The similarities between this year's Russell Athletic Bowl and last year's Sugar Bowl are few and far between. Florida had an absolutely unreal amount of talent and production last year while Miami is still recovering from NCAA sanctions that have caused a reliance on youth at some positions. The defensive backfield is the most obvious evidence of that reliance. Miami will likely start four sophomore defensive backs Saturday with one senior as a part of the rotation.
Louisville's wide receivers will line up against the best corner they have seen this year on Saturday. Tracy Howard was ranked as the number two ranked cornerback coming out of high school last year and he has already developed into a really good cover corner. I wouldn't call him a "shutdown" corner, but that's mostly because teams just avoid him. Miami likes to press and Howard has the speed and competitiveness to play with any of Louisville's receivers. He is somewhat of a smaller player, so he could struggle with a big receiver like DeVante Parker. One thing is for sure though, he won't back down to the challenge.
A neck injury could keep normal starter LaDarius Gunter out for the bowl game which would leave Antonio Crawford as the probable starter opposite Howard. Crawford is a lanky guy that has been picked on a bit by opposing offenses due to his lack of experience. He has played very well as a nickel back and as someone that is used in the normal rotation. He's not on the level of Howard or Gunter but he is a better tackler than both. Teddy doesn't typically shy away from anyone, but he might find that his receivers have more space against Crawford.
Miami's tackling issues aren't just an issue for the linebackers. The Hurricane's safeties have looked terrible at times in the open field. Rayshawn Jenkins has been made to look fairly silly at times when facing running backs that make it to the third level. Jenkins is excellent in coverage as a deep safety and he covers a ton of ground, but he leaves much to be desired from a tackling standpoint. He does get plenty of opportunities due to the poor tackling from the linebackers.
Deon Bush was a big time prospect that I really hoped Louisville could have landed last year. He was a high school teammate and good friend of Cardinal running back Brandon Radcliff, but he chose to stay home and play for the Hurricanes. He made the right choice as he was a starter for most of the season last year and he is ending this year as the starter at strong safety. He is a well rounded player that can play deep zone coverage if needed but he excels playing in the box. He has decent size and can run enough to be effective. He might have an issue if asked to run with Eli Rogers and the other slot receivers. They are shifty guys that could leave Bush in the trail position a lot.
Miami likes to play man coverage as much as possible. They rightfully feel that they have better athletes and more speed than opposing offenses and they challenge you to beat them. More times than not this year, they have won that challenge and their defensive backfield has held tight. They don't get a ton of help from their pass rush and giving up yards after the catch has been an issue for the defense as a whole. One thing that will always be indicative of a Miami defense is that they will turn you over in a heartbeat and they will have guys that can create points once they have the ball in their hands. Teddy Bridgewater doesn't make many mistakes and he will need to continue that trend because Miami has the types of guys that will turn a mistake into six points.