ORLANDO, Fla. — NC State won the battle of turnovers 5-1 and that played a major role in the Pack defeating No. 22 West Virginia 23-7 on Tuesday in the Champs Sports Bowl. NC State never trailed, and although they did not put West Virginia away until late in the fourth quarter, they were also in control of the action for much of the contest.
Here are the Keys To The Game — Revisited:
NC State's Russell Wilson leaves it on the line
What we wrote: NC State redshirt junior quarterback Russell Wilson could be playing his last game with the Wolfpack. Wilson has plenty of options, but hasn't publicly stated what his plans are. He could leave NC State and play minor league baseball with the Colorado Rockies, who drafted him in the fourth round last June. Wilson, who already has graduated, could also return to NC State and continue his assault on ACC defenses.
This fall, the 5-foot-11, 201-pounder completed 280 of 482 passes for 3,288 yards with 26 touchdowns and 14 interception, and also rushed for 394 yards and nine scores. For his career, Wilson has passed for 8,270 yards and 74 touchdowns, and rushed for 829 yards and 17 scores. Look for Wilson to put together a strong game just in case it is his swan song.
What happened: Wilson did just that. He played one of his best games of the season, getting into a rhythm early and finishing the contest completing 28 of 45 passes for 275 yards and two touchdowns and running 14 times for 41 yards without committing a single turnover. Wilson was named the Champs Sports Bowl MVP after the game.
Solve West Virginia's 3-3-5 defensive alignment
What we wrote: The Mountaineers have had an amazing season on defense, limiting opponents to 12.8 points, 85.1 rushing yards and 166.2 passing yards per contest. Add in 40 sacks, 12 interceptions and 10 fumble recoveries, and the potential of a big defensive play is always present.
Defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel has been at West Virginia for the last 10 years and is one of the few that uses the 3-3-5 scheme. WVU will switch to a four-man defensive line on passing downs to turn junior defensive ends Julian Miller and Bruce Irvin, who combined for 20 sacks, loose.
NC State offensive coordinator Dana Bible last played West Virginia in 2004, directing Boston College to a 36-17 win over an eventual 8-4 Mountaineers squad. Casteel was the defensive coordinator for that game.
Florida State was the last team to gouge the WVU defense, rolling to a 33-21 win in the 2009 Gator Bowl. The Seminoles rushed for 226 yards on 46 carries and completed 17 of 24 passes for 189 yards passing in the win.
What happened: NC State posted some of the best numbers that West Virginia's defense has allowed all season. NC State piled up 378 yards of total offense, including 275 through the air and 103 on the ground, and the Pack became the first team all year to put up over 21 points in a game on West Virginia thanks to some Mountaneers' turnovers in their own territory. NC State also piled up the most total yards on the Mountaineers this year, and only Pittsburgh had more passing yards while Marshall was the lone team to rush for more than the Pack did.
Get West Virginia thinking about distractions
What we wrote: The Mountaineers have been filled with drama leading up to the bowl game. First-year athletics director Oliver Luck has decided to give head coach Bill Stewart just one more season and then he'll be dismissed for not winning enough. Luck hired Dana Holgorsen from Oklahoma State to be the offensive coordinator in 2011 and then take over as head coach in 2012. Holgorsen won't be coaching in the bowl game.
The offensive assistant coaches have already been put on notice that Holgorsen controls their fates for next year, but the defensive coaches have been retained by Luck if they want to return.
If NC State can get some momentum early, perhaps the Mountaineers players will weaken due to the coaching uncertainty.
What happened: Whether or not the behind the scenes drama played into the game is unknown, but what is clear is that West Virginia did not have near as much fight and resolve in them as NC State did, and the Mountaineers looked especially deflated when they fell behind 16-7.
Establish a running game
What we wrote: The odds aren't in NC State's favor that they'll be able to run all over West Virginia's offense, but the Wolfpack will need to have some semblance of a rushing attack to keep the Mountaineers from peeling back and getting after Wilson. NC State running backs James Washington, Mustafa Greene, Dean Haynes and Curtis Underwood Jr., have had several weeks to get healthy and have their legs back.
