Preview: Champs Sports Bowl

One would be hard-pressed to find more significant differences in what West Virginia and NC State are experiencing as they enter the Champs Sports Bowl. Game Scorecard
Tue 12/28/10 6:30 PM

Orlando, FL

Florida Citrus Bowl
Record: 9-3
BCS: 23
Last Game
Rutgers W 35-14
Radio: MSN
Record: 8-4
Last Game
Maryland L 38-31
Rosters/ Bios
Press Release
Season Stats
2010 Schedule

Series: WVU 5-4
First Meeting: 1914
Last Meeting: 1979
Press Release
Season Stats
2010 Schedule

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WVU – DB Eain Smith (Academics), Out; C Joe Madsen (Academics), Out; NG Josh Taylor (Academics), Out; CB Brandon Hogan (Knee), Out; FB Chris Snook (Head), Questionable; DL Donovan Pearson (Toe), Out; LB Donovan Miles (Head), Out; OL Nick Kindler (Shoulder), Out.

NC State – PK Josh Czajkowski (Hamstring), Out; DE Sylvester Crawford (Hip), Out; CB Jesse Riley (Knee), Out; CB Rashard Smith (Knee), Out.


WVU Offense vs. NC State defense

The Mountaineers began clicking a bit better toward the end of the year, but still fumbled multiple times against Rutgers and failed to secure points they should have had. That will be lethal against an NC State team with the best offense West Virginia has faced this season. WVU, which has averaged 160-plus rushing yards per game, must come close to that and protect the football in the red zone. State held its last four foes to an average of 35 rush yards per game, including giving up a combined minus-16 yards on the ground against North Carolina (-7) and Maryland (-9). Those teams were able to pass well, though, and that's where the Pack had difficulty. The issue in this match-up is that West Virginia is still a run-first team that uses the ground game to set up its vertical attack. If WVU can't establish itself on first down and gain a consistent four to five yards, it risks being forced into throwing against a team that rushes the passer well (39 sacks this season). Defensive tackle J.R. Sweezy and linebackers Terrell Manning and Audie Cole all have at least five sacks, and the line is deep and experienced. West Virginia, sans center Joe Madsen (academics), will have to shuffle players to different spots, creating cohesion issues and hindering overall play against a quick, sizeable front. Watch the interior line to see how Eric Jobe, who is expected to play center, handles Sweezy (6-5, 293 lbs.) and Natanu Mageo (6-3, 285 lbs.). If WVU can hold its own in the trenches, it should be able to move the ball against NC State well enough to win.

The major yardage chunks are likely to come from Geno Smith and the wideouts. State was ripped for 400-plus yards by UNC and Maryland and finished 79th in pass defense. The secondary, which starts three sophomores and a freshman, isn't covering well and has shown glaring inefficiencies in execution. Corner David Amerson is a true freshman, and only safety Earl Wolff had any starting experience prior to this year. Jock Sanders and Tavon Austin should be able to get open and gain yards after catch against this unit, providing Smith has enough time to throw. WVU's offensive quickness and skill position ability are better than State's on the defensive side, and it has far more experience and depth. At the risk of harping the point, whichever team controls the line will control the play. If West Virginia stays ahead of the sticks, can move the interior line and get Shawne Alston headed downhill, it will open one-on-one match-ups on the outside that are imminently exploitable. If State gets WVU into obvious passing situations, it can pressure the pocket, create negative-yardage plays and potentially add a fifth defensive back to better handle receivers. State allowed the fewest first downs (190) in the ACC, and also led the league in third down conversion rate at 32 percent. This game won't be one of elongated, time-consuming drives. There should be big plays galore, either in the form of long touchdown passes -- State has allowed 20 passing scores this year while forcing a conference-low eight picks -- or sacks. If West Virginia doesn't fumble four to five times or in key situations, it should score, and score big via the pass. Other than turnovers, it's all about the line play -- whether that's comforting or not remains to be seen.

By The Numbers
West Virginia NC State
Scoring Offense 26.7 ppg Scoring Defense 22.5 ppg
Rushing Offense 162.2 ypg Rushing Defense 113 ypg
Passing Offense 214.4 ypg Passing Defense 227.5 ypg

Advantage: West Virginia

WVU Defense vs. NC State Offense

State throws well, but can't run. West Virginia stuffs the run, but at times has allowed long pass plays and will be without its best cover corner. This is, it reads here, the most interesting match-up of the season. How does WVU handle a passing attack that averages 282 yards per game (19th best in the nation) and a scrambling quarterback with experience who can make plays with his arm and feet? How does NC State continue to gain even decent yardage via the run so it doesn't get itself in second and third and long passing situations and partially negate the edge it has there? Many have noted this is the best offense the Mountaineers have played this season. A look at the numbers would indicate that's correct. Quarterback Russell Wilson, a senior, threw for 3,288 yards and 26 touchdowns against 14 interceptions in leading NC State to an ACC-second-best 32.6 points per game. He has offers to play minor league baseball, and will decide after the bowl game whether to attempt a professional baseball or football career. Wilson, a gunslinger of sorts, won't hesitate to try to fit passes into small windows. He believes his arm capable of making nearly every throw, and his confidence, poise and ability to read and react to defenses via the run or pass is a major reason the Wolfpack led the ACC in pass yards per game at 281.7 yards. West Virginia will need to control the run and, as head coach Bill Stewart notes, leverage the football to keep State's top career rushing quarterback (394 net yards this season with nine rushing touchdowns) contained in the pocket.

WVU needs to find a balance between getting after Wilson in the pocket -- State allowed 34 sacks with a line of four sophomores and a senior -- and pressuring too much and running past to create lanes up field. It's a fine line, and one coordinator Jeff Casteel has been trying to pin down during bowl prep. Wilson's top two receiving targets are Jarvis Williams and Owen Spencer, who rank sixth and eighth on the school's all-time reception list. Williams has 46 catches for 636 yards, while Spencer leads the team with 57 grabs for 868 yards. Both have four scores. The two seniors are 6-3 or taller, giving Wilson some height with which to work, and Williams, especially, is built well and showcases good strength in attacking the ball. Wilson will also hit the fullback/tailback and the tight ends in the flats and down the seam. Tight end George Bryan mixes good size (6-5, 285 lbs.) with some speed, and could create match-up issues within the odd stack set. Much like the Wolfpack line, the backs are largely inexperienced. Sophomore James Washington and freshman Mustafa Greene (584 yards, 4.5 ypc) pace the Pack's less-than-stellar ground game, which was able to amass more than 180 average yards over its final five regular season games. This edge has to go to West Virginia, however. The Mountaineers are loaded with experience and ability along the line, have an excellent nose guard, tackle and third-down rush end and three linebackers with speed who clean up plays well. NC State should not be able to run the ball well against West Virginia. If the line can protect well enough, though, it could find plenty of downfield passing opportunities. The Mountaineers must win the line of scrimmage, leverage the ball well while still pressuring the pocket (far easier written than down), and cut down on the big play sans corner Brandon Hogan (ACL tear). State's offense can only win this match-up passing or with Wilson's feet. That could be enough.

By The Numbers
West Virginia NC State
Scoring Defense 12.8 ppg Scoring Offense 32.6 ppg
Rushing Defense 85.1 ypg Rushing Offense 125 ypg
Passing Defense 166.2 ypg Passing Offense 281.7 ypg

Advantage: Even

WVU Special Teams vs. NC State Special Teams

Neither team's numerics are exceptional in this category, and it appeared until a few weeks ago that NC State would get the nod here because of placekicker Josh Czajkowski's 17-of-22 effort (including four of four from 40-plus yards). But the kicker is injured and will not play in the bowl game, leaving the Pack with backup Chris Hawthorne. The reserve made his only try, from inside 29 yards, and hasn't been game-tested much. This is an unknown going into the bowl that could significantly impact points, field position and in-game decisions. If Hawthorne can hit his first try, O'Brien is likely to continue to allow him attempts. Badly miss one, or get a kick blocked, and State will be tempted to keep the offense on the field, which changes the entire juxtaposition of the contest. West Virginia fairs a bit better in net punting, while T.J. Graham and James Washington give NC State two solid, if not spectacular, options in the return game. The Mountaineers will get their chances, as Hawthorne's leg isn't as strong as Czajkowski, who handled the majority of kickoffs this season. If WVU's line can hold up on placekicks, the Mountaineers have a solid chance of winning the special teams battle. If not, it looks like the edge, ever so slightly, shifts to State. Call it even for now.

By The Numbers
West Virginia NC State
Net Punting 37.4 yards Net Punting 33.7 yards
KO Returns 18.5 yards per return KO Returns 18.7 yards per return
Punt Returns 8.9 yards per return Punt Returns 9.3 yards per return

Advantage: Even


On Offense: Eric Jobe, Tavon Austin.

On Defense: Pat Miller, Robert Sands.


This game is as even as they come in the match-up department. West Virginia should stop the run, but could be susceptible to the pass. NC State throws well, can't run, and could be forced to become one-dimensional if Wilson can't make plays scrambling to move the chains. The Mountaineer offense is an enigma from week to week. If it turns the ball over three times, this game will be very difficult to win. If it has focus, ball security and can gain decent yardage on first down. Geno Smith should have the time to throw to receivers who should be able to get open against a weaker secondary. There's a lot of ifs everywhere, and the coaching situation paired with the loss of Hogan and Madsen simply cloud the picture. West Virginia has better athletes except at the marquee position on the field, and a bit more experience on both sides of the ball, especially in bowl games. State has a playmaker at quarterback, good wideouts and enough on defense to slow WVU if it hinders itself. The Wolfpack will score more than 21 points…how many can the Mountaineers muster?

NC State – 24 West Virginia – 23

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