Posted by Jerry Hinnen
N.C. STATE WON: The Belk Bowl wasn't supposed to have a lot of fireworks and explosive plays, but no one told the Wolfpack. Mike Glennon hit a pair of long touchdown passes -- including a 67-yarder to the electric T.J. Graham -- on his way to a 265-yard, 3-TD night, All-American safety David Amerson collected his ACC record-breaking 12th interception in 65-yard pick-six style, and NCSU rode those big plays to a 31-10 second-half lead. Though Charlie Strong pulled out as many stops as he had to make the comeback -- a fake punt, surprise onsides, throwback passes, and more -- the Wolfpack defense never looked like they'd yield that kind of lead, and finished the game having allowed the Cards just two touchdown drives longer than five yards.
WHY N.C. STATE WON: The final yardage totals: Wolfpack 351, Cardinals 391. So in a game as statistically even as this one (an unsurprising development, given their relative similarities, records, etc.), you'd expect it to turn on a handful of huge plays. And not only was that the case, but it was the NCSU defense that stepped up and made them. Amerson's thrilling interception return was one, but the Wolfpack also made a pair of huge fourth-down stops to deny the Cards what should have been multiple serious scoring opportunities. The first came late in the second quarter, with Dominique Brown stuffed on a 4th-and-1 at the NCSU 31; the second came in the fourth, with Louisville down 14 and desperate, when Victor Anderson went nowhere on 4th-and-1 at the Wolfpack 34.
Combine those two stops with the Cards' three turnovers, and it added up to just too many missed opportunities for a Cardinal offense not exactly known for its point-scoring prowess in the first place.
WHEN N.C. STATE WON: Not until a 4th-and-23 midfield heave from Teddy Bridgewater on the Cards' final drive was picked by Amerson -- extending his ACC record to 13 -- with under 40 seconds remaining.
WHAT N.C. STATE WON: In the grand scheme of things, not that much; moving from 7 to 8 wins after the roller coaster of the Wolfpack's season (lose to Boston College, annihilate Clemson) won't change the overall picture of the program's 2011. But it does offer some maor optimism going forward for the Glennon era, particularly with talents like Amerson around, too.
WHAT LOUISVILLE LOST: On the other side of the coin, one bowl loss doesn't change the general upward trend of the Cardinals under Strong, but it does show that -- considering the ACC also-ran Wolfpack weren't exactly heavyweights -- there's still a good ways to go before the 'Ville enters the ranks of the national elite.
FINAL GRADE: As with the Little Caesar's Bowl earlier in the evening, it's not accurate to say that the Belk Bowl was the best-played game we've seen this bowl season. But what it might have lacked in crisp execution and disciplined performances, it made up for with the high-wire theatrics of Graham, Amerson, and the dynamic Bridgewater, not to mention the Cardinals' dramatic-but-doomed late-game rally. We'll admit it; this game was far, far more entertaining than we expected. B+.