Dane Miller’s 2021 Holiday Bowl Preview

Posted on December 27, 2021

  By Dane Miller, SuperWest Sports

The Holiday Bowl kicks off a week featuring five Pac-12 bowl games, culminating in the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day.

The matchup at Petco Park in San Diego pits the Conference of Champions against the ACC for the first time in the bowl’s 43-year history.

I preview the matchup here, and the picks of our football writers appear at the bottom.

UCLA v. No. 18 North Carollina State

Petco Park, San Diego, CA
Tuesday, December 28
5:00 pm PT, Fox

Traveling 2,535 miles from Raleigh, the Wolfpack bring a high-powered passing attack to the West Coast. Jerry Azzinaro’s 4-2-5 scheme will be tested by NC State quarterback Devin Leary and the Wolfpack’s reliance on the pass.

Leary has 35 passing touchdowns on the season to go along with 3,433 yards through the air. And he has managed to put up prolific numbers without turning the ball over.

NC State’s Devin Leary | Grant Halverson/Getty Images

With just five interceptions on 431 passing attempts, the redshirt-sophomore could exploit UCLA’s defensive scheme.

On the ground, NC State splits carries between Zonovan Knight and Ricky Person Jr. The duo combine to average 115.8 yards rushing per game and have eight rushing touchdowns on the year.

The Wolfpack’s offense posts 33.1 points per night, while its defense holds opponents to 19.6 per game. The defensive strength produced victories over Clemson, Florida State, and North Carolina.

But NC State hasn’t faced the type of rushing offense that UCLA brings to the table. Dorian Thompson-Robinson is a difference-maker in Chip Kelly’s Run-Pass option scheme, where decision-making and accuracy is used to exploit defenses.

DTR has 30 total touchdowns on the season and over 3,000 total yards, with only six interceptions on 284 attempts. His nine rushing scores ranks second on the team, and the Bruins’ 36.5 points per game is 16th-best in the country.

UCLA’s Dorian Thompson-Robinson | Hearon W. Henderson / Getty Images

NC State has faced just one opponent this season that scores more per game.

UCLA gets it done with a three-pronged ground game: DTR, Zach Charbonnet, and Brittain Brown. The trio have 29 rushing TDs and combine to average over 200 yards rushing per night.

But if NC State stacks the box to stop the run, Kyle Philips on the edge and Greg Dulcich in the slot have 15 combined touchdowns and over 1,450 yards receiving.

Pitting two high-scoring offenses against each other, the Holiday Bowl has the potential to be a barn-burner.

The Bruins are on a roll, rattling off three-straight wins including a historic beat down of USC. And the ACC is weak this year, with Clemson out of the Playoff and a slew of middling programs making up the bulk of the East Coast league.

The game at Petco Park is an important matchup for the Pac-12’s reputation, where the key to a UCLA victory could be Azzinaro’s 4-2-5 scheme against Leary.

If the Bruins get pressure on Leary and don’t give up chunk plays over the top, UCLA should come away with a win.

SportsPac12 Bowl Game Picks

Up Next

Dec 29, Alamo Bowl: Oregon vs. Oklahoma
Dec 30, Las Vegas Bowl: ASU vs. Wisconsin
Dec 31, Sun Bowl: Washington State vs. Miami – Canceled
Jan 1, Rose Bowl: Utah vs. Ohio State

—More from Dane Miller—