Greene suffered a neck strain in the regular season finale against Maryland, but O'Brien said the talented freshman would be ready to go for the bowl contest. Greene led the team with 584 yards on 131 carries and four touchdowns this season, with Haynes, a redshirt freshman, third on the squad with 320 yards on 83 carries and a touchdown.
Washington, a 6-0, 180-pound sophomore, will likely make his presence known in the passing game. He has caught 25 passes in seven games for 181yards and a score. Washington has rushed for 153 yards on 53 carries and a touchdown, but averaged 2.9 yards per carry.
What happened:.The Pack got at least some semblance of a rushing attack going. State officially ran 36 times for 103 yards, an average of 2.9 yards per carry. Take out the five sacks that resulted in losses of 20 yards, and State had 31 rushes for 133 yards. The botched fake field goal also caught the rushing total 13 yards. Taking that out of the equation, the Pack ran 30 times for 146 yards, and that included a 21-carry, 75-yard effort from Greene and Washington.
Matchups to watch
What we wrote: West Virginia wide receiver Tavon Austin vs. NC State cornerbacks: WVU sophomore wide receiver Tavon Austin is arguably the top playmaker for the Mountaineers. He is fast and elusive, and is a threat catching the ball, running the ball and possibly could be in the return game. He has caught 53 passes for 757 yards and eight touchdowns. NC State cornerbacks C.J. Wilson, a redshirt sophomore, and freshman David Amerson will get their chance at containing Austin.
What happened: Austin was never able to make a big play in the game and was held to just 30 yards on five catches.
What we wrote:NC State center Camden Wentz vs. West Virginia nose tackle Chris Neild: Wolfpack sophomore center Camden Wentz will have his hands full inside against West Virginia senior nose tackle Chris Neild, an experienced senior. The 6-2, 301-pound Neild had 31 tackles, four tackles for loss and three sacks, but more importantly, frees up his teammates to make plays. Wentz allowed one sack in 913 plays in his first year starting for NC State.
What happened: Neild was active and finished with four tackles, and he may have helped force Wentz to flinch on a false start penalty, but overall Wentz held his own. Most of West Virginia's pass rush came off the edge.
Stats to watch
What we wrote: 6: Games where 10 different NC State players caught at least one pass for the Wolfpack.
What happened: Make that 7 games as ironically 11 different targets caught passes.
What we wrote: 25: Percentage on third downs against the West Virginia defense. Opponents went just 41 of 166 this season on third down.
What happened: NC State converted eight of 20 third downs for 40.0 percent.
NC State offensive player of the game: Wilson was the offense for NC State on this night. He finished with the game MVP after totaling 326 yards of total offense.
NC State defensive player of the game: This was truly a team effort on defense, and there really was no standout. The honor goes to Irving however, who finished with four tackles, all of them solo, a sack, forced fumble, fumble recovery, pass breakup and quarterback hurry.
NC State special teams player of the game: Fifth-year placekicker Josh Czajkowski missed a 27-yard field goal late, but he made attempts from 38, 40 and 45 yards to help the Pack get its 16-7 second half cushion.
Play of the game: NC State put the game on ice when a scrambling Wilson found Williams in the back of the end zone for a 7-yard touchdown with 3:55 left on the clock to give State a 23-7 lead.
Run of the game: WVU senior running back Noel Devine is a big play waiting to happen every time he touches the ball. He had the game's longest run when he busted a first down carry at the WVU 10 loose for 28 yards, but the run ended badly for him when he fumbled and NC State's Irving recovered at the 44.
Pass of the game: West Virginia's lone score came when sophomore quarterback Geno Smith connected with redshirt freshman receiver Stedman Bailey on a highlight-worthy 32-yard touchdown catch in the front corner of the end zone.
Hit of the game: West Virginia senior safety Sidney Glover leveled Washington on a pass attempt in the first quarter to jar the bar loose and also shake up Washington a little bit on the play. NC State fifth-year senior Darrell Davis returned the favor, sending Glover sprawling to the turf after a vicious blind-side block in the fourth quarter.