NCF Nation: Jahwan Edwards

Arkansas State (8-5) defeated Ball State (10-3) 23-20 in the GoDaddy Bowl on a wet, windy Sunday night in Mobile, Ala.

It was over when: Arkansas State blocked Scott Secor's attempt at a 38-yard game-tying field goal with two seconds left. Earlier, quarterback Fredi Knighten rallied ASU from down four by engineering a 59-yard drive with 1:33 left. He gave Arkansas State the lead for good when he threw a perfect 13-yard strike to Allen Muse in the corner of the end zone.

Game ball goes to: Knighten, a sophomore, who came off the bench late in the first quarter and sparked the Red Wolves with his ability to run and pass. When starter Adam Kennedy was ineffective, Knighten stepped up and led ASU in rushing 19 times for 97 yards and completing 15 of 20 passes for 115 yards and the game-winning touchdown. His last pass, the TD pass, was his best of the night.

Stat of the game: Ball State QB Keith Wenning threw just his seventh interception of the season, but it was a costly one that blunted the Cardinals' momentum early in the fourth quarter. Arkansas State's defense harassed Wenning into one of his worst performances in an exceptional season, as he was 23-of-44 passing for 215 yards. That's about 112 yards below his average.

Unsung hero of the game: Running back Jahwan Edwards did everything he could to keep Ball State in the game and make up for Wenning's difficulties. He paced the offense in the first half with 92 yards on 14 carries and finished with 28 carries for 146 yards and a touchdown. He even pounced on a Wenning fumble just two plays before scoring his go-ahead TD.

Second guessing: After a long scoring drive to start the second half, Arkansas State had all the momentum and didn't need a big mistake by Ball State. But that's exactly what the Red Wolves got when BSU coach Pete Lembo inexplicably called for a fake punt on his own 34-yard line. Freshman punter Kyle Schmidt lost four yards on the play, and ASU took over at its own 30. It wasn't a total disaster because the Ball State defense prevented a touchdown, but Arkansas State extended its lead to 16-10 with a field goal.

What it means: The Red Wolves played with passion as their new coach, Blake Anderson, looked on from the sideline. John Thompson is now 2-0 as interim coach at Arkansas State, with both wins in the GoDaddy Bowl. The defensive coordinator, who stuck around when former coach Gus Malzahn left to take over at Auburn a year ago, made a good case for himself as he now hits the job market. Ball State was oh-so-close to the first bowl win in program history, but the Cardinals fell to 0-7.

To watch the trophy presentation of the GoDaddy Bowl, click here.

Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl keys

December, 21, 2012
Three things to watch in tonight's Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl between UCF and Ball State:

1. Stopping the run: Both teams have prolific offenses, and it all starts on the ground. Ball State ran for at least 220 yards seven times this season and is led by 1,300-yard back Jahwan Edwards. UCF tailback Latavius Murray has scored a touchdown in eight straight games. The key is whether either defense can make stops and force some third-and-long situations. The Knights have the much better defense statistically, ranking No. 22 nationally in total yards allowed and leading Conference USA in scoring defense. The Cardinals, meanwhile, gave up more than 200 rushing yards and 31.5 points per game, though their defense did improve as the season went on. This game could come down to a defensive stand or two in crunch time.

2. Special teams: UCF has the nation's top kick return man in Quincy McDuffie, but special-teams breakdowns hurt the Knights in their overtime loss to Tulsa in the Conference USA title game. They allowed a punt return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter and had a field goal blocked in the first extra period. Ball State has some impressive specialists of its own. Kicker Steven Schott ranked second in the nation with 24 made field goals, while punter Scott Kovanda was a Ray Guy finalist. All eyes will be on the offenses, but big plays in the kicking game could make the difference.

3. Ball security: Neither team likes giving the ball away. UCF set a school record for fewest turnovers in a season with just 15, while Ball State had only 16 giveaways. The Knights' Murray has gone 386 straight carries without a fumble. UCF was much better than Ball State this year at forcing turnovers, led by ball-hawking safety and C-USA defensive player of the year Kemal Ishmael, who had three interceptions and three forced fumbles this season. Ball State quarterback Keith Wenning was intercepted four times in losses to Clemson and Northern Illinois. In a game where every possession could matter, turnovers could turn the tide.
UCF Knights (9-4) vs. Ball State Cardinals (9-3)

Dec. 21, 7:30 p.m. ET, St. Petersburg, Fla. (ESPN)

UCF take from WolverineNation's Chantel Jennings: In its final season in Conference USA before it moves to the Big East, UCF exited its conference play with an overtime loss to Tulsa in the championship game. So, in a trip about 100 miles down the road the Knights will try to erase that memory with a win in the Beef 'O' Brady's St. Petersburg Bowl.

The Knights were a stalwart on defense this season, putting together the conference’s best scoring defense (22.5 points/game), best pass defense (217.8 yards/game) and second best in both total defense (380.2 yards/game) and redzone defense.

It will be the second time UCF takes the field in St. Petersburg as a part of the bowl and the fifth time in school history the Knights have gone bowling. And in its final bowl trip as a C-USA member it’ll take on a team out of the conference that it will join next season, the Big East.

Pacing the Knights this season has been sophomore quarterback Blake Bortles, who could pass the 3,000-yard season passing mark in the bowl game. Despite making up for three of UCF’s touchdowns, his 14-of-32 passing performance against Tulsa was one of his worst of the season (though the 30-plus mph winds might have had a part in that). The talented sophomore will look to build on his impressive season with a final win for C-USA.

Ball State take by Big Ten blogger Adam Rittenberg: Although Northern Illinois and Kent State received most of the attention during a historic season for the MAC, Ball State quietly put together a very successful run under second-year coach Pete Lembo. The Cardinals won their final six games, including triumphs against Toledo and Ohio, to match the third-highest victories total in team history.

Ball State boasts a dynamic offense that ranks 22nd nationally in total yards and 31st in scoring, and eclipsed 200 rushing yards seven times, including four times in the final five games. Talented sophomore running back Jahwan Edwards racked up 786 yards and nine touchdowns in the final six regular-season contests. Wide receiver Willie Snead ranks in the top 25 nationally in both receptions and receiving yards.

Ball State’s defense struggles against the run (106th nationally), but the overall unit improved as the season went along. The Cardinals’ only losses came at Clemson and against the two MAC frontrunners. Three of Ball State’s six major bowl appearances have come in the past six seasons, although the Cardinals are still searching for their first bowl victory.