Bits & Bytes: WVU - UNC

A last moment sampling of informational items leading up to WVU's Meineke Car Care Bowl appearance against North Carolina.

BlueGoldNews.com Game Scorecard
Sat 12/27/08 1:00 PM

Charlotte, NC

Bank of America Stadium
Record: 8-4
BCS: NR
Last Game
USF W 13-7
TV: ESPN
Radio: Sirius, MSN
Web: BlueGoldNews.com
Record: 8-4
BCS: NR
Last Game
Duke W 28-20
Rosters/ Bios
Press Release
Season Stats
2008 Schedule

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

Click for Charlotte, North Carolina Forecast


PARALLELS

The last time West Virginia faced North Carolina in a bowl – the 1997 Gator Bowl tilt -- the Mountaineers had a stout defense and struggled to score. North Carolina had lost its quarterback to injury and was playing a backup, but featured a star wide receiver and an All-American defensive back that lead the nation in interceptions. Hopefully, the outcome won't be the same for this contest, as UNC defeated WVU 20-13 in the schools' only other meeting.

Without looking, can you name the backup QB, wide receiver and defensive back that led that North Carolina team?

RECENT SUCCESS…

Although North Carolina hasn't played in a bowl game since 2004, the Tar Heels have done well in their most recent appearances. The Heels are 5-1 over their last six bowl appearances, which has helped them near the .500 mark overall. UNC is 12-13 all time in bowl games.

By comparison, West Virginia is 12-15 in its bowl history. The Mountaineers are riding a three-game winning streak in post-season play, and have played in a bowl game in each of the last seven seasons – an all-time best for the program.

…AND, NOT SO MUCH

North Carolina is just 3-7 in its last ten games against Big East foes. Two of those wins came this year, as the Heels defeated both Rutgers and Connecticut. Their only other win was over Syracuse in 2002.

Meanwhile, WVU is just 2-9 against the ACC in bowls, although the Mountaineers are an almost dead-even 94-95-5 against the robber baron league. West Virginia has won its last three games against the ACC, including a 38-35 win over Georgia Tech in the 2007 Gator Bowl.

TIME MATTERS

North Carolina averages just more than 27 minutes per game of possession time – a disadvantage of nearly five minutes per outing. How did they get to an 8-4 record with that mark? Like many stats, this one can be deceiving.

First, the Tar Heels were ball hawks in their 18 wins, racking up a +16 turnover advantage in those games. Those takeaways (four of which were returned for scores), often set the offense up in great field position, resulting in shorter drives. UNC also did more damage through the air than on the ground, and with a passing game often come incompletions, which stop the clock.

The important thing is to see what the Heels did with the ball while they had it, and the results were pretty good. UNC was held under 20 points four times (all losses), but scored at least 28 points in each of its eight wins.

While it can be dangerous to draw conclusions from the generalities of statistics, it's pretty clear that if UNC doesn't turn the ball over, it is going to score at least 30 points or so. Can West Virginia reverse that trend, or force the giveaways that were direct contributors to all four losses? Either way, it seems to make time of possession a secondary issue in the contest.

RED ZONE REACTION

West Virginia has truly epitomized the phrase "bend-but-don't break" on defense this year. While yielding 325 yards per game, and giving up more first downs than it gained, the Mountaineers were stalwart when opponents neared its goal line. Opponents penetrated the WVU 20-yard line 42 times from scrimmage in 2008, but managed just 18 touchdowns. Nine other drives resulted in field goals, which meant that 15 times foes came away with zero points from point blank range. That 64% success rate ranked West Virginia number one in the nation in red zone defense.

By comparison, UNC was 98th in the nation in that statistic, yielding 35 scores in 40 red zone chances. West Virginia's offense wasn't great in converting such chances either, as the Mountaineers showed just 18 touchdowns in 37 red zone opportunities.

In 2008, if West Virginia converted at least 33% of its third-down conversion chances, it won the game. When the Mountaineers feel short of that mark, they were 0-4. OF course, this stat, like many others, can be misleading, but it isn't in this case. A running team that failed to rip off many of the signature big plays of years past, WVU faced a number of third downs this season. When it could convert a reasonable number, it sustained drives and scored enough to win. When it fell short of that mark, it gave up the ball too many times.

TRIVIA ANSWER

QB Oscar Davenport, wide receiver Octavus Barnes and cornerback Dre Bly were key players in UNC's Gator Bowl win over the Mountaineers.


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