This is part of a new series of articles looking back at the last time WVU faced off against this season’s opponents. This week is NC State
WVU 7, NC State 23
Location: Orlando, FL
Date: December 28, 2010
Despite hitting the 9-win threshold for a third consecutive year under Bill Stewart, WVU’s appearance in the Champ Sports Bowl felt lackluster before it ever kicked off. The Mountaineers had entered the season as heavy favorites to win the league outright in what would be their penultimate season in the Big East, and though we technically had finished in a three way tie, UConn was awarded the league’s BCS berth, having topped the Mountaineers in overtime earlier in the season.
The feeling was particularly acute because of how stout WVU’s defense had been, allowing twenty points or more only twice all season and leading the country in numerous categories while the offense had seemingly regressed in three years under Jeff Mullen. Privately tensions between Stewart and new athletic director Oliver Luck had been growing over, among other things, the inability to win the league outright. According to some sources, in the lead up to the bowl game, Luck had given Stewart a pointed ultimatum: get rid of Mullen or else to which Stewart had refused. In response, WVU announced on December 15, 2010 that Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen would become coach-in-waiting during the 2011-2012 season with Stewart transitioning to an administrative role after the conclusion of the next season.
With that in the backdrop, WVU headed to Orlando to face a rebounding NC State team under future NFL star Russell Wilson.
The Mountaineers and the Wolfpack had met nine times before, with WVU holding a narrow 5-4 advantage. Two of those meetings came during the Bobby Bowden era when they met in the 1972 and 1975 Peach Bowls; the most recent had been a 14-38 WVU drubbing in Morgantown in the twilight of the Frank Cignetti era.
As had been the story of the season, WVU’s offense struggled early and often while the defense did its best to hold back the flood gates. Down seven in the second quarter, WVU found rhythm and Geno Smith led them on an 8 play, 64 yard drive capped off by a 32-yard bomb to Stedman Bailey to level the score with just over two minutes left in the half.
Wilson led the Wolfpack on a short drive to get them within field goal range where Josh Czajkowski would hit the first of four field goals to give NC State the lead at halftime. WVU would only seriously threaten that lead once in the second half (a missed FG with the score 13-7) as NC State continued to dominate possession and WVU’s offense turned the ball over four times in the second half, and had only one drive of longer than 40 yards (which ended in an interception.)
WVU’s running backs combined for only 10 of the team’s 25 rushing attempts, with Noel Devine having just 8 carries for 50 yards. Geno Smith led the team with 12 carries for 59 yards.Smith’s passing wasn’t much better. He was 22-39 for 196 yards with a touchdown and an interception.
Wilson, meanwhile, managed 275 yards on 28-45 passing, with two touchdowns despite being sacked five times.
Player of the Game: Russell Wilson
Significance: Following the ugly loss, tensions continued to build inside the program between Holgorsen and Stewart culminating in Stewart’s forced resignation in June. For NC State, it would be the last time Wilson would play for the Wolfpack with a slightly bizarre offseason drama over his intention to play professional baseball that ultimately ended with him playing the 2011 season for Bret Bielema and Wisconsin.
Trivia: WVU has never won what is now known as the Camping World Bowl having played in the contest five times in four different iterations. In addition to the 2010 loss to NC State in the Champ Sports Bowl, WVU lost to South Carolina and Georgia Tech in what was then the Carquest Bowl in 1995 and 1997, then lost to Miami in the 2016 Russell Athletic Bowl, and, most recently, lost to Syracuse in the 2018 Camping World Bowl.
Series Record: 5-5