Sat 12/27/08 1:00 PM
Bank of America Stadium
USF W 13-7
Radio: Sirius, MSN
Duke W 28-20
Series: UNC 1-0
First Meeting: 1997
Last Meeting: 1997
WVU - Josh Jenkins (Knee) Questionable, Sidney Glover (Knee) Questionable, Jim Lewis (Foot) Doubtful
UNC - Brandon Tate (Knee) Out, Mark Paschal (Back) Out, Anthony Elzy (Shoulder) Out, Zach Pinalto (Leg) Questionable, Brooks Foster (Knee) Probable
WVU Offense vs. North Carolina defense
North Carolina's ball-hawking defense is led by its secondary, where strong safety Trimane Goddard's seven interceptions and superior all-around play leads the unit. The 5-11, 200-pound senior is a playmaker that defends the run and the pass equally well, as his 48 tackles attest. Teammate Deunta Williams (6-2, 205 lbs.) mans the free safety spot and totalled 58 tackles, two picks and two pass breakups. Cornerbacks Jordan Hemby and Kendric Burney are active as well, each finishing in the top seven on the team in tackles. Burney had 71 stops and three picks on the year, and was an active blitzer, totalling 5 1/2 tackles for loss, while Hemby chipped in with 45 stops.
The linebacking corps took a major hit with the loss of Mark Paschal late in the season, but the Tar Heels still figure to be very good at the second level in their base 4-3 defense. Senior Chase Rice (6-3, 220 lbs.) will fill in for Paschal, but he has solid experience, playing in 11 games this year while making 20 tackles. He'll lean on the experience of outside backers Quan Sturdivant (6-2, 235 lbs.) and Bruce Carter (6-3, 230), who made big plays all season long. Sturdivant led the team in tackles with 111, while Carter, who also excels on special teams, had 61, including a team-best nine behind the line. Their play and angles of attack against West Virginia's rushing offense will be one of the key areas of play in the game.
Up front, defensive ends E.J. Wilson (6-2, 280 lbs.) and Robert Quinn (6-5, 260 lbs.) are good pass rushers and respectable against the run. The pair has combined for 11 sacks among their 68 tackles, and they have the size necessary to combat power runs. Their ability to defend against speed rushes to the edge, or against zone blocking schemes desinged to create creases , will be tested on Saturday. Inside, massive Marvin Austin (6-3, 300) and Cam Thomas (6-4, 330 lbs.) are bulwarks against power runs. Without a strong inside rushing presence, WVU doesn't figure to test them a great deal head-to-head. If they aren't able to move and pursue effectively, however, WVU could find some room for its running game to the outside.
Overall, the Heels have allowed foes to establish drives, yielding 245 first downs and 357.9 yards per game. However, their ability to create turnovers and turn them into points, just like West Virginia red zone defensive success, allowed them to record their eight wins. It sounds a bit cliche, but the turnover battle, over all else, is the key for this unit.
By The Numbers
WVU Scoring Offense 24.0 ppg, Rushing Offense 217.2 ypg, Passing Offense 135.5 ypg
UNC Scoring Defense 20.3 ppg, Rushing Defense 140.8 ypg, Passing Defense 217.2 ypg
Advantage: North Carolina
WVU Defense vs. North Carolina Offense
The Heels overcame the loss of their most potent offensive weapon and their starting quarterback to get to the bowl game -- an achievement that can't be downplayed. Wideout Brandon Tate, who was a threat to score from anywhere on the field as both a pass catcher and a return specialist, went down on Oct. 11 with a knee injury. in his absence, Hakeem Nicks blossomed to rack up 1005 yards on 60 receptions. His nine touchdowns furhter demonstrated the fact that the first-team all-ACC pick was the Heels' go-to guy in the passing game. At 6-1 and 210 pounds, Nicks can outmuscle defenders for the ball, and also has the ability to create yardage after the catch. On the opposite side Brooks Foster (6-3, 305 lbs.) provides another big target, although he is more of a possession receiver. He had 30 catches for 334 yards and two scores. Tight end Richard Quinn (6-4, 260 lbs.) is only an occasional targer, gathering just seven balls for 92 yards and one score.
