Posted by Jerry Hinnen
A look at the key matchup that could decide the Belk Bowl
Lousiville QB Teddy Bridgewater vs. N.C. State CB David Amerson.
On paper, there's really only one candidate for the honor of being the best player on the field during the Belk Bowl: Amerson, the national leader in interceptions with 11 and receiver of multiple All-American honors. The Wolfpack finished 31st in the nation in opponent's passer rating and the sophomore was a huge reason why, smothering opposing receivers and regularly making the big play whenever the ball was thrown his way anyway. The ACC's coaches capped his season by naming Amerson first-team all-conference over even Virginia Tech's much-hyped shutdown corner Jayron Hosley.
So that's not good news for an occasionally erratic true freshman quarterback like Bridgewater, and it gets worse. The Wolfpack rank 13th in the nation in sacks, and they do it without relying on a single standout pass rusher on which the rapidly-improving Card offensive line could focus; instead, six different Wolfpack players finished with 3.5 or more sacks (junior linebacker Terrell Manning led the way with "just" 5.5). It's also not clear who the Cards can ask to get open against a talent like Amerson--Louisville's top two receivers (Michaelee Harris and Eli Rogers) were both true freshmen, and neither of them topped 35 receptions for the year.
Bridgewater took several steps forward late in the campaign, but he's still a QB who entered the final game of the year having thrown as many interceptions (nine) as touchdowns. But in that game, in a must-win situation on the road vs. South Florida, the freshman put together his best performance of the season: 19-for-28, 248 yards, 3 touchdowns, no picks. If Bridgewater can play with similar poise against the Wolfpack and keep the ball away from Amerson's sticky fingers, the Cards' superior running game and excellent defense should be enough to pull out the win.
But this is also shapes up as the kind of tight, low-scoring game in which one big play can make all the difference. If it's Amerson making that play at Bridgewater's expense -- and that's not a scenario we'd bet heavily against -- the Wolfpack will be in good shape.
You can see our complete Belk Bowl preview and coverage on the CBSSports.com Pregame page here.