Wednesday, December 15, 2010
West Virginia-N.C. State Preview
Although it barely missed out on a BCS bowl, West Virginia isn't disappointed. It can't afford to waste time being bitter, as it must focus on trying to slow down Russell Wilson and North Carolina State's potent offense.
The 22nd-ranked Mountaineers and their vaunted defense seek a fifth bowl victory in six years when they face Wilson and the Wolfpack in Orlando's Champs Sports Bowl on Dec. 28.
West Virginia (9-3) headed into its regular-season finale against Rutgers on Dec. 4 needing a win, coupled with a Connecticut loss to South Florida later in the day, to get the Big East's automatic BCS bowl berth. The Mountaineers did their part, winning 35-14 to earn a share of their fifth conference title since 2003, but the Huskies won 19-16 on a 52-yard field goal with 17 seconds left.
Although it was a frustrating way to conclude the regular season, West Virginia coach Bill Stewart isn't dwelling on it.
"I see no disappointment whatsoever," Stewart said. "This is a great challenge. We were Big East champs, and we are very proud of our 9-3 record."
Like West Virginia, North Carolina State (8-4) had its BCS dreams disappear in its regular-season finale.
The Wolfpack needed to beat Maryland on Nov. 27 to earn a spot in the ACC championship game, but lost 38-31 after building a 14-0 first-quarter lead. The team is looking forward to the opportunity to avenge that defeat against West Virginia, which also played the Terrapins this season, handing them a 31-17 loss Sept. 18.
"It's a great opportunity for us to finish things on the right foot, because I don't think anybody on the team -- especially the seniors -- want to be remembered for the performance that we had against Maryland," said North Carolina State's Nate Irving, an All-ACC first-team linebacker. "We have an opportunity to play a great team and show how good we really are."
To do that, the Wolfpack have to overcome a West Virginia team that ranks second in the FBS in scoring defense at 12.8 points, second in rush defense at 85.1 yards and third in total defense at 251.3 yards.
This will be the first meeting between these schools since North Carolina State's 38-14 win Sept. 22, 1979. West Virginia leads the series 5-4, and this will be the third meeting in a bowl.
The Mountaineers are appearing in their eighth straight bowl and have victories in four of the last five.
West Virginia's defense ended the regular season playing some of its best football, allowing four touchdowns in winning the last four games to help the team overcome a 1-2 Big East start.
"I think our last month has shown not only the people in West Virginia, but the entire country, that West Virginia is still a team to be reckoned with," Stewart said. "To come out and play like we have this last month has been a characteristic tribute to the young men here."
Four West Virginia defensive players were named to the All-Big East first team -- lineman Chris Neild, linebacker J.T. Thomas and backs Keith Tandy and Robert Sands. Somewhat surprising omissions from the first team were end Bruce Irvin and lineman Julian Miller, who accounted for half of the Mountaineers' 40 sacks, tied for third best in the FBS.
"Our defense has been a real joy to watch jell," Stewart said.
That defense now looks to stop a North Carolina State offense that was second in the ACC with 32.6 points per game. The unit revolves around Wilson, who led the conference with 3,288 passing yards and 26 touchdowns.
Wilson, who finished two points shy of Virginia Tech's Tyrod Taylor for All-ACC first-team honors, had eight 300-yard passing games and attempted 60 passes in the regular-season finale. The junior is also a dangerous runner, rolling up 394 yards and nine touchdowns on the ground.
"I know what he can do," Stewart said. "His stats are phenomenal and he's very much a top-flight, efficient passer."
Stewart should have a good idea of what a skilled quarterback looks like because he has one of his own.
Geno Smith was second in the Big East with 2,567 passing yards and 23 touchdowns, both second most in school history behind Marc Bulger's 3,607 yards and 31 TDs in 1998.
Smith threw for a career-best 352 yards in the finale. He has one interception in his last five games.