Independence Bowl Preview
NC State Wolfpack vs Vanderbilt Commodores
Vanderbilt and NC State visit Shreveport, Louisiana, with momentum on their side for the Independence Bowl (Enter Contest). Both programs scored huge victories over their in-state rival in Week 13, which earned the all-important sixth victory and clinched bowl eligibility.
The Commodores have showed steady improvement in coach Derek Mason’s three seasons in Nashville. Mason’s decision to take over the play-calling duties on defense in 2015 paid big dividends, and the offense showed signs of life at the end of the 2016 campaign thanks to the emergence of quarterback Kyle Shurmur. The sophomore’s development has helped to ease some of the pressure on running back Ralph Webb (1,172 yards). The junior could find limited running room against a standout Wolfpack line, which ranked first in the ACC against the run. When NC State has the ball, the Wolfpack will have to keep tabs on Vanderbilt linebacker Zach Cunningham. The junior is one of best defender in the SEC. Cunningham will be tasked with containing running back Matt Dayes (1,119 yards) and versatile tight end Jaylen Samuels (704 total yards).
ABOUT VANDERBILT (6-6, 3-5 SEC)
The Commodores averaged 13.2 points in going 1-5 in the first six SEC games but totaled 83 points in the final two games as junior running back Ralph Webb piled up 237 yards and five touchdowns on 41 carries. Quarterback Kyle Shurmur threw for a career-high 416 yards in the win over Tennessee. He threw four TD passes in the last two games, marking the only two times this season that he threw for multiple TDs in a game. Vanderbilt already had a bowl berth sewn up thanks to its strong Academic Progress Rate before the finale but wanted to make a statement that it belonged in the postseason with a win.
ABOUT N.C. STATE (6-6, 3-5 ACC)
Wolfpack senior running back Matthew Dayes was a second-team All-ACC selection after running for 1,119 yards and saved his best for last with six touchdowns in the final three games of the regular season. Dayes was fortunate to be running behind a fellow All-ACC second-teamer in guard Tony Adams, and tight end Jaylen Samuels made it as a third-team selection after leading N.C. State with 49 receptions. The defense is led by defensive end Bradley Chubb, who led the nation with 21 tackles for loss.