LOUISVILLE CARDINALS (11-1, 7-1 AAC) vs. MIAMI HURRICANES (9-3, 5-3 ACC)
Game Time: 6:45 p.m.
Location: Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium: Orlando, Fla.
Announcers: Bob Wischusen (play-by-play), Rod Gilmore (analyst) and Quint Kessenich (sideline)
Favorite: Louisville by 4.5
All-Time Series: Miami leads 9-1-1
Last Meeting: Louisville won 31-7 on Sept. 16, 2006 inside Papa John's Cardinal Stadium
Louisville's Bowl History:
Miami's offenses have always done one thing very well: Make big plays. Southern Florida is rich with speedy kids and lots of them prefer to stay home and play in front of friends and family. The Hurricanes have had some down years recently but they still always managed to find guys that can take the top off a defense. This year is no different. Going through game film, you can't help but marvel at the amount of big throws Stephen Morris has made to streaking wide receivers. Stacy Coley has turned a handful of quick screens into mind-blowing touchdowns. Duke Johnson always seemed to be running behind a wall of blockers on his way to a big run before his injury. This offense utilizes it's speed better than anyone Louisville has faced this year.
The Hurricanes run a pro-style offense with an Ace set as it's primary formation. The offense rarely uses a fullback and for the most part you will only see one tight end on the field at a time. The success of the offensive line has allowed the offense to run the ball efficiently without bringing in extra blockers. This gives the offense the ability to keep its speedy group of receivers on the field pretty much all the time.
Miami will run the ball out of any set. They really like the stretch run to the right or sweep runs out of shotgun. The goal is to get their athletic line in space against your smaller guys. They do a really good job running those plays to the right because Brandon Linder and Shane McDermott do such a great job of getting to the second level and getting out in front of their running backs. Seantrel Henderson and Clive Walford really do well crashing down on edge runs as well as kicking out to create the crease on stretches.
One thing that Miami is really missing with Duke Johnson out is a back that knows how to run with patience. Johnson gained trust in his line and really did a great job with taking his time letting blocks develop before using his burst to get to the next level of the defense. Dallas Crawford is still learning the position and this is an area where he struggles a bit. He is a wrecking ball type of back that likes to get the ball and go. That doesn't really work with the blocking schemes that Miami uses and it leads to him getting stuffed a lot.
The offensive line is the key to everything this offense does and it really does a great job at holding blocks. Miami's play action game is very, very good. Morris typically has all day to make a good fake and take his time setting his feet to get the ball down the field. Offensive Coordinator James Coley likes to move Morris around, also. He will roll Morris out for easy dump offs to the tight end as well as deep crosses to slot receivers.
What really works for this offense is getting receivers in single coverage. The success of the run game has really opened up the playbook as the season has gone on. Even without Duke Johnson for the last handful of games, Morris and his receivers have been able to get themselves into single coverage situations and Morris has done a good job of recognizing the coverage and getting the ball to the open man. James Coley has done a really good job of getting the ball to Stacy Coley in space, too. Coley has made a few monster plays on a simple quick screen where he lines up as the inside slot in trips and Morris just gets the snap and quickly throws it to him. Coley is able to make the catch and use his athleticism and unreal speed to score.
Matchups are key for any offense, but this offense lives off of getting your defense to react to what it is doing well. If the running game gets going it forces the defense to put a safety on the slot receiver and that's never going to work. Phillip Dorsett will run past any safety you put in front of him and even worse, you're now playing one safety high with three receivers that can absolutely fly. That's a ton of pressure to put on your corners and your pass rush has to get to Morris now. The speed out wide really can cause issues for a defense.
What Louisville will have to do to stop this offense is to take away it's ground attack. Miami is terrible on third down and Morris has a major issue with forcing the ball into tight coverage. Throw in the fact that he doesn't do well with pressure in his face and Louisville's aggressive defense is exactly what Miami doesn't want to see.
