When No. 18 NC State and UCLA meet in Tuesday’s Holiday Bowl in San Diego, both teams will have a chance to reach a rare plateau. A victory for the Wolfpack (9-3) would get them to 10 victories for the first time since 2002, when they finished 11-3 with Phillip Rivers at quarterback. UCLA (8-4) can reach nine wins for the first time since 2014 if it can notch its first bowl victory since that same season.
Those bigger-picture program goals should be enough to motivate both squads as they play each other for the first time since 1960. UCLA has played in the Holiday Bowl once before, back in 2012, when it lost 49-26 to Baylor. But this will be NC State’s first appearance in the game. It’s a chance for both teams to end long droughts in postseason games.
The Wolfpack last won a bowl in 2017 when they knocked Arizona State in the Sun Bowl, while the Bruins last won a bowl after the 2014 season when they beat Kansas State in the Alamo Bowl. For both, a victory here would likely be enough to earn them a spot in the final AP poll after each has finished on the outside looking in every season since their last bowl victories.
UCLA vs. NC State: Need to know
UCLA’s run game: The Bruins rank 15th nationally with an average of 215.1 yards rushing per game. Both Zach Charbonnet and Brittain Brown are averaging more than 5.5 yards per carry, and quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson is a threat with his legs as well. It will be a great battle in the trenches when UCLA has the football, as the Wolfpack defense ranks 24th nationally in yards allowed per game at 124.
NC State’s pass game: NC State’s passing attack, led by quarterback Devin Leary, ranks 19th nationally at 288.4 yards per game, and it should be a huge advantage in this game. UCLA ranks 111th nationally in yards passing allowed per game at 260.2. The Wolfpack’s top target is senior receiver Emeka Emezie, who is a physical option for Leary on the outside.
Special teams battle: UCLA ranks seventh nationally in kickoff return average and second in punt return average, while NC State ranks first in kickoff return average and 48th in punt return average. Both squads have benefitted from big plays on special teams this season, and a huge return could swing the momentum here. Kazmeir Allen is averaging 29.1 yards per kickoff return for UCLA, and his kick return for a touchdown in the third quarter of a win over USC last month helped the Bruins pull away. Kyle Phillips has also been lethal in the punt return game for the Bruins. Phillips has amassed 248 return yards on just nine attempts. That includes and 82-yard punt return for a touchdown against Colorado on Nov. 13 that served as an exclamation point for the Bruins’ 44-20 victory. Zonovan Knight ranks second nationally in yards per kickoff return at 34.4 for NC State and has run back two kicks for touchdowns this season.
How to watch Holiday Bowl live
Game: Holiday Bowl
Date: Tuesday, Dec. 28 | Time: 8 p.m. ET
Location: Petco Park — San Diego
TV: Fox | Live stream: fuboTV (Try for free)
Holiday Bowl prediction, picks
Featured Game | NC State Wolfpack vs. UCLA Bruins
The Wolfpack are motivated by the pursuit of their first 10-win season since 2002 and have a distinct advantage in the passing game here. The Wolfpack average nearly 300 yards per game through the air and should have no problem moving the football against a UCLA defense that gives up a ton of ground to opponents via the pass. Prediction: NC State (-1)
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