Top 10. And last year's Meineke Car Care Bowl featuring the Tar Heels and a Big East team (West Virginia) was one of the most entertaining games of bowl season.
PREDICTION: Pitt wins 24-21. The Panthers just have more offensive options than North Carolina and a good enough offensive line to slow down the Tar Heels' terrific defensive front. And the Pitt D-line, led by Big East co-defensive MVPs Mick Williams and Greg Romeus, should use speed to its advantage against North Carolina's big but slower offensive front.