Russell Athletic Bowl Preview
West Virginia Mountaineers vs Miami Hurricanes
An old Big East rivalry will resume on December 28 with West Virginia and Miami meeting in Orlando for the Russell Athletic Bowl (Enter Contest). These two teams have not played since 2003. The Mountaineers have lost six in a row in their all-time series against the Hurricanes.
West Virginia heavily recruits the state