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2011 Belk Bowl Recap

Louisville Cardinals vs NC State Wolfpack - North Carolina State 31, Louisville 24

If special teams counted for two phases of football and not just one, perhaps the Louisville Cardinals would be singing a different tune after the first staging of the Belk Bowl in Charlotte, North Carolina. However, special teams is just one third of the larger pie in the province of pigskin, and that's why the North Carolina State Wolfpack is singing a happy song following a hard-earned triumph inside the home of the Carolina Panthers.

The road was rocky this season for N.C. State. The winner of two games against Football Championship Subdivision teams, NCSU needed to beat Maryland in its final regular-season game if it wanted to move to 7-5 and go bowling. The Pack fell behind Maryland, 41-14, late in the third quarter, and at that point in time, it seemed to be certain that coach Tom O'Brien's club was going to spend a miserably long offseason in the darkness of underachievement.

Now, the outlook isn't so dark for the Pack and their coach. What was an impending train wreck a month ago has turned into a half-decent season that will not cause an excessive amount of angst next season in Raleigh.

O'Brien won his eighth bowl game in 10 tries as a major college head coach, and Wolfpack quarterback Sean Glennon threw for three touchdowns, as NCSU outplayed Louisville on Tuesday night. North Carolina State suffered some head-scratching losses over the past four months, especially a "how can this be" brain-bender to Boston College. The up-and-down nature of the Wolfpack exasperated the program's fan base and made many observers wonder if O'Brien - the former coach at Boston College - was cut out for the job in North Carolina's Research Triangle area (connecting North Carolina, Duke, and North Carolina State). When O'Brien played hardball with former quarterback Russell Wilson this past offseason - sending his dynamic and gifted field general into the arms of Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema - the noise inside the system at NCSU was deafening. This win over Louisville is so valuable because it will do a lot to quiet O'Brien's most fervent critics.

If special teams carried more weight in football, though, O'Brien wouldn't be basking in the glow of another bowl win. Louisville stayed in the fight by scoring three times after special teams blunders by NCSU. The Cardinals scored one touchdown after the Wolfpack botched a punt inside their own 10. Louisville got walloped in the game's middle 20 minutes, falling behind by a 31-10 margin, but the Cards used a fake punt and a recovered onside kick to score 14 points in a row. However, the Cardinals' huge deficit was too much to overcome. Louisville had to play letter-perfect football just to have a chance to tie, and when the Wolfpack registered a final defensive stop in the closing minutes, the Cardinals' dream died.

Tom O'Brien's larger college football resume, on the other hand, gained a measure of solidity.

By: Matt Zemek
DFN Sports Senior Staff Writer

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