Independence Bowl prediction roundtable with the Campus Insiders staff. Breaking down what will happen between NC State and Vanderbilt.
I’m going with Vanderbilt, mainly because I like Derek Mason. The Commodores’ defense led by Zach Cunningham has been impressive at times, and I think it has enough to slow down Matt Dayes and the NC State offense. Give me Vandy in a tight one.
Everyone in this roundtable has praised Zach Cunningham effusively, and rightly so. The only thing wrong with his season was that Jonathan Allen existed. In any other year, Cunningham would have been SEC Defensive Player of the Year. His 119 tackles were 19 more than the closest challenger in the conference.
Completely unrelated to the prior paragraph: I wonder how much NC State fans are secretly ticked that the Wolfpack beat UNC in the season finale. Dave Doeren has been sufficiently mediocre during his tenure, and the Pack have never won more than three ACC games on his watch. Lose to the Tar Heels and he’s probably out the door. Now it’s likely another year of mediocrity in 2017. There’s a strong Mike London/John Bunting feel to him.
Vandy takes this one.
That Vandy defense is no joke. Zach Cunningham is a one-man wrecking crew. And Ralph Webb is highly undervalued with his ability to tote the rock. However, I believe the Wolfpack has the better tailback in this matchup. Matt Dayes is an absolute monster, and he’s going to find creases in the Vandy defense all day long. He’ll punch the ball across the goal line twice, and Ryan Finley will be careful with the football — for the most part. NC State wins this one.
The Commodores have an intriguing matchup in their first bowl game under head coach Derek Mason. Quarterback Kyle Shurmur will only continue to improve, while Ralph Webb may be one of the more underappreciated running backs in the country. Meanwhile, linebacker Zach Cunningham is a beast who should continue to thrive on the next level. Dave Doeren’s Wolfpack offense will need to be aware of Cunningham’s whereabouts throughout the contest. That ‘Pack offense has been a bit inconsistent and plagued by mistakes, which is one of the big reasons why it took until the regular season finale for this team to become eligible for the postseason. Matt Dayes became the school’s first 1,000-yard rusher since 2002, but quarterback Ryan Finley needs to play much cleaner. The ‘Dores will be excited for their postseason showcase, and Cunningham will shine once again in a three-point Vandy win.
If you have never watched Vanderbilt linebacker Zach Cunningham play, please do yourself a favor and sit down and take this one in. He’s a force to be reckoned with, and creates so much chaos that it will leave you in awe. You know who else is underrated? Vanderbilt running back Ralph Webb, who is a bruiser. The Commodores win this one, and Derek Mason celebrates by trolling Tennessee.