SHREVEPORT, La. (AP) — North Carolina State quarterback Ryan Finley has a simple philosophy when it comes to getting do-everything threat Jaylen Samuels involved with the offense.
“Just give him the ball in as many ways as possible,” Finley said.
The method of choice on Monday was by air, and Finley found Samuels for three touchdowns passes in North Carolina State’s 41-17 win over Vanderbilt in the Independence Bowl.
North Carolina State (7-6) won three of its final four games to finish with a winning record. The Wolfpack built a 28-3 lead by midway through the third quarter — largely thanks to Samuels’ touchdown catches of 9, 55 and 17 yards — and then held off a brief Vanderbilt rally.
Samuels was named the game’s Most Valuable Player on offense and his three touchdown catches were an Independence Bowl record. Finley, who completed 19 of 30 passes for 235 yards, hit Samuels six times for 104 yards.
North Carolina State coach Dave Doeren said Samuels’ big night wasn’t necessarily planned, but when Vanderbilt loaded the defense to stop the run, he was the man who was open. The 5-foot-11, 223-pound junior often has had an unorthodox role on the offense and is listed as a tight end and fullback.
“We were just taking what they were giving us,” Doeren said. “And then our receivers did a great job of blocking for him.”
Vanderbilt (6-7) had a lot of momentum going into the game thanks to surprising wins over Mississippi and Tennessee to end the regular season. But the Commodores’ offense — which scored a combined 83 points against the Rebels and Volunteers — struggled for most of the night.
“We looked a little rusty,” coach Derek Mason said. “All the way around — special teams, offense and defense. We just didn’t look like the Vanderbilt team that came out of the regular season.”
Vanderbilt’s Kyle Shurmur completed just 19 of 46 passes for 158 yards and three interceptions.
“There’s a fine line between being aggressive and careless,” Shurmur said. “And I crossed it a few times.”
Even so, the Commodores briefly made things interesting, closing to 28-17 early in the fourth quarter. But that’s when NC State’s Nyheim Hines responded with a 100-yard touchdown on a kickoff return to put the game out of reach.
Vanderbilt: The Commodores’ offense took a step backward after some late-season improvement. Veteran running back Ralph Webb had another nice game with 111 yards rushing and a touchdown, but Shurmur’s struggles throwing the ball were too much to overcome.
NC State: The Wolfpack end a frustrating season with an impressive win. They were fantastic on defense for most of the night and the Finley-to-Samuels connection couldn’t be stopped by Vanderbilt.
WEBB BREAKS RECORD, SAYS HE’S COMING BACK
Webb’s 111 yards rushing gave him a school-record 1,283 yards for the season. The junior, who already is Vanderbilt’s career rushing leader, said during the postgame press conference that he plans to return for his senior season.
North Carolina State’s Airius Moore was named the game’s defensive MVP after leading the Wolfpack with nine tackles, including two sacks.