2009 Meineke Car Care Bowl Preview
#12 Pittsburgh (9-3, 5-2; Big East) vs. North Carolina (8-4, 5-3; ACC)
December 26th, 2009 @ 4:30 PM (EST) – ESPN – Charlotte, North Carolina
The Meineke Car Care Bowl was first played in 2002 and has become an intriguing yearly showdown between the Big East and ACC. In the schools’ previous six meetings, the ACC holds a 4-2 edge in head to head play. As the first showdown between BCS conference teams during bowl season, expect a packed house in Charlotte and millions of viewers on television.
North Carolina will be making their 3rd Car Care Bowl appearance. Losers in both of their previous showings, the most recent being last year’s 31-30 heartbreaker against WVU, the Tar Heels will be angling for their first bowl victory of any sort since 2001. UNC had a somewhat strange year: They managed to defeat five bowl-bound teams but somehow lost to two teams that missed the postseason entirely! Coached by former Miami boss Butch Davis, 2009 marked the second consecutive year that the Heels won at least 8 games. Davis has a 20-17 record at UNC and a 71-37 record overall. He has also built a stellar 4-1 bowl record, though his lone loss came in his only try at North Carolina.
The Tar Heel offense was rather toothless in 2009, averaging only 24.3 points per game to finish 81 st in the country in scoring. Their run game was lacking at 75th nationally and their passing attack was even worse at 102 nd! UNC was also among the worst in the country at protecting the football as they gave it away 25 times this year. Their offensive ineptitude was perfectly exemplified by their 12-10 victory over Connecticut, a game won in the final minutes thanks to a safety from the defense.
Indeed it was their defense that bailed them out many times this season. The Tar Heels’ masterful performance produced the country’s 13th ranked scoring defense at 16 points per game, including the country’s 15th ranked pass defense. Even better, their 9th ranked run defense was one of only twelve teams to hold opponents to under 100 yards per game! Their excellence doesn’t end there either: UNC was 12th in country with 28 takeaways and they also finished 25th in America with 30 sacks. Featuring an excellent defensive line, North Carolina boasts one of the country’s top defenses.
Pittsburgh continued their renaissance this fall under Dave Wannstedt, finishing the regular season with nine wins for the second consecutive year. The Panthers began 2009 with a 9-1 mark thanks to excellent performances on both sides of the football but fell in their final two contests to archrival West Virginia by a field goal and Big East Champion Cincinnati by a single point to fall out the BCS picture. Regardless of their stumble to the finish, Wannstedt has done a fantastic job bringing talent into the program and the Panthers appear to have become a perennial contender with his renewed recruiting emphasis. He is 34-25 (18-7 in the last 2 years) as the Pitt head coach and is 0-1 in his only postseason appearance, last year’s Sun Bowl.
The Panthers were dominant on offense this year, finishing 16th in the country in scoring at 33.2 points per game. Their 29th ranked rushing attack was powered by exceptional freshman Dion Lewis and he was the foundation of their offense. While their passing game only finished 62nd, quarterback Bill Stull had a great season, throwing 21 touchdowns against only 8 interceptions. With two star receivers at his disposal, the Panthers can hit a big passing play at any time and they are extremely dangerous off of play action.
But Pitt was even better on the other side of the football. Their 21st ranked scoring defense only allowed 20 points per game and the Panthers led the nation in sacks with 45! This was largely thanks to an excellent defensive line that also was the backbone of the country’s 17th best run defense. Teams found more success through the air as they were only 57th against the pass but they snared 14 interceptions and forced 22 turnovers overall to finish 12th in the country with a +9 turnover margin.
With two excellent defenses matched up in this contest, it will be interesting to see how the game plays out. Both teams are coming off of losses in their final regular season games and should be motivated to finish the season off with a victory. As neither team has a single player who has won a bowl game in their career, both teams are still trying to figure out what it takes to win in the postseason.
There is one major edge in this matchup. Both teams feature great defenses that are anchored by excellent D-Lines. Both are very good at forcing turnovers and both are difficult for opposing offenses to penetrate. However, UNC turns the ball over a lot while Pittsburgh is much more adept at protecting the football. Furthermore, the Panthers are much more dangerous on offense while the Tar Heels have had trouble scoring all year.
With that in mind, the key to the game will most likely be Pittsburgh’s Jonathan Baldwin and Dorin Dickerson, who have combined for 99 catches, 1588 receiving yards and 18 touchdowns. With the focus of the UNC defense on stopping Lewis, expect Stull to finish his college career with a banner passing day and both of his major targets should put up excellent numbers. In the end, that will be the difference in a Pittsburgh victory that gives the Panthers their first ten win season in twenty nine years.
Meineke Car Care Bowl Pick: Pittsburgh 24, North Carolina 17
by Matt Baxendell
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