In order to stop the run Calvin Pryor and Hakeem Smith have to do well in run support. Shooting gaps to cut down edge runs will be extremely important. Louisville's defense has been unbelievable up the middle and that shouldn't change Saturday. Bottling up the running game should force a good amount of third and longs. Miami doesn't have a strong short passing game to assist it's running game if it struggles. They also have absolutely no clue how to slow down and bleed the clock. They are 118th in the country in time of possession and they aren't a high tempo offense like the other teams that surround them in that category.
Louisville's aggression will be something that is somewhat new for Miami. Florida is the closest thing Miami has seen to Louisville. They were only able to put up a little over 200 yards against that group. Miami has seen defenses with more talent this year, but not one that blitzes as much as Vance Bedford's group does. Coley should use more screen passes in hopes to have those blitzes backfire, but Smith and Pryor are both veteran guys that do a great job of diagnosing plays and reacting accordingly. This game could end up being a very nice chess match.
MIAMI KEY PLAYERS: QB Stephen Morris, RG Brandon Linder, WR Allen Hurns, WR Stacy Coley
One of the most telling factoids I found in my research for the game Saturday is that Miami only had one player that garnered any postseason recognition on it's defense. It also stood out to me that the defense will only start three players on defense that were rated as 4 or 5 star talents coming out of high school. The NCAA issues Miami has been dealing with have really impacted the level of talent Miami has been able to land and it shows most on the defensive side of the ball. This defense has gashed all season and it will really have to step up for the final game of the season if it wants to stop Teddy and his deep group of receivers.
Miami's base defense is a 4-3 over with the ability to switch to a 3-4. They can line up with 4 good sized defensive linemen with with their hand on the ground or defensive endShayon Green can play standing up. Miami has a lot of different rotation guys that come in for specific packages like Tyriq McCord, who excels at rushing the passer. Instead of rolling out a nickel package when teams have spread them out this year, Defensive Coordinator Mark D'Onofrio likes to go with a 3-4 set with zone blitzes and stunts to get after the quarterback.
I've watched every team Louisville has played this year and I can honestly say that Miami's defense was the hardest to figure out. They do so many different things and none of it seems to work well. They zone blitz. The defensive line stunts in passing situations. They disguise coverages with their corners. They drop defensive tackles into robber zones. It's like a bag of Chex Mix. Defenses typically have a niche. Miami still looks like it's trying to find out what kind of defense they are.
The defensive backfield of Miami does a good job of forcing turnovers. Their corners and safeties can run well and they take advantage of mistakes very well. They can press at the line, but they also do a great job in zone coverage when the quarterback is forced to throw in rhythm. They give a quarterback a certain look and bait him into throwing where he thinks there's an opening and there is always someone there to break on the ball. The issues arise when the opposing quarterback is allowed to sit in the pocket and wait for his deeper options to open up. Too many times this year, receivers are making catches with a linebacker or defensive back trailing behind because they have had the time to run through an open zone. However, there have been plenty of times a corner or linebacker has been waiting for an easy interception because all of the movement has confused a quarterback. It's a catch twenty two.
Miami's lack of penetration from it's defensive line has made it's run defense awful at all three levels. Offenses have been able to open gaping holes which leaves second and third level players in one-on-one situations. That's not ideal for anyone. If you can't gang tackle at the college level your defense will have a lot of missed tackles. It's a ripple effect that has caused tons of issues for Miami. Duke ran for 358 yards a few games back and only lost a total of 12 yards on 52 carries. 10 of those yards came on a sack. The defense was absolutely dominated and it all started up front. Duke backs weren't being touched until they were six or seven yards down the field.
The thing that really stood out to me in that Duke game was that Miami didn't have the depth to respond to what Duke was doing. They couldn't rotate fresh bodies in to try to stop the run. They only have three defensive tackles and all of their backups on defense are young guys that haven't had time to add the bulk needed to compete in the ACC. When things go bad for this defense, they snowball and there's not much D'Onofrio can do to stop it.
Louisville will more than likely look to control the clock in this game. Miami's offense is explosive and Louisville will want to keep them off of the field. The lack of depth on defense also plays into Louisville's hand. Dominique Brown and Senorise Perry will need to have big games for this game to not become a shootout. The emotions of the game will be high with so many players looking to prove themselves against former high school rivals. If Miami's defense is able to gain some confidence it will go a very long way. The quickest way for that to happen is for them to be successful in an area in which they have struggled. If Denzel Perryman and his group of linebackers can get some stops at the line or even behind it, Louisville could be in for a long day.
Louisville's pass protection has been lacking in the second half of the season and Miami's pressure has been about the same. Whichever team can change this trend will have a major advantage. Miami's zone blitzes could cause timing issues for Bridgewater, but if he's not forced to drop his eyes it won't matter. Teddy excels at progressing through his reads and using his legs to extend plays. He has a great understanding with his receivers and they all know just what to do when a play extends past that five second mark. Miami has been victimized all year by quarterbacks that have had all day to throw the ball and outside of Jameis Winston, they haven't seen anyone on the level of Bridgewater. Louisville will nickel and dime it's way down the field and wear out this thin defense if the defense fails to get to Teddy.
MIAMI KEY PLAYERS: LB Denzel Perryman, DE Anthony Chickillo, CB Tracy Howard, S Deon Bush
Excitement Level: 9.4
I'm too wrapped up in a whirlwind of emotions to accurately gauge this, but I think this is a pretty reasonable guess.
Pregame Meal: Buffalo chicken dip, some other appetizers and probably ordering pizza
I will also be consuming an alcoholic beverage or 85 depending how the day goes.
Game Attire: Red Louisville Football shirt under long-sleeved white U of L shirt under new red U of L zip-up. Jeans, red and white Cardinal bird hat, red Cardinal bird shoes
Going with a Christmas gift as the main article of apparel. Always a huge risk, but I'm feeling it.
Bold Prediction: Louisville fakes a punt
Last game of the season and we haven't seen one of these all year. Said the same thing before the Cincinnati game, just had to remove the word "regular" before season.
Throws for 700 yards and eight touchdowns before taking the mic and softly singing "I Will Always Love You" to declare for the draft.
Griffin Uhl Playing Alert Level: Spring Green (weaker than the carding policy at The Bait Shop)
--Louisville is 8-8-1 all-time in bowl games, and has won in three of its last four postseason appearances.
--Miami is 18-16 all-time in bowl games, and 11-5 in bowl games played in the state of Florida. This will be their first postseason appearance since the 2010 Sun Bowl.
--This game pits two programs built by legendary college football coach Howard Schnellenberger. Schnellenberger coached the Miami for ﬁve seasons (1979-83), posting a 41-16 record, and his tenure culminated with the 1983 National Championship. Two years later, Schnellenberger took over at Louisville, where he'd spend 10 seasons with the Cardinals (1985-94). He guided the Cardinals to unprecedented heights, claiming victories in both the Fiesta Bowl and the Liberty Bowl.
--Louisville will be the home team for today's game.
--The Cardinals have 26 players from Miami/Broward-Dade and Palm Beach County on their current roster.
--Since a 45-26 loss to Syracuse on Nov. 10 last season, the Cardinals have won their last seven games away from Papa John's Cardinal Stadium.
--Louisville is out-scoring the opposition 82-16 in the first half and 23-7 in the third quarter.
--WR Allen Hurns needs just 19 yards to set the Miami single-season receiving record. He is only the fourth player in the history of The U to eclipse the 1,000-yard receiving mark in a season.
--Miami quarterback Stephen Morris is the only QB in FBS with a pass of 50+ yards in nine different games this season. Morris also leads the FBS with three passes of 80+ yards.
--Louisville is 22-3 over the past two seasons, the fifth-best record in the country over that span.
--Teddy Bridgewater is three touchdowns shy of setting a new U of L record for touchdown passes in a season.
--Louisville has allowed just six first quarter points this season.
--Miami enters today's game ranked No. 25 in the coaches' poll. Louisville is 5-0 against teams ranked in the coaches' poll under the direction of Charlie Strong, and has covered the spread in all five games. Interestingly, all five of those games have been played away from home.
--Louisville is 11-1 under Charlie Strong when favored in games played away from home.
--Miami has not won a bowl game since 2006.
--When scoring 20 points or more in a game under the direction of Charlie Strong, the Cardinals' record is 35-7. Louisville is also 24-3 under Strong when holding opponents to 20 or fewer points.
--Dating back to 1980, Louisville is 142-15 when scoring 30 or more points in a game.
--"A lot of the guys have played against each other in youth leagues and a lot of them have grown up together. There will be a lot of talking going on. We are going to have to manage that talking and make sure it doesn't get out of hand. Our players are really excited to be here." --Charlie Strong
--"We're grateful for the opportunity to go to the Russell Athletic Bowl, to play in Orlando, and let our kids experience the sites and attractions and the community in Orlando, and get a great opponent in Louisville. Our kids are excited, I think they're grateful. They've been through a lot the past two years, and they have not been able to have this opportunity." --Miami coach Al Golden
--"They have a great defense, fast and physical. They get to the quarterback very well and they do a great job of scheming up different offenses and exposing their weaknesses, and in the secondary I think they have a great player No. 25 (Pryor), he's done a lot of great things for them. Their defensive line gets to the quarterback, their linebackers are big and they can run the length of the field, so it's going to be a great challenge for us." --Miami QB Stephen Morris
--"To be honest, this is probably the best offense we have faced since I've been at the University of Louisville. They have big play-makers in the quarterback and running back position, and even the tight end gets the ball and can make things happen with it. We just have to be sound and read our keys and make plays on the ball." --Calvin Pryor
--"Of course there's going to be trash-talking. There's going to be a lot of stuff.'' --Miami CB Tracy Howard
--"We are playing a quality opponent. We are playing an opponent that now we are going into the ACC, will be on our schedule next season. It's going to be a measuring stick at just how far we need to go and just how much better we need to get." --Charlie Strong
--"Just going back to when I was a kid, I always watch those teams and I never thought that when I went to the University of Louisville that I would play two Florida teams in back-to-back bowl games." --Damian Copeland
--"I don't worry about the ones you don't get. I worry about the ones you get." --Miami coach Al Golden
--"I feel that I'm ready, but I also feel that I'm not. It can go either way. You always have areas that you can improve. Like I said, after this game I will just evaluate everything." --Teddy Bridgewater
--"You can always imagine getting sacks, but you have to go out there and perform. I'm doing a lot of film study about the strengths and weaknesses of their offensive line and then hopefully that moment can come for me. This is my first bowl game, the first bowl game for a lot of people, so we want to make a good statement." --Miami DE Tyriq McCord
--"It was a huge wow factor once I heard we were playing the University of Miami because I am from Miami. What a way to finish this season." --Teddy Bridgewater
--"I came here to become a better man, and with Teddy's help, I have. He's a positive, humble guy, and he's taught me to be humble. Football is like paradise to us. When we step on the field, we don't worry about anything." --Eli Rogers
--"Playing in the ACC, it's always a tough conference no matter who the team is or no matter what the opponent is, you never know what could happen. To pull 10 wins out, that would be great, something that we've always set at the beginning of the season." --Miami QB Stephen Morris
--"I can remember that first game we put (Teddy) in. The ball kind of fluttered out of his hand. I thought, ‘Oh my god, is my man any good at all?'" --Charlie Strong
--"We know we still have a long ways to go, but this is going to be a measuring stick for us as we go into the ACC next season. We'll just see how far we have to go." --Charlie Strong
CC Prediction: Louisville 30, Miami 27
This group has consistently risen to the occasion since they've been here. It's time to do it once more.