Belk Bowl History: First played in 2002, was previously known as the Continental Tire Bowl (2002–2004) and the Meineke Car Care Bowl (2005–2010) before Belk acquired the title sponsorship this year. Features a match-up between the #5 team in the ACC and #3 team in the Big East. The ACC leads the all time record 5-4 with the Big East team winning the last 3 in a row. NC State’s only previous appearance was a 14-0 win over South Florida in 2005. This is Louisville’s first appearance in this bowl.
Stadium: Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, NC (capacity: 73,778 … surface: grass). Home of the NFL’s Carolina Panthers and the ACC Championship Game.
Pack’s Opponent: Louisville Cardinals (7-5) … 2011 Big East c0-champs. The Cardinals have made 15 prior bowl appearances in their history amassing a record of 7-7-1. They had a 9 consecutive season bowl streak from 1998 to 2006. Biggest bowl victory was in the 2007 Orange Bowl over the ACC’s Wake Forest. Last year they won the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl over Southern Miss.
Louisville Retired Numbers: #16 Johnny Unitas
Notable Louisville football alums: David Akers, Bruce Armstrong, Deion Branch, Ray Buchanan, Michael Bush, Mark Clayton, Elvis Dumervil, Tom Jackson, Joe Jacoby, Sam Madison, Roman Oben, Ted Washington, Lee Corso (coach 1969-1972), and Howard Schnellenberger (coach 1985-1994).
Head-to-Head Results: Louisville leads the all-time series with a 3-0 record. The most recent matchup was a 29-10 Louisville win in Raleigh back in 2007.
Head Coach: Charlie Strong (2nd season, 14-11 at Louisville … 14-11 career). A long time, very successful defensive coordinator that finally got his first shot at being a head coach at Louisville, named 2010 Big East Coach of the Year.
Players to Watch:
QB Teddy Bridgewater (#5, Fr.) the Rivals.com #2 rated QB last year that has lived up to expectations so far in his first year at Louisville. Was named the Big East Rookie of the Year and has been named to several Freshman All-American teams. Took over as the starter on Oct. 1, compiling a 5-4 record as starter and was one of the keys to the vast improvement of the Cardinals offense in the second half of the season.
WR Eli Rodgers (#82, Fr.) a high school teammates of QB Teddy Bridgewater so has made a smooth transition into the Cardinals offense. Is the second leading receiver and will have to step up in the Belk Bowl because leading receiver Michaelee Harris will miss the game due to injury.
LB Dexter Heyman (#46, Sr.) is a stat-sheet stuffer for the Cardinals defense. He leads the team with 83 total tackles (52 solo), 15.5 TFL, and 3 INTs. He also has 4 sacks and a forced fumble.
DB Hakeem Smith (#29, So.) is a playmaker in the Cardinals secondary. Is 2nd on the team with 81 total tackles (57 solo) and leads the team with 3 forced fumbles. He also has 4 TFL, 1 INT, and 1 fumble recovery.
Offensive Summary: The Cardinals offense is full of young guys that have gotten better and better as the season has progressed. They were held to 17 or fewer points in 4 of their first 6 games, but conversely have scored 27 or more points in 4 of their last 6 games. Louisville is 50/50 run pass so I expect us to throw a variety of coverages and blitzes at them to put pressure on the young guys and force them to do what we want.
Defensive Summary: The key to the Cardinals success this season has been their suffocating defense. The unit ranks no lower than 25th nationally in run defense, scoring defense, sacks and total D. They are somewhat susceptible to the pass so combine that with TOB’s recent comments that, “bullets are cheap, keep firing,” and I fully expect us to throw the ball a lot in this game.
Keys to the Game:
1. Motivation … With most bowl games it simply comes down to which team wants to be there more. We spent a lot of energy and emotion just qualifying for this bowl game so hopefully there’s still some of both in the tank to help us win this bowl game.
2. Shake off the rust … When we take the field at Bank of America Stadium it will have been 31 days since our last game. There’s going to be some rust, but hopefully we can shake it off quickly.
3. Turnovers … The key to our season has been our ball hawking defense. The 36 turnovers we forced this year was 2nd best in the country and our +14 turnover margin was 5th best. We’re 7-0 when forcing 3 or more turnovers and 0-5 when forcing 2 or less.
Prediction: All indications are that this will be a very physical, low-scoring contest that will come down to which team can limit their mistakes and best take advantage of their opportunities. Louisville is a young up-and-comer with something to prove in this game so I’m more than a little worried about this one.