Throwing the ball will be T.J. Yates, who returned from a mid-season injury to display good accuracy and game management. Yates, a 6-3, 215 lb. sophomore, boasts a 60% completion average, and fired nine scoring passes against just three interceptions on his way to a 154 passer rating. His big fram makes it difficult for rushers to get him to the ground, so West Virginia's defense, assuming it can get home, will have to bring more than bumps and arm tackles to record sacks. Disrupting Yates' timing is critical -- if he gets into a rhythm, he has the capability to pick apart defenses. Backup Cameron Sexton,w ho filled in able for Yates, could also see action if Yates struggles, as he did in his first game back from the inured list. Sexton isn't as big as Yates, but he has the ability to get the ball downfield.
UNC's running game perked up when sophomore Shaun Draughn (6-0, 205 lbs.) took over the starting job. He ended up the season with 801 yards and three scores, but appears to be rounding into a very good back. Curtis Boyd is a short yardage specialist, bining 250 pounds to the Heels' power running game. Fullback Bobby Rome is a target in the passing game with seven receptions, but does not have a carry on the ground.
The offensive line brings to mind some of the massive units of Boston College or Maryland. On the left side, Kyle Jolly (6-6, 300 lbs.) and Alan Pelc (6-6, 325 lbs.) are difficult to match up with in power rushing mode. Center Lowell Dyer (6-4, 290 lbs.) also provides size and strength. However, it's on the right side where the better talent resides. Calvin Darity was an honorable mention all-league selection at guard, and Garrett Reynolds (6-7, 310) picked up second team honors. Against this unit, West Virginia's smaller defensive front liners will have to be active and avoid getting tied up and enveloped by the big frames of their opponents.
Overall, UNC can put a balanced attack in play. West Virginia, as always, will look to shut down the run first, but the Tar Heels have the ability to pass first and sustain drives with a pinpoint passing game. West Virginia, as always this year, will be challenged with stopping drives before foes hit a rhythm. WVU's red zone defensive success can't be counted on to bail out the Mountaineers again.
By The Numbers
WVU Scoring Defense 15.9 ppg, Rushing Defense 134.8 ypg, Passing Defense 190.7 ypg
UNC Scoring Offense 27.5 ppg, Rushing Offense 125.1 ypg, Passing Offense 192.2 ypg
Advantage: West Virginia
WVU Special Teams vs. North Carolina Special Teams
Place kickers C Barth and J Wooten combined to make 14 of 21 kicks -- not exactly stellar numbers. Barth missed three kicks inside 40 yards, while Wooten made all three of his short yardage attempts, but was just 1-3 outside 30 yards. That inconsistency could prove costly in a close game. Punter Te Brown has a workmanlike average of 39.5 yards, but was good at placing kicks inside the 20 (25 of his 54 attempts pinned foes deep).
When Tate went down, Burney and T Jones became the primary punt returners, but neither came close to Tate's 22.6 return average. Combined, they averaged less than seven yards per return. J White filled in well for Tate on kickoff returns, putting up an average of 25.7 yards per return.
While WVU's kickoff coverage issues are well-know, its excellence in other areas tips the special teams fight in its favor. West Virginia figures to win the field position battle on punt exchanges, which could loom bigger than the advantage UNC hopes to use in the kickoff return game.
By The Numbers
WVU Net Punting 40.3 yards per punt, Kickoff Returns 21.7 yards per return , Punt Returns 8.2 yards per return
UNC Net Punting 33.5 yards per punt , Kickoff Returns 21.6 yards per return, Punt Returns 10.9 yards per return
Advantage: West Virginia
PICKS TO CLICK
On Offense: Patrick White
On Defense: Chris Neild
Attitude and emotion could be the key factors in this contest. While UNC might hold the edge there, the Heels haven't seen any players like White.
WVU - 23 UNC - 20