NCF Nation: Meineke 0827

Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett
 
 Dale Zanine/US Presswire
 West Virginia's Pat White became the first quarterback in NCAA history to go 4-0 in bowl games when the Mountaineers beat North Carolina, 31-30 on Saturday.

I should have known better than to pick against Pat White.

Just when you think you've seen everything from the West Virginia quarterback in his marvelous career, White gives you something new in his final collegiate game. White threw for a career-high 332 yards and three touchdowns as the Mountaineers nipped North Carolina, 31-30, in the Meineke Car Care Bowl.

White's previous best passing day had been 222 yards against Louisville in 2006. But we've come to expect nothing short of greatness from the first quarterback in NCAA history to go 4-0 in bowl games.

What a terrific game this was, full of big plays and major momentum swings. West Virginia's secondary, missing starters Sidney Glover (knee) and Brandon Hogan (personal), had no answer for Tar Heels receiver Hakeem Nicks early on as Nicks had three first-half touchdown catches. The defense, though, came up with three crucial fourth-quarter plays. First, there was a strip of North Carolina running back Shaun Draughn when the Tar Heels had driven to the WVU 30-yard-line. On the next UNC possession, John Holmes sacked quarterback T.J. Yates to force a punt. And Pat Lazear sealed the win by intercepting Yates on North Carolina's final offensive snap.

Bill Stewart improved to 2-0 in bowl games as West Virginia's head coach, and the Big East got its second win in as many tries this postseason. But the most important development for the Mountaineers might have been the way the passing game clicked.

All year, White and his receiving corps struggled to find consistency in the team's new offensive schemes. In this game, the wideouts ran precise routes and made catches, while White threw lasers against a good North Carolina secondary. It took all season, but the offense finally seemed to grasp the new wrinkles installed by offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen, and even fullbacks and tight ends got involved. Virtually all of the receiving corps returns next year, as does most of the defense.

Of course, Pat White won't be back in a blue and gold uniform. As he proved again in this game, he's as irreplaceable as any player in college football. I should have known better than to pick against him.

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

It was an all too familiar ending for North Carolina.

 
 AP Photo/Nell Redmond
 T.J. Yates' interception with less than 2 minutes left shut the door on the Tar Heels' hopes.

Just as the Tar Heels squandered their opportunity to win the ACC's Coastal Division in the waning weeks of the regular season, they turned over their opportunity to win the program's first bowl game since 2001.

In what was one of the more entertaining games of the ACC's season, North Carolina made one too many mistakes in its 31-30 loss to West Virginia. Mountaineers quarterback Pat White played an outstanding game, but North Carolina countered with Hakeem Nicks and had the win in their grasp until the fourth quarter.

While Butch Davis undoubtedly raised the program to a new level this season by winning eight games and taking the Tar Heels to their first bowl game since 2004, it's difficult not to think about what could have been. There was so much promise on this roster, and expectations were soaring in Davis' second season. But North Carolina lost two of its last three games, and the bowl game loss is one that will linger because of how the Tar Heels lost it.

Trailing 30-24, West Virginia wasted a timeout for a poorly called play on fourth-and-1 that resulted in a loss of four yards. All North Carolina had to do was keep the ball and run out the clock.

Instead, Shaun Draughn fumbled and West Virginia scored three plays later to take the 31-30 lead. This wasn't a clumsy fumble or a foolish mistake. West Virginia had to practically break Draughn's legs to pry the ball loose.

UNC got a second chance to win the game, and needed only to get within field goal range on its final possession, but quarterback T.J. Yates threw a costly interception that erased an otherwise strong performance.

The loss overshadowed another incredible record-setting performance by Nicks, who finished with eight catches for 217 yards and three touchdowns. He was the Tar Heels offense, and probably for the last time.

For the most part, UNC took advantage of two starters missing in the West Virginia secondary, and smart play calling by offensive coordinator John Shoop in the first half. North Carolina's misdirection kept the Mountaineers off balance, and Nicks got the Tar Heels critical first downs for four quarters. But the defense gave Pat White too much time, and his offensive line gave him good protection.

Had North Carolina won, it would have been an excellent 2-0 start for a league desperate to improve upon its two-win postseason from 2007. Instead, the league dropped to 2-3 against the Big East, 1-1 in the bowls, and North Carolina has to wait until next year to make its statement in the conference and the postseason.

Meineke Car Care Bowl preview

December, 27, 2008
12/27/08
11:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

WHO TO WATCH: UNC safety Trimane Goddard. He has game-changing ability, having twice intercepted passes on an opponent's final drive to seal a win (Miami and Duke). And against Notre Dame, his fumble recovery clinched Carolina's victory. Goddard is tied for the national lead with seven interceptions, including a 51-yard interception return for a score against Boston College. He has had his best season at Carolina, and is the most experienced player on defense with 30 career starts.

WHAT TO WATCH: Aside from the obvious -- North Carolina's defense on Pat White and Noel Devine -- keep an eye on how UNC overcomes West Virginia's quirky 3-3-5 stack defensive alignment. It could make things more difficult for quarterback T.J. Yates, as it's difficult to determine who the fourth rusher will be, and presents a challenge in pass protection. And with five defensive backs out there, it could be a long day for standout receiver Hakeem Nicks.

WHY TO WATCH: It's the first time North Carolina is in a bowl game since 2004, and it could be the last time Nicks wears a Tar Heel uniform. Nicks has yet to decide whether he wants to leave school early for the NFL draft.

Meineke Car Care Bowl preview

December, 27, 2008
12/27/08
10:53
AM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

A brief primer on today's Meineke Car Care Bowl (ESPN, 1 p.m. EST).

What to watch: West Virginia has carried the Big East banner very well in bowl season lately, winning three straight postseason games. The Mountaineers' seniors will try to maintain that perfect record against a North Carolina team that hammered Rutgers and Connecticut this season. Keep an eye on the running games for both teams. West Virginia will try to establish its option game with Pat White and Noel Devine against a Tar Heels defense that allows 140 yards per game on the ground. North Carolina, meanwhile, will try to get its rushing attack going because it's unsettled at quarterback.

Who to watch: West Virginia quarterback Pat White, the NCAA's all-time leading rusher among quarterbacks, will play the final game of his stellar college career. He has been terrific in bowl games, notching two BCS wins and never committing a turnover. The Mountaineers are 16-2 when he rushes for at least 100 yards.

Why to watch: This will have the feel of a big-time bowl game, with a sold-out crowd of more than 73,000 expected on hand. There is more talent on both sides than the teams' identical 8-4 records would indicate. And because it's your last chance to see White in college.

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