The stats that mattered from N.C. State's 31-24 win over Louisville in the Belk Bowl, from David Amerson's ball skills, to Teddy Bridgewater's stupid bravery, to the glory of the Eff It Factor.
2: Passes intercepted by N.C. State cornerback/savant David Amerson. That gave him a ridiculous 13 interceptions for the season, two more than North Carolina's Dre' Bly reeled in during his all-time season in 1996. The interesting thing about picks, especially at the college level, is that it is difficult to keep getting them because eventually teams stop throwing at you. For the most part, Louisville threw away from Amerson and toward Rashard Smith, C.J. Wilson and the other State defensive backs. But that didn't stop Amerson from making a huge play the moment the opportunity presented itself.
3: Successful surprise onside kicks in yesterday's two games. Bowl games, especially minor ones, have an added degree of watchability because of what we'll call the Eff It Factor. While coaches definitely want to win bowl games, a good portion of the reward is simply getting to play in a bowl at all, and quite a few coaches decide to unleash hell in the form of trick plays and general special teams silliness. The Eff It Factor was off the charts yesterday, and what a happy turn of events that was. Purdue attempted two surprise onside kicks and got them both. Louisville attempted a fake punt and surprise onside kick within three minutes of each other. N.C. State sold out on some blitzes even more than usual. Western Michigan unleashed an early flea flicker (which, naturally, resulted in a touchdown). You can let it all hang out in bowl games, and quite a few teams do just that. And it's exactly why I will be crestfallen if bowls are ever taken away from me. (They won't, but that's beside the point.)
3.5: N.C. State's turnover points margin (as defined here). Each team had three turnovers, but Louisville's were more costly, mostly because of Amerson's touchdown. In a seven-point game, half of State's margin was created in the turnovers department, which was kind of the name of the game for the Wolfpack in 2011.
9: Receivers who caught a pass from Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. In the end, the Cardinals were done in by five sacks and three picks, but Bridgewater continued to show glimpses of an incredibly high ceiling. Senior receiver Josh Bellamy had a nice game -- six targets, five catches, 98 yards and a touchdown -- but for the most part Louisville's passing game moved through Bridgewater's reads and progressions. He found (a mostly ineffective) Eli Rogers seven times for 54 yards, he dumped to running backs Vic Anderson and Dominique Brown five times for 51 yards, and he found five others at least once, including backup tight end Nate Nord on a beautiful scramble-and-diving-catch combination. The next step in Bridgewater's progression: learning to occasionally throw the ball away to avoid getting massacred. Bravery will get you killed, Teddy.
12: Tackles for loss registered by N.C. State. Swarm, swarm, swarm. Middle linebacker Audie Cole pulled in four (two sacks) all by himself, almost as many as the entire Louisville team (five).
180: Degree of change between the September versions of these two teams and the ones we saw last night. In bad, nationally-televised early losses, both of these teams looked lost. Louisville lost, 24-17, to Florida International on the second Friday of the season, looking woeful on defense (especially pass defense) and listless on offense. Thirteen days later, State traveled to Cincinnati and got destroyed, 44-14. Mike Glennon was harried, the running game was nonexistent, and the defense got torched. Just over three months later, both of these teams put a fast, exciting product on the field.
With some help from Amerson (it is a bit more difficult to go through your progressions when you are forced to ignore half the field for fear of a pick), the State pass rush was merciless last night, but a quickly maturing Teddy Bridgewater continued to pick himself up off the ground and (try to) make plays. (Granted, there were times when he reacted slowly to the blitz and missed what could have been an open receiver; still, he's a freshman.) Young Cardinals like running back Dominique Brown, receiver Eli Rogers, Adrian Bushell and Marcus Smith looked great at times, too. We'll get into these teams' 2012 ceilings in the offseason, but let's just say the future looks quite a bit brighter for both teams than they did about 100 days ago.