In this week's Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl Game of the Week, an upstart Virginia squad (4-2, 1-1 ACC) will look to avoid the prototypical "hangover" when they host a dangerous North Carolina State team (3-3, 0-2 ACC). Fresh off the heels of a stunning 24-21 upset of No. 12 Georgia Tech, the Cavaliers have their sights set on a bowl game for the first time since 2007. However, they shouldn't expect a victory to come easily on Saturday, as Tom O'Brien's North Carolina State teams have fared very well after their bye week in recent years. In 2007, the Wolfpack reeled off four straight wins after their open date. In 2008, they won at Duke; in 2009, they dropped a close 45-42 game to Florida State; and last year, they defeated the 16th-ranked Seminoles 28-24 after their bye week.
NC State will try to find a way to penetrate a stingy Virginia defense that just handcuffed one of the most potent offenses in the nation, holding Georgia Tech to season lows in points, total yards, rushing yards and passing yards. Virginia boasts the 21st ranked defense in the country; the Cavaliers are especially impressive against the pass, ranking 8th in the country and allowing just 167 yards per game. This should make for an interesting matchup against North Carolina State's passing attack, which is one of the best in the ACC. The Wolfpack average 259 yards per game through the air, good for 36th in the nation. NC State quarterback Mike Glennon is on pace to have one of the most prolific quarterbacking seasons in Wolfpack history, and currently ranks 2nd in the ACC in touchdown passes with 16 and 4th in pass efficiency at 152.1. The Cavaliers will also have their hands full with dynamic senior wide receiver T.J. Graham. The 6'0”, 180 lb standout is second nationally in all-purpose yards (210 per game) and stands 12th among active FBS players in career all-purpose yardage (4,552).
Another encouraging sign for NC State has been the emergence of junior running back James Washington, who has run for 100 or more yards in his last two games, garnering 131 yards against Georgia Tech and 109 yards versus Central Michigan. In the past two weeks, he has single-handedly stabilized a rushing attack that had previously struggled to find its rhythm this season. In order to make headway against a hard-nosed Virginia defense, this recent surge in rushing potency will have to continue for the Wolfpack.
Virginia will use its running back tandem of Perry Jones (514 yards on 5.2 per carry) and Kevin Parks (368 yards on 5.5 per carry) to control the time of possession in their attempt to slowly grind away at the North Carolina State defense. The Cavaliers are 32nd in the nation in rushing offense, averaging 193 yards per game on the ground. Virginia was able to salt away the final six minutes of last week's game against Georgia Tech with a 14-play possession that featured 12 rushes. Look for much of the same this week, as the Virginia coaching staff is unlikely to allow their pedestrian rotating quarterback duo of Michael Rocco and David Watford to challenge a strong NC State secondary anchored by sophomore cornerback David Amerson, who leads the nation in interceptions this year, with six. Rocco, a sophomore, has struggled with ball security this season for the Cavaliers, throwing eight interceptions to just three touchdowns. And the freshman Watford has been far from accurate, connecting on only 47.3 % of his passes. If all goes according to plan, Virginia will bang away at a depleted NC State defensive line that will start its fourth different combination in just six games on Saturday.
There will be plenty to watch for in this one for the fans, regardless of which team they are rooting for. NC State quarterback Mike Glennon will put his aerial fireworks on display and electric wideout T.J. Graham is always good for at least 2-3 explosive plays per game. And for those fans that prefer hard-nosed running and smash-mouth defense, Virginia has those facets of the game in spades. Either way, it is likely to be a closely-contested contest, as five of the last nine games between these two teams have been decided by a touchdown or less. Be sure to catch all the action at 2:30 PM CST on Saturday!