Matchups: WVU - UNC

Attitudes, approaches and mental outlooks figure to loom large as the Tar Heels and Mountaineers square off for just the second time ever. Game Scorecard
Sat 12/27/08 1:00 PM

Charlotte, NC

Bank of America Stadium
Record: 8-4
Last Game
USF W 13-7
Radio: Sirius, MSN
Record: 8-4
Last Game
Duke W 28-20
Rosters/ Bios
Press Release
Season Stats
2008 Schedule

Series: UNC 1-0
First Meeting: 1997
Last Meeting: 1997
Press Release
Season Stats
2008 Schedule

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This may be the single most important factor in the contest. What will the mental outlook and frame of mind be for each team? Coaches and players alike will say that their team is ready, but evidence of past bowl games shows that's not always the case.

For North Carolina, the mental and emotional factors shouldn't be a problem. The Tar Heels are playing in their first bowl since 2004, so excitement and enthusiasm should be present. Only one current Tar Heel has ever played in a game, so there shouldn't be any grousing or negativity in the UNC camp. Granted, this isn't a BCS bowl, and no one is going to be relaxing by the pool or posing with swimsuit models, but it's still a new experience for this team. Fan support will be great, and there won't be much, if any, grumbling about unfulfilled expectations from the Tar Heel camp.

On the West Virginia side, concerns abound, and for historical precedent one need look no further back than WVU's last trip to Charlotte. The Mountaineers, who were expecting a Gator Bowl bid, dropped to the Continental Tire Bowl (as this game was then known), and came out flatter than a pancake against Virginia. Disappointment and disillusionment abounded in the Mountaineer camp, and the results on the field were clearly due in part to the mental state of the team.

This year, WVU was expected, albeit unfairly, to return to a BCS game. When that didn't happen, there was more clamor and calling for heads than in Italy during World War II. The constant harping and griping about unmet expectations certainly took a toll on this team, and although that didn't cause any losses, it certainly didn't help. How will West Virginia respond to all of that? Has the time out of the spotlight helped it regroup? Will the leaders on the team have it ready for kickoff on Saturday? The Mountaineers must be able to put away the past 12 games and concentrate on this one – and not worry about the temperatures or the lack of beach or warm weather opportunities. That's difficult – but the squad that can do that will have a huge advantage from the outset.

WVU QB Patrick White vs. UNC Safety Trimane Goddard

We could have featured White in just about every matchup item over the past couple of seasons, as the Mountaineer quarterback was obviously a focal point of foes' defensive preparations. In this contest, however, the ramifications of White and Goddard were just too many to ignore.

Patrick White
Goddard will be a huge factor in the Tar Heels' defensive plans versus both the run and the pass. From his strong safety position, he can jump up close to the line to give UNC an extra defender against the run, or stay back and work on the pass. His playmaking ability is proven, and what makes him such an outstanding player is that he doesn't have a weakness in one play phase. He gets to the ball quickly and tackles well in run support, and in pass coverage he not only has the ability to blanket receivers, but attacks the ball well and is a threat to pick off anything in the air, as his seven picks this year (tied for #1 in the nation) attest.

White will certainly make a number of reads off Goddard, and the cat-and-mouse game of hiding tendencies and making the right read will be the first of a series of items on each play that will ultimately determine West Virginia's offensive success. WVU isn't likely to fool Goddard with trick plays or new calls – but it might be able to catch him inside and cheating on the run with a couple of crossing routes or a toss to tight end Tyler Urban. Those chances won't be many, however, so if White is able to get an open receiver in the middle of the field, he must take advantage of it.

On the ground, White needs to keep the ball a few times early and force Goddard and the rest of the Tar Heel defense to account for him in the rushing game. Even if White doesn't rip off a couple of his legendary long runs, that tactic could open pathways for other rushers later in the contest.


The Tar Heels have been opportunistic on defense, riding turnover capitalization on its way to eight wins. Of particular importance to WVU will be kick protection, as the Tar Heels have rejected a total of six punts and placekicks this year. The Mountaineers will have to account for linebacker Bruce Carter, who owns a national best five blocks of his own in 2008. Watch for Carter as he lines up on West Virginia kicks, and then note if WVU is doing anything special on protection to account for him. The matchup of Carter's skills versus West Virginia's roll punt scheme should be a special focal point for fans. Can Carter, a former quarterback, use his speed and agility to defeat West Virginia's moving screen of blockers? It promises to be an intriguing clash.

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Will the Tar Heels try to establish a ground game against West Virginia's mostly solid run defense, or will they go straight to the air? Of course, Carolina head coach Butch Davis and his staff aren't saying, but it wouldn't be a surprise, weather permitting, to see the Heels go to the air early and often. UNC's passing game is somewhat underrated, with a 135 efficiency rating (tops in the ACC) and a stalwart receiver in Hakeem Nicks. UNC averages 13.9 yards per catch and nearly 200 yards per game through the air, and with efficient T.J. Yates expected to man the controls, the Heels might be expected to test West Virginia's pass defense first. Yates, who boasts a 60% completion rate and nine scoring tosses against just three interceptions, has the accuracy to string completions together and keep drives going. West Virginia, on the other hand, tries to avoid the big play and force long marches for scores – a strategy that has worked well for the most part in 2008. Can WVU's defense force a few mistakes from Yates and get the plays they need to end drives or create a turnover or two?

* * *

There's always a good week's worth of recognition for the seniors on the team leading up to the final home game of the year, but not quite as much around the final game of their careers, which is often a bowl game. There's also typically one or two players that, while recognized for their ability, seemingly doesn't get quite enough credit for everything they've done. This year, that player has been linebacker Mortty Ivy.

Whether it's his quiet nature off the field or the fact that he has been overshadowed by flashy offensive players, there's no doubt that Ivy hasn't gotten the credit he has deserved. There's still one more chance to fix that – and one more chance to watch him play and give him the attention that he has more than earned over his stellar career.

Watch Ivy, and you'll see a player who transformed himself into an all-star defender by the dint of hard work over his Mountaineer career. You'll see a player who became a force against both the run and the pass, and a guy who meant every bit as much to the defense this year as Eric Wicks was a year ago. Watch him, and see how quickly he reads and reacts and gets to the proper position on the field, and quite often makes the play. Despite all of the promise this defense shows for next year, his loss will be a huge one to overcome.

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