Thursday, December 27

The Meineke Car Care Bowl - Because Not Everyone Grows Up To Go To A Good Bowl Game

The good news about the Meineke Car Care Bowl is that it didn't always go by that name. Of course, the bad news is that it's the runaway winner of the Dumbest Bowl Name of the Year award, narrowly edging out the Champs Sports Bowl, which at least gets points because ...y'know, it's about sports. Still, with a name like the Meineke Car Care Bowl, you know the matchup is sure to not disappoint. The five-year history of this stellar bowl features three teams who have won its title – all from the ACC, with the Big East and Navy going a combined 0-5. It figures to be yet another even, exciting battle as Wake Forest squares off against Connecticut. The funny part is that it didn’t last year, with BC beating Navy 25-24.

Unfortunately, that's about where the dream ends. This matchup might be the most boring of the post-Christmas, pre-GMAC bowls - no mean feat, considering Maryland plays in that time period too. Still, UConn and Wake Forest basically have 1 1/2 running backs and 3/4 of a QB between them. Hope you like punts.

UConn (by Coach Pendley)

UConn’s strategy this year was threefold: 1) have an effective running game (165 ypg), 2) limit opponent’s scoring (18.6 ppg), and 3) beat OOC patsies (Duke, Maine, Temple, Akron) to make the team look stronger than it actually is. The good news is that all three strategies worked well – it would’ve been even better had Virginia not stolen the Luckiest Damn Team in the Land title. Of course, we won’t even get into the Temple and Louisville wins. Still, Connecticut at least lost to the two teams that were clearly better than them all year – Cincy and West Virginia – and neither game was close.

Offensively, this Huskies team is about as good as the combo of Andre Dixon and Donald Brown lets them be. Both sophomore RBs averaged over 60 yards a game on the ground and over 75 yards from scrimmage a game – including Dixon actually averaging over 100 yards a game. The good news is that both players performed better in the second half than they did in the first half. That serves as a good complement to QB Tyler Lorenzen, who loses 22 points off his QB rating in the second half. Either way, Lorenzen isn’t the threat in the air that the Dixon / Brown combo is on the ground.

Defensively, while UConn’s raw yardage stats aren’t great (158.5 ypg on the ground, 187.8.ypg through the air playing in the mostly run-happy Big East), it’s the periphials that are impressive. They only allow scores on 73.8% of their opponents’ red zone opportunities, have a +12 turnover margin, and give up only 47 penalty yards a game. This is especially nice because UConn doesn’t have a ton of big-play opportunities aside from the turnovers; their 6.50 tackles for loss a game isn’t spectacular. UConn’s game is predicated on playing smart and trying to shorten the game somehow. Unfortunately for the Huskies, their time of possession isn’t great and their punting game leaves something to be desired.

Keys to Victory:
1: Out-uglify the Demon Deacons. Wake Forest’s offense wouldn’t exactly be confused with a work of art – even a modern one. However, they do have a better rush defense than the Huskies do on the season, so it’ll be up to UConn to win the battle in the trenches. There’s no way that’ll actually look good, unless you particularly enjoy line play.

2: Win the battle of field position. Neither UConn nor Wake Forest punt particularly well, so even getting a couple of first downs before punting again will be a big deal as long as the Deacons are held to three-and-out. K Tony Claravino is 81% on the year, so they’re not in bad shape if the game comes down to kicks.

3: Shake it off. Last time that UConn played, they got embarrassed by West Virginia. Wake Forest – although it is two names – isn’t nearly as good as WVU. Just because their colors look kind of like WVU’s in a certain light is no reason to be afraid of this team that couldn’t even beat Nebraska.

Wake Forest (by Coach Lawrence)

Last year, a strong defense, timely offense, and a favorable schedule allowed Wake Forest to claim the ACC title without defeating anyone better than Boston College (finished 10-3 with bowl win). After an 0-2 start to 2007, that looked to be out the window, but the Demon Deacons rebounded nicely to finish the season 8-4, 5th in the conference. As expected, the offense has seen huge improvements since last season, to the effect of a +7 ppg change, but the team has seen about equally large drops on the defensive side due to the loss of six starters.

Most offensive improvements have come through QB Riley Skinner, who throws for nearly 200 ypg but unfortunately has seen his interception totals jump to 12 (and just 11 TDs), meaning he has a tendency to undo a lot of the extra yardage he's created. The running game is average (143 ypg) and is led by an average back (FR Josh Adams, 80 ypg). The defense is reasonably good against the run (108 ypg), and though they give up over 240 ypg passing, opposing QBs throw a lot of interceptions (20) and have a low overall efficiency (111). Junior CB Alphonso Smith is the primary ballhawk, picking off 8 passes on the season and returning 3 of those for TDs.

Statistics indicate that, for Wake Forest, success comes down to theirs and their opponent's passing games, as rushing totals for both offense and defense differ negligibly by outcome.

Keys to Victory:

1. Limit UConn to 200 yards passing. That's a little less than WF's average allowed in victory, while in defeat it's close to 300. The good news is that UConn only averages 193 ypg passing offense, so here you're only trying to hold them to their average.

2. More TDs than INTs through the air. Preferring the ground game, high passing totals are actually a bad sign for the Wake offense. This is fortunate, because UConn also has an excellent pass defense. However, in victory their TD:INT is 9:7, while in defeat it is 3:8. Stay away from risky passes and don't test your arm against UConn's defenders. Four players on their team have at least 3 picks on the season.

3. Gain 150 yards on the ground. Though the difference between their victory average and defeat average is just 40 ypg, the mark of 150 seems to indicate a game that is more to Wake's liking than UConn's. I don't know that I like Skinner over Lorenzen, so making it a ground battle neutralizes that potential disadvantage.