Here are three keys for NC State against Vanderbilt in today’s Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl (noon ET, ESPN):
1. Ignore the intangibles. This could be an emotional game for interim coach Dana Bible, who is working his first game as a head coach also knowing it will be his last at NC State. New coach Dave Doeren has already taken over and hired a new offensive coordinator and most of his staff, but Bible, a longtime friend of former Wolfpack coach Tom O'Brien, was tasked with coaching the bowl game. NC State also has to face a Vandy team which will essentially be playing in its own backyard. NC State and its coaches have to stay focused despite the awkward intangibles involved.
2. Win on third downs. Vanderbilt’s defense has been stingy this year, particularly on third downs. The Commodores are No. 12 in the country in third-down conversion defense, holding opponents to 30.9 percent. NC State, meanwhile has struggled on third downs this season, ranking No. 74 with a 38.9 percent conversion rate. The Pack has to be able to sustain drives against a unit that finished the regular season ranked among the top 20 in the nation in scoring defense, total defense and pass defense. NC State quarterback Mike Glennon is going to have to be sharp.
3. Stop the run. In each of NC State’s past three losses, the Wolfpack allowed more than 200 rushing yards. The Pack’s rushing defense has been average at best this year, and Vandy will present another challenge. All-SEC running back and school career rushing leader Zac Stacy finished fifth in the league with 1,034 rushing yards.