Friday, December 26, 2008

Game of the Week: UNC vs. WVU


Mieneke Car Care Bowl
December 27, 2008 * 1:00 * ESPN
Bank of America Stadium
Charlotte, North Carolina

BUTCH DAVIS AND Bill Stewart hope to leave a mark on their respective programs with a win in the 2008 Mieneke Car Care Bowl – Davis as a program builder and Stewart as a sustainer. Stewart earned the headman’s job by upsetting the Oklahoma Sooners in the Fiesta Bowl taking over for his former boss Rich Rodriguez. Davis’ reputation was made in South Beach, where he revitalized the Miami Hurricanes before handing over the reins to Larry Coker. Davis enters this contest with a career bowl record of 4-0.

When the Mountaineers Have the Ball

The West Virginia offense is running best when their quarterback is running the football. Senior Pat White, the NCAA’s all time leading rusher as a quarterback, finished the year with 919 yards on the ground and a team leading eight touchdowns. He has posted a 200-yard, three-touchdown performance in a victory at Louisville, as well as a 109-yard effort on the ground in a win at Connecticut. His big play ability is uncanny and defenses must always be aware of him on the field. The 2007 Big East Offensive Player of the Year has improved his passing efficiency after a very shaky start to the year. Sophomore Jock Sanders has helped solidify the passing attack, catching a team leading 48 balls. Keep an eye out for wide receiver Alric Arnett who has emerged as a big play threat, finishing the year with 373 yards and four touchdowns. Running back Noel Devine possesses the ability to be a game breaker at any time, just ask Oklahoma (108 yards, 8.3 yards per carry in the Fiesta Bowl). Devine finished his sophomore season with 1,228 yards, 21st in the country. Devine is a home run back and has posted five 100-yard games this year, including a 207 yard performance versus Auburn. He has averaged over 10 yards per carry in three games and is threat catching passes out of the backfield. With an experienced offensive line, White and Devine running the pigskin, the Mountaineers have the players to win this game in the trenches and on the ground.

North Carolina's pass and rush defense are both ranked near the bottom in the nation (pass defense 79th, rush defense 57th). However, it is a patient defense, one which doesn’t give up the big play very often. The Heels front four isn't dominating and are not known for sacking the quarterback (87th in sacks) but the quickness and speed of the rest of the defense give them the ability to shut down a spread offense. North Carolina did well against mobile quarterbacks earlier in the season in games versus Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech. Safety Trimmane Goddard and cornerback Kendric Burney make up an elite secondary. If White is forced to throw the ball expect the Heels to create some turnovers – they have come up with a total of 19 interceptions, eighth best in the nation. Goddard, a senior, leads the nation with seven interceptions including one returned for a touchdown versus Boston College. Linebackers Mark Paschal, Bruce Carter and Quan Sturdivant will be key early in the game. Just a sophomore, Sturdivant is the nation’s leader in solo tackles with 81 and the winner of the ACC's Piccolo Award. If they can contain the Mountaineers’ rushing attack early, West Virginia will struggle to score points.

West Virginia Mountaineers Offense:
Pass: Pat White – 1,510 Yards, 18 TDs
Run: Noel Devine – 1,228 Yards, 3 TDs
Catch: Jock Sanders – 393 Yards, 7 TDs

North Carolina Tar Heels Defense:
Tackles: Quan Sturdivant – 111 Tackles (5.5 TFLs)
Sacks: Bruce Carter – 3 Sacks (9 TFLs)
Interceptions: Trimmane Goddard – 7 INTs (12 PDs)

When the Heels Have the Ball

Quarterback play will be important in sustaining an offense that can be erratic and inept. T.J. Yates, who missed six games this year, looked great on the road versus Duke at the end the year. He completed 78 percent of his passes and threw for three touchdowns. Yates' replacement, Cameron Sexton, has been very inconsistent. He has the arm strength, but was down right awful down the stretch of the season, especially in road games at Virginia and Maryland. North Carolina might not have great depth at the receiver position with stellar senior Brandon Tate out, but they do have a stud in Hakeem Nicks. The All-Conference wide out finished the year with 1,005 yards and nine touchdown grabs on 60 receptions. The junior posted four games with a 100 plus receiving yards including 133 yards at Miami, 141 versus Notre Dame and 139 yards with three touchdowns versus Boston College – all bowl teams. He hasn't been shut down once all year, and managed to at least get three receptions in every game and 50-plus yards in eleven of twelve games (38 versus Duke was his season low). Senior Brooks Foster is one of the fastest players in the nation and a big play just waiting to happen. Sophomore running back Shaun Draughn emerged as the Carolina starter after his 109-yard performance versus Connecticut. Draughn is a speedy back and his 90 yards versus Georgia Tech and 100 yards at Duke were crucial in North Carolina victories. Executing in the red zone will be a major factor in getting the bowl victory and sophomore running back Ryan Houston is the Heels’ man around the goal line. The big back is tough to take down and leads the team with eight touchdowns.

The West Virginia defense hasn't allowed more than 26 points in a game all season and is ranked ninth in the country in scoring defense. Senior linebacker Mortty Ivy leads the team with 86 tackles and named First Team All-Conference. Ivy also recorded three interceptions this season and is strong at defending the pass – a solid three-down linebacker. His 10 tackles versus Connecticut helped stop Big East Offensive Player of the Year Donald Brown. Cornerback Ellis Lankster will play a key role in this game guarding wide receiver Hicks. The senior recorded three interceptions this season and broke up seven additional passes for the Mountaineers’ secondary. Sophomores Scooter Berry and J.T. Thomas are strong tacklers, especially against the run. Thomas led the team with 9.5 tackles for a loss among his 64 total tackles from his linebacker position, while Berry did his damage in the trenches and was named Second Team All-Big East.

North Carolina Tar Heels Offense:

Pass: Cameron Sexton – 1,261 Yards, 9 TDs
Run: Shaun Draughn – 801 Yards, 3 TDs
Catch: Jock Sanders – 393 Yards, 7 TDs

West Virginia Mountaineers Defense:
Tackles: Mortty Ivy – 86 Tackles (6 TFLs)
Sacks: John Holmes – 4 Sacks (6 TFLs)
Interceptions: Brandon Hogan – 3 INTs (7 PDs)

Final Analysis

West Virginia senior kicker Pat McAfee has a strong leg, is clutch from long distance and was named First Team All Big East. North Carolina's freshman kicker Casey Barth has been erratic. If it comes down to the kicking game, West Virginia has the advantage.

The CFI Prediction: WVU 27, UNC 21

Photo Credit: UNC Athletic Communications, WVU Sports Communication