Miami Hurricanes vs Washington State Cougars (-3, 62 o/u)
A 58-0 loss to Clemson finally finished what disgruntled fans of the Miami Hurricanes (8-4, 5-3 ACC) started with sky banners; the team fired head coach Al Golden shortly after the embarrassing setback, replacing him with Larry Scott on an interim basis.
Now the big news out of South Beach is that former Georgia boss Mark Richt will take the reins, aiming to return the school to national relevance. But Miami will finish the season with Scott at the helm as they take on the Washington State Cougars (8-4, 6-3 Pac-12) in the Sun Bowl on Saturday, December 26 (2:00 PM Eastern in El Paso, Texas).
Though the 58-0 thrashing was the worst loss in Miami’s history, the season wasn’t a total disaster. The Canes took three straight to open the year and finished on a two-game win streak; three of their four losses came at the hands of top-25 teams, and they narrowly missed upsetting then-no. 12 Florida State in Tallahassee (29-24).
That said, the team was likely hoping for more from sophomore QB Brad Kaaya. A prototypical 6’4 pocket passer, Kaaya didn’t really build off his encouraging freshman season. While his completion rate was up (from 59-percent to 62) and his INTs were down (from 12 to just four), his touchdowns were also down (from 24 to just 15) and his yardage took a step back (though only by about 150 yards).
Not only will Richt have some work to do with his QB in the offseason, he is also taking over a middling defense that gave up nearly 30 points per game this year. After a week one shutout of Bethune-Cookman (45-0), Miami failed to hold another opponent under 20 PPG all season.
The Canes best win on the year came over then-no. 22 Duke (30-27). But that victory will forever live in infamy as it came on a last-second, eight-lateral quagmire that shouldn’t have counted. And Miami only needed the miracle play because it blew a 12-point lead with just over three minutes to play.
Scott and company will be facing a dangerous Cougars team come Saturday. Though Washington State was stunned by Portland State at home in its opener (24-17), the team rebounded by going 6-3 in Pac-12 play.
The Cougars were absolute road warriors this year, posting wins at then-no. 19 UCLA (30-27), Oregon (45-38), and Arizona (45-42). The Cougs nearly upset then-no. 24 Cal on the road, as well (24-20). They’re only other bad loss on the year came against rival Washington in the Apple Cup in the last game of the regular season (45-10), a setback that bumped them from the top-25 heading into bowl season.
The bulk of Washington State’s success this season can be attributed to the passing game. Sophomore QB Luke Falk led the Cougars to the top aerial attack in the nation (397 yards per game), leaning heavily on his two top wideouts, Gabe Marks (99 catches for 1,125 yards and 14 TDs) and Dom Williams (73 catches for 997 yards and 11 TDs).
Like Miami, the Cougar defense was torched on a regular basis, surrendering 30-plus points in nine of the team’s 12 games. It’s hard to blame the unit for the debacle in the Apple Cup, though. The offense turned the ball over seven times in the game (two picks, five fumbles), mustered just 319 yards of total offense, and held the ball for only 22 minutes.
According to teamrankings.com, Miami went 7-5 ATS on the year (4-2 road), while the Cougars were a solid 9-3 (including 5-1 road). With this game being played in Texas, it should feel like a road tilt for both squads.
The key matchup in this game is going to be the one-dimensional Cougar offense against the up-and-down Miami D. Unfortunately for Washington State, the Hurricanes are much better against the pass than they are against the run, limiting opponents to 196 YPG through the air. When Miami got beat badly this season, it was the ground game doing most of the damage; Clemson piled up 416 rush yards on the Canes, while UNC had 294.
Pick: Washington State (-3).
(Photo credit: UserB (Own work) [GFDL 1.2 (http://www.gnu.org/licenses/old-licenses/fdl-1.2.html)], via Wikimedia Commons.)