InsideTheACC: Previewing The Bitcoin St. Petersburg Bowl

Bowl season will begin kicking into full force when North Carolina State (7-5) and the University of Central Florida (9-3) square off in the Bitcoin St. Petersburg Bowl, we preview the sides here.

North Carolina State Offense

  • Scoring Offense: 29.8 PPG (62nd nationally)
  • Passing Offense: 196 YPG (97th nationally)
  • Rushing Offense: 206 YPG (38th nationally)
  • Total Offense: 402 YPG (66th nationally)

The North Carolina State offense won’t over power many opponents, but the Wolfpack did have a breakout performance on offense against the atrocious North Carolina Tar Heels defense in their regular season finale. The Wolfpack are a run-first offense, lead by junior running back Shadrach Thornton who lead the team in rushing with 811 yards and nine touchdowns. Thornton averaged 67.6 yards per game this season, also a team high. Complimenting Thornton in the backfield are sophomore Matt Dayes, who had six scores this year, and mobile quarterback Jacoby Brissett who rushed 110 times for 498 yards.

Brissett is more effective with his feet, but also has a capable arm. His stat line doesn’t amaze, but his 135 quarterback rating and excellent touchdown to interception ratio of 22 to 5 shows Brissett is more than capable of leading the Wolfpack. Freshman receiver Bo Hines had a nice start to his tenure at NC State. He lead the team with 42 receptions and 537 yards but surprisingly only had one touchdown. Dayes is a dual threat in the run and catching from the backfield, tying with big 6’5″, 270 pound tight end David Grinnage for a team leading five receiving touchdowns. The Wolf Pack can move the ball, but might struggles to do so against a stingy UCF defense.

North Carolina State Defense and Special Teams

  • Scoring Defense: 27 PPG (68th nationally)
  • Passing Defense: 197.5 YPG (28th nationally)
  • Rushing Defense: 175.6 YPG (78th nationally)
  • Total Defense: 373.1 YPG (50th nationally)

The North Carolina State defense is a bit of a conundrum. They’re one of the nation’s worst teams stopping opponents on third down conversions, but one of the best in stopping the opposition once they get into the red zone. The Wolfpack’s porous run defense lets the opposition chew up yardage on their way to the 20-yard line, but more often than not the team’s above average pass defense steps up to stall the drive. The 28th ranked pass defense is lead by freshman defensive back Josh Jones who recorded 53 tackles, one sack and a team leading three interceptions. Junior Hakim Jones has also been an effective member of the secondary with 72 tackles.

The run defense has struggled for much of the season, but has had some solid individual play from some players up front. Freshman linebacker Jerod Fernandez emerged to lead the team in tackles with 76, and collected a pair of interceptions. Linemen Art Norman and Mike Rose combined for 10.5 sacks and 76 tackles to set the tone for the team’s front four.

Dual backfield threat Matt Dayes also handles kickoff returns for the Wolfpack and does so effectively. Dayes returned 21 kickoffs for 384 yards in 2014. The news was not as positive on the punt return front, as Bra’Lon Cherry and Bo Hines combined to return 15 punts for only 66 yards. Senior Niklas Sade had a shaky season on kicking duty, missing four of his 14 field goal attempts and a pair of extra point tries. Rounding out the special teams unit is punter Wil Baumann, who was called upon frequently and boasts a punt average of nearly 46 yards.


UCF Offense

  • Scoring Offense: 28.2 PPG (72nd nationally)
  • Passing Offense: 230.7 YPG (64th nationally)
  • Rushing Offense: 131.6 YPG (105th nationally)
  • Total Offense: 362.3 YPG (102nd nationally)

The main task for the UCF offense in 2014 has been to put up enough points to allow one of the nation’s best defenses to preserve the victory for them. Sophomore quarterback Justin Holman’s stat line resembles that of his NC State counterpart Brissett. Holman has completed slightly more of his passes (59%), and has an identical quarterback rating of 135. However, Holman is far less accurate, throwing 13 interceptions against 20 touchdown passes. Junior receiver Breshad Perriman is a dangerous weapon for the Knights offense. Perriman is a big play threat, who is averaging 22.10 yards per catch and has the ability to break a big play after the catch. He leads the Knights in receiving yards (906) and touchdowns (9). Opposite Perriman is senior J.J. Worton, who caught 36 passes for 514 yards and five scores.

UCF has struggled on the ground, but could be in for a good day against a shoddy NC State run defense. Sophomore running back William Stanback collected 659 yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground this season, both team benchmarks. Holman isn’t as mobile a quarterback as Brissett, only gaining 162 yards on 103 carries, but he did make it into the end zone three times.

UCF Defense and Special Teams

  • Scoring Defense: 17.9 PPG (9th nationally)
  • Passing Defense: 185.4 YPG (11th nationally)
  • Rushing Defense: 97.4 YPG (5th nationally)
  • Total Defense: 282.8 YPG (3rd nationally)

Stellar. Stout. Stingy. Those are words that accurately describe the UCF defense. The run defense is an especially tough nut to crack, holding the opposition to under 100 yards per game this season. Brissett could be in for a long day if his offensive line can’t protect him from the Knight’s sack duo of Jaryl Mamea and Thomas Niles. The two linemen each had 6.5 sacks this season, and combined for 76 tackles. Leading the team in total tackles was linebacker Terrance Plummer with 90. At 6’1″, 230 pounds Plummer is on the small side, but is athletic, and was able to add 3.5 sacks and an interception to his 2014 resume.

Sophomore defensive back Jacoby Glenn recorded seven interceptions, leading the team and the AAC Conference in that category. Glenn is an athletic back with excellent field vision and a nose for the ball who will likely be tasked with containing NC State’s freshman standout Bo Hines. Much is made of the Knight’s run defense, but the pass defense’s 18 interceptions limit the opposition’s options through the air as well.

Receivers Jordan Akins and Rannell Hall split kick off returns for UCF and both averaged 25 yards or better per return this season. Receiver J.J. Worton returned 17 of the Knights’ 27 punt returns and averaged just under 11 yards per return. The Knights’ place kicking game struggled this season, with Shawn Moffitt missing six of his 21 field goal attempts, and Rodrigo Quirarte missing two, not good for a team who struggles scoring touchdowns in the red zone. Caleb Houston averaged only 38.5 yards per punt on 48 attempts in 2014.

Outlook and Prediction

NC State has moments of effectiveness on offense, and their ability to distribute the ball evenly on the ground and through the air can keep defenses guessing. Unfortunately for the Wolfpack the defense they will be facing in St. Pete is one of the best in the country. UCF doesn’t wow on offense, and struggles mightily inside the red zone, but should be able to do enough to pull out the victory.

UCF 27 NC State 20

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