Haynes: Wolfpack, Scarlett Knights Roll Into Bowl
BY TONY HAYNES
It’s all about perspective.
At the beginning of November, the likelihood of the Scarlett Knights and Wolfpack making it to a bowl game seemed about as remote as a blizzard in the
Thanks to the financial support of a national pizza maker, Monday’s game between the two comeback kids of college football is called the PapaJohns.com Bowl. It very well could be dubbed the what have you done for me lately’ bowl.
And while several other bowl games will put more fans in the stands and draw bigger television ratings, this matchup could conceivably be one of the most compelling of the postseason.
Winners of their last six games, the Scarlett Knights (7-5) ended their season as the hottest team in the Big East. Ditto for the Wolfpack (6-6), which became the team no one else in the ACC wanted to play in November. The Pack’s season-ending four-game winning streak included dominant victories over
“It’s been a great experience,” said NC State quarterback Russell Wilson. “When you have a lot of adversity, that’s a true test. When you experience a lot of adversity and overcome it and keep fighting, even it means you have injuries, that says a lot. You’ve got to have guys to step up and keep fighting hard, and that’s what we did.”
The school’s all-time leader in receiving yards, Britt, a 6-4, 215-pound junior, averages 88.6 receiving yards per game (No. 2 in the nation), has recorded back-to-back 1000-yard seasons, and has gone over the 100-yard barrier 13 times in his career.
For the sake of providing some context, Britt’s production the last two seasons closely rivals the types of numbers former NC State receivers Torry Holt and Jerricho Cotchery put up the last two years of their illustrious careers.
Momentum, like everything else in life, can be fleeting.
“The biggest concern in bowl games is, No. 1, the passing game on offense,” said NC State head coach Tom O’Brien. “Then there’s special teams play and tackling on defense.”
Now to the breakdown...
Playing defense on offense: One of the main reasons the NC State defense played better late in the year is because the Wolfpack offense was staying on the field. Over its last three games, victories over
Time of possession and third down conversion will be especially critical against
“Teel is playing really well and obviously, Kenny Britt is a big-play guy,” O’Brien said. “They make a lot of big plays in their passing game and the streak they’re on is indicative of how good their offense has been lately.”
How good? How about 49 points in the first half of a season-ending 63-14 victory over
In other words, NC State’s best defense in this game could be an offense that moves the chains, converts a steady rate of third downs and stays on the football field for lengthy periods.
Bend but don’t break: NC State’s defensive style generally employs schemes that are designed to limit big plays and keep receivers in front of safeties and cornerbacks. In this match-up, such a philosophy makes sense. An overabundance of gambles that expose defensive backs to man coverage would give Rutgers the opportunity to make big, quick-strike plays, momentum moments that the Scarlett Knights relish.
By game’s end, the NC State defense should be judged by two statistics: points allowed and turnovers forced.
Rutgers will gets its share of yards and may very well pile up better than 400 yards for the sixth straight game (the Scarlett Knights had 671 against Louisville), but if those yards don’t come too quick and too easy, the Pack will be in the game.
Tackling in the secondary will be crucial for the Wolfpack defense in this game. The
The NC State defense recorded a whopping total of 10 takeaways in the final regular season games against
Wolfpack Sports Network coverage of the PapaJohns.com Bowl begins Monday afternoon at 2 p.m. (Eastern Time). And don’t forget, a special bowl preview radio show with head coach Tom O’Brien will air Sunday night from 8-9 p.m. ET. The show will originate from Casey’s Sports Bar and Grill located at team headquarters, the Sheraton Birmingham Hotel.