Posted: Wednesday December 21, 2005 4:31PM; Updated: Thursday December 22, 2005 2:53PM
Bowl Breakdown: Meineke Car Care
N.C. State (6-5) vs. South Florida (6-5)
Dec. 31, 11 a.m. (ESPN2)
Bank of America Stadium (73,367)
SI.com's Stewart Mandel analyzes the matchup.
Breaking down N.C. State
Mario Williams leads a Wolfpack defense that has had plenty to celebrate this season.
Joe Robbins/US PRESSWIRE
The Wolfpack are all about defense and special teams. All-America Mario Williams, who had 13 sacks, teams with Manny Lawson (nine sacks), to form the best pair of bookends in the country. Linebackers Stephen Tulloch and Oliver Hoyte are menaces on the blitz, while cornerback Marcus Hudson is a solid cover guy. N.C. State has blocked the second-most kicks in the nation since 2000.
The offense is another story. Following a 2-4 start, head coach Chuck Amato replaced starting quarterback Jay Davis with the more athletic Marcus Stone, and the Wolfpack won four of their last five, including victories at Georgia Tech and Florida State. Stone, however, didn't do all that much as a passer. The emergence of freshman tailback Andre Brown boosted the running game.
Breaking down South Florida
In their first season in the Big East, the Bulls turned heads with their 45-14 rout of nationally-ranked Louisville. However, they also suffered disappointing defeats at Pittsburgh and Connecticut. Like the better-known teams in its state, USF is blessed with a lot of speed at the skill positions, but head coach Jim Leavitt's squad is fairly young.
Tailback Andre Hall led the offense, rushing for 1,256 yards and 13 touchdowns. Athletic quarterback Pat Julmiste is a dangerous runner, but inconsistent as a passer. The Bulls ranked 20th nationally in total defense with a swarming unit that gets good pressure on quarterbacks. Linebackers Ben Moffit and Stephen Nicholas anchor the group. End Terrence Royal has made numerous big plays.
While both defenses are fast, N.C. State's is more physical. The Wolfpack -- which will have a decided home-field advantage -- will try to force Julmiste to make mistakes and create short fields for their offense. If they can get a few big plays out of Stone, they should be able to win a low-scoring, ball-control type of game.