Friday, December 26

Meineke Bowl: You Won't Pay a Lot for these Tickets!

Fast-forward to Dec 27. Yeah, we're skipping all of the pre-Christmas bowl crap, Poinsettia Bowl aside because it actually has good teams. You won't find that level quality here, but there's other reasons for choosing the games that we do.

West Virginia

The Mountaineers started out 1-2 with both being nearly inexplicable losses, and in fact didn't get their first road win until November. This team isn't the Rich Rodriguez juggernaut of seasons past; then again, Bill Stewart is no Rich Rodriguez.

West Virginia is averaging 3 more rushing attempts per game in Nov/Dec compared to what they were doing in Aug/Sept. This comes along with a decrease in of less than one pass attempt per game, but this isn't factoring in that a lot of "runs" at the beginning of the season were passing plays gone wrong. WVU has slowly reacquired their identity as a read-option team, and while they're not great by any means, they wouldn't lose a rematch to Colorado.

As expected, White and Devine are simply shredding teams on the ground (185 ypg rushing between the two), but White's passing has been mediocre at best. At 6 yards-a-pop, teams are frankly better off all but ignoring the receivers and stacking the line of scrimmage, which probably explains the 14 point drop in production from 2007. Darius Reynaud is greatly missed as defenses are no longer spread vertically against this offense; between his absence and the absence of Owen Schmidt to provide power and blocking, the rushing yards per attempt have fallen by almost a full yard, despite increased use of Devine (individually 8.6 ypa 2007, down to 6.4 ypa 2008).

This is actually a strong defensive bunch, finishing 9th in the nation in scoring. WVU gives up a pretty decent 3.6 ypa rushing, and beyond that they're not particularly good at stopping one thing; in fact, they are 35th in yardage allowed. You just don't score against them.

A turnover ratio of 26-14 helps matters greatly. For that matter, Pat McAfee outpunts their opposition by about 4 yards a boot. It does help that McAfee has made 84% of his FGs, while opponents have missed on 39% of theirs! Still, with such close statistics overall, it's no surprise that five games were decided by a TD or less (2-3 in those games).

Against North Carolina, WVU faces an opponent who still has less speed and less raw talent (TJ Yates notwithstanding), but let's be honest they are probably much better-coached with Butch Davis. In the face of such a matchup, the best and most obvious thing WVU can do is to put the ball into the hands of White & Devine, and ride the departing senior quarterback's legs to one more bowl victory. It shouldn't be too tough to get the team fired up for such an occasion, and with the inconsistency and chemistry issues that UNC's offense has shown in November, that'll probably be enough.

North Carolina

Well, this is our first foray into ACC country this bowl season, and I think I speak for all of us when I say: fuck this country. North Carolina had what passes for a dominant offense in the ACC, averaging just about 27.5 points a game. This was highlighted by 40+ point outbursts against Rutgers and Boston College ... and because this is the ACC we're talking about, lowlighted by a 10-point shitbomb against NC State. Of course. The defense? Not much to call home about, finishing just about average in the ACC at 20 ppg allowed. (Side note: the distribution between first and last in the ACC in ppg against is a total of 10 points. Four teams allow between 20 and 22 points.) And yes, this stellar team is 49th nationally in offense, 29th nationally in defense. Sure.

Of course, we know this team is talented. How do we know that? They lost to Maryland, which is a surefire sign they were trying to do something right. What that is we're not sure of yet; they're not particularly adept at running, passing, stopping the run, or stopping the pass. The passing we can chalk up to T.J. Yates' injury in part, but if we give them credit for that we lose the reason we're putting together this preview in the first place, the SexCannonTon. QB Cameron Sexton really didn't do a whole lot - averaging 7.5 yards per attempt really isn't manly in any sense of the word unless you're Chad Pennington, in which case it's downright hair-on-your-chest awesome - but they at least didn't turn the ball over a lot.

The mostly ineffective running game is led by Shaun Draughn, a converted safety, who's run for basically 800 yards - not bad. What's the problem, then? He's their whole damn rushing game; everyone else has run for about 900 yards total (including the immaculate Cooter Arnold and his 30 yards; yes, they have the SexCannonTon and Cooter - Tennessee fans can appreciate the Cooter). They've also been outrushed by an average of 15 yards per game, which isn't a big deal but bears mentioning.

They're at least passable on pass defense, turning in a 12/19 TD/INT ratio. S Tremane Goddard led the way with 7 picks, including 1 TINT. The other guy on defense you've heard of is LB Quan Sturdivant, who led the team with 111 tackles; his backer mate Mark Paschal chipped in with 103.

So how the hell is this team even here? Well, it's a pretty terrible bowl - but excepting that, they are rocking the 3rd down conversions, converting over 42% of their third downs. Of course, their opponents are converting 41%, so don't take that to the bank.

What do the Tar Heels have to do to win? For starters, they need to hypnotize Bill Stewart into going pass-crazy against them; keeping the ball off the ground is going to be the first step. They'll need to put Sturdivant and Paschal in position to make plays to stop the running game; they may be able to take White and Devine solo, but don't count on it - if either of them miss that tackle twice during the game, it's over. On offense, WVU will allow North Carolina to move the ball, but scoring is going to be difficult; figure out a way to subvert the red zone D and the Tar Heels win. As weird as this sounds, they probably don't want this to turn into a FG battle, since if that happens it's all over; they're not beating Pat McAfee.