The College Bowl Season is upon us, and Pylon University is bringing the breakdowns on offense, defense, and special teams, along with the sport’s traditions and great moments. In this edition, it’s the Bitcoin St. Petersburg Bowl preview.
WHO: North Carolina State Wolfpack (7-5) vs. University of Central Florida Knights (9-3)
WHAT: Bitcoin St. Petersburg Bowl
WHEN: Friday, December 26 – 8:00 p.m. EST (ESPN)
WHERE: Tropicana Field – St. Petersburg, FL
In Week 5, the North Carolina State Wolfpack, hosting then-top-ranked Florida State in a pivotal ACC matchup, burst out to a 17-point lead but failed to close it out, losing 56-41. This sent the previously unbeaten Wolfpack into a nosedive and the squad lost its next four games, including a 41-0 pasting at the hands of Clemson. But they have since rebounded with three wins in their final four games, including a season-ending 35-7 victory over rival North Carolina.
The University of Central Florida Knights stumbled out of the gate, dropping their first two games to Penn State and Missouri. However, quarterback Justin Holman settled down in Week 3 and the team followed. The Knights won their next five games and, after an early November loss to Connecticut, closed out the season with four more wins including road victories over South Florida and East Carolina, nailing a Hail Mary to beat the Pirates at the gun.
When NC State Has the Football
Quarterback Jacoby Brissett was electrifying in his first year as a starter. The junior completed 59% of his throws for 2,344 yards and 22 touchdowns with only five interceptions. He showed incredible ability with the football in his hands, both in keeping plays alive in the pocket and running with the ball. Brissett ran for 498 yards and three touchdowns, including a 14-carry, 167-yard performance in their season-ending win over the Tar Heels.
Against Florida State he kept a number of plays alive with his feet for scoring throws, including this early 51-yard catch and run:
But his feet can do more than keep plays alive; when he adds his pure speed to his footwork he can churn out huge gains on the ground, like this 60-yard run against North Carolina:
In addition to Brissett, junior Shadrach Thornton makes plays for the Wolfpack in the ground game. The running back has 811 yards on 147 attempts this season, for a 5.5 yards per carry average and 9 touchdowns. Thornton has solid vision and footwork, which he displays on this long toss play against North Carolina:
The running back takes the pitch and makes a few cuts, exploding into the secondary for a long gain.
The story of this contest might be the UCF defense. Linebacker Terrance Plummer leads one of the nation’s strongest units: the Knights are ninth in FBS in terms of scoring defense (allowing 17 points per game), fifth in the nation in rushing defense (allowing only 97 yards per game) and third in total defense (surrendering 282 yards per game). Plummer led UCF with 92 stops, including 12.5 tackles for a loss. Safety Clayton Geathers also shined for the Knights with 83 tackles including 6 for a loss. When it comes to collapsing the pocket, defensive tackles Thomas Niles and Jaryl Mamea accomplish that task quite effectively from the inside. Each player tallied six sacks on the season to lead the team.
When UCF Has the Football
While their defense has been remarkable this season, the Knights’ offense has been anything but. Holman struggled in preseason with accuracy and landed on the bench for the season opener in Ireland against Penn State. He started in Week 2 against Missouri and began to settle into the position. Holman ultimately completed 59% of his throws this season for 2,661 yards and 20 touchdowns, but with 13 interceptions. For UCF to be successful he needs to take better care of the football ‒ in the late season loss to Connecticut the sophomore struggled with four interceptions. But when he is accurate…
…he can be lethal. Holman perfectly places this deep ball on the receiver’s outside shoulder, and Josh Reese goes for 77 yards and a score against Tulsa.
Reese is one member of a group of talented receivers for UCF. The senior pulled in 33 passes for 477 yards and three scores, but Breshad Perriman led the team with 906 receiving yards on 41 catches and 9 touchdowns, while J.J. Worton contributed 36 catches for 514 yards and five TDs. Rounding out the unit is senior Rannell Hall, who brought in 42 passes for 422 yards.
The ground game is led by William Stanback. The sophomore gained 659 yards on the ground on 177 attempts while scoring ten touchdowns. He was a bright spot in the loss to Connecticut, running the ball 28 times for 141 yards and 2 touchdowns.
The Wolfpack are led defensively by their front. Defensive end Mike Rose tallied 46 stops this season, including a whopping 14 tackles for a loss. Defensive tackle Thomas Teal also recorded 46 stops with eight tackles for a loss. Defensive end Art Norman led the team with eight sacks, one of which came on this play ‒ ruled a sack by officials after he storms into the backfield and doubles the size of Jameis Winston’s jersey, forcing an in-the-grasp throwaway:
The linebackers are also a solid unit, led by Jerod Fernandez and Rodman Noel. A senior, Noel registered 68 tackles, including 10 for a loss, to go with one sack and one interception. Fernandez, a redshirt freshman, led the team with 76 tackles to go with his two interceptions, including this takeaway from Winston:
Note the pressure from Norman on the quarterback that forces the throw under duress.
The strong Wolfpack secondary also merits mention, holding opposition offenses to under 200 yards per game through the air.
Norman is one of a handful of potential 2015 NFL draft picks for North Carolina State, along with offensive tackle Rob Crisp and wide receiver Bryan Underwood. Geathers is the most likely draftee from Central Florida.
The matchup between the NC State Offense and the stout UCF defense will be fun to watch. In the end the defense carries the day.
UCF 31, NC State 24
All video and images courtesy ESPN.
Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkSchofield.