West Virginia (8-4) vs. North Carolina (8-4)|
Saturday, December 27th, 1:00 p.m. (et)
From The Sports Network
By Ralph Lauro, Associate College Football Editor
GAME NOTES: The West Virginia Mountaineers and the North Carolina Tar Heels
are set to square off in the Meineke Car Care Bowl at Bank of America Stadium
The Mountaineers put together another solid regular-season campaign, finishing
8-4, although it wasn't as strong as years past. WVU got off to a slow start
before finding its groove and ripping off five straight wins in the middle of
the season. The team, though, went just 2-2 down the stretch, costing it a
chance at another Big East title. Still, this is the program's seventh
consecutive bowl appearances and its 28th overall. The Mountaineers own a
12-15 record all-time in bowl games, including a 48-28 upset of Oklahoma in
last season's Fiesta Bowl. Bill Stewart was actually the interim coach for
that bowl win before being hired on a permanent basis, so he knows all about
the importance of preparation.
"We are having some good practices and they have been giving good effort,"
stated Stewart about his players. "I'm happy about that. I think we need to
pay attention to detail even more because anytime you have a break in the
action, you go home and then reconvene in a bowl, I guess that's standard. Our
men have been working hard and I'm very proud of that."
As for UNC, it had a similar season to WVU and it too comes into the
postseason with an 8-4 ledger. After opening the season with seven wins in
nine games, the Tar Heels had earned a spot in the national rankings and
appeared in control of the ACC. The team though, dropped two of its final
three contests, ending its chances of winning the ACC. Still, it was a great
turnaround for UNC, which finished just 4-8 under head coach Butch Davis in
"We wanted to play in meaningful games, games that were important," Davis
said. "We wanted to play on national TV. We wanted to play when the blimp was
in the air. There were a lot of things that we were able to accomplish this
year and going to a bowl game is certainly one of those steps along the
journey of trying to build the program."
Davis certainly has put UNC football back on the map and the Tar Heels are set
to make their 26th bowl appearance this weekend. The program is 12-13 all-time
in such games and is looking for its first win since beating Auburn in the
2001 Peach Bowl.
UNC and WVU have met just one time previously on the gridiron, with the Tar
Heels posting a 20-13 victory in the 1997 Gator Bowl.
Behind the tandem of Noel Devine and Pat White, the Mountaineers are rolling
up 217.2 ypg on the ground this season. Devine, a speedy and elusive back,
took over for Steve Slaton this season and showed he could carry the load by
rushing for 1,228 yards. He didn't score many touchdowns, only three, but he
did average a solid 6.4 yards per carry, while also ranking second on the team
with 34 catches. Devine though, is listed as questionable for this game due to
academics and that could be a huge blow for the Mountaineers. As for White, he
has enjoyed success throughout his career and he is currently the NCAA's all-
time leader in rushing yards for a quarterbacks with 4,425. This season, White
has rushed for 919 yards and eight scores, and he also showed off his arm by
throwing for 18 touchdowns against just six interceptions. Jock Sanders is
clearly his target of choice, as he leads the team with 48 catches, 392
receiving yards and seven scores.
On defense, the Mountaineers probably deserve a little more recognition for a
stout regular-season campaign in which they held opponents to a mere 15.9 ppg.
The unit was decent against the run (134.8 ypg) and solid versus the pass
(190.7 ypg) and did a nice job in forcing 26 turnovers, including 16
interceptions. WVU even did a respectable job in bringing down opposing gun-
slingers, registering 24 sacks on the campaign. J.T. Thomas played a big part
in the pass rush, leading the team in TFLs (nine) to go with three sacks.
Mortty Ivy, though, has been the most consistent player for this defense,
notching 86 stops, six TFls and three interceptions.
Like many of the ACC team's this season, UNC wasn't exactly all that explosive
on offense, averaging a modest 317.3 total ypg on the year. Under center, the
Tar Heels went with a combination of quarterbacks in T.J. Yates and Cameron
Sexton. Yates, who missed five games with a broken ankle, is expected to make
the start this weekend, but if he struggles, Sexton could step in. In six
games this season, Yates completed 60.0 percent of his tosses for 957 yards,
with nine touchdowns against just three picks. Sexton, in eight appearances,
hit on 56.0 percent of his pass attempts for 1,261 yards, with nine
touchdowns versus six interceptions. Whomever is under center will surely be
looking in the direction of Hakeem Nicks, the team's top target with 60
receptions for 1,005 yards and nine scores. In the backfield, Shaun Draughn
paces the Tar Heels with 801 yards, but he didn't have many big games,
cracking the century mark on only three occasions.
UNC's defense played well for most of the season and enters the bowl game
allowing just 20.3 ppg and 357.9 total ypg. The unit has given up a few too
many yards on the ground (140.8 ypg) and through the air (217.2 ypg), but not
enough to be consider a mediocre group. The Tar Heels have countered many of
those yards by forcing 27 turnovers, including 19 interceptions. The defense,
however, did a struggle a little to get into the backfield, recording only 18
sacks on the season. Quan Sturdivant and Mark Paschal highlight this unit with
their tackling ability, as they have posted 111 and 103 stops, respectively.
Paschal though, will not be available for this game due to a spine injury.
Another player worth keeping an eye on is Trimane Goddard, who can make the
big play and leads the team with seven interceptions.
The Mountaineers have a few more big-play threats than do the Tar Heels and
their defense has also been better, so go with WVU in what should be a close
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: West Virginia 27, North Carolina 21
12/23 12:00:05 ET