CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Using stout defense and just enough offense to get the job done, North Carolina State capped its late-season rally with a 14-0 win over South Florida in the Meineke Car Care Bowl on Saturday.
Brian Clark caught a 9-yard touchdown pass and Andre Brown scored on a 1-yard run to lead the Wolfpack, who rallied from a 2-4 start to the season to close the year with three consecutive wins.
In all, N.C. State (7-5) won five of its final six games.
It was a disappointing end for upstart South Florida, which was playing in its first bowl in school history. The Bulls (6-6) launched their program nine years ago, moved up to Division I-A in 2001 and capped their first season in the Big East with a bowl bid.
But their 100th game ended in the first shutout in school history as the Bulls managed 295 yards total offense and failed to get Andre Hall -- the Big East's leading rusher -- into the end zone. Hall accounted for most of the offense, finishing with 118 yards rushing and two catches for 49 yards.
Credit the Wolfpack defense, particularly linebacker Stephen Tulloch, for stifling South Florida. Tulloch finished with 14 tackles -- five for a loss -- three sacks and a recovery of his own forced fumble to earn the MVP award.
Neither team played particularly well on offense or special teams, with a combined three missed field goals, a South Florida blocked punt, four fumbles and an interception in the end zone to end one of the Bulls' rare scoring threats.
So N.C. State got all it needed with its two touchdowns, both in the second quarter.
Toney Baker set up the first score with runs of 22 and 14 yards, allowing Marcus Stone to find Clark in the end zone. The Wolfpack actually ran the same play twice, with Clark making the first catch out of bounds before grabbing it the second time for the score.
Baker used a ton of short runs to set up the second score, then gave way to Brown for the touchdown. Baker finished with 93 yards rushing on 22 carries, while Brown had 51 yards on 12 carries.
South Florida spent the entire game just trying to get into the end zone, and had a great chance when Hall broke free for a 41-yard gain to put the Bulls in decent scoring range at the N.C. State 17.
But three bizarre play calls -- a run by seldom-used Ricky Ponton, followed by two bad passes -- ended the threat when Garland Heath intercepted Pat Julmiste in the end zone. It was a trend South Florida followed the entire game, trying to add variation to
an offense that really only has one weapon in Hall.
Anytime they tried to stray from involving Hall it backfired, especially during a brief quarterback change in the third quarter. With Julmiste struggling against the Wolfpack's defense, South Florida sent in freshman Carlton Hill to change the pace.
Only Hill fumbled the ball away to N.C. State on two consecutive plays. He lost the first one as he was sacked by Stephen Tulloch.
But South Florida got a break when the Wolfpack fumbled it back to them on the next possession -- only to see Hill give it away again on the very next play.
In the end, only two things worked for the Bulls: Putting the ball in Hall's hands, and a fake punt late in the fourth quarter that went for a 31-yard gain when holder Brandon Baker connected with S.J. Green. But that never led to a score as South Florida gained only one yard on four tries, leaving Hall angrily ripping off his chin straps as Julmiste was stopped on a futile fourth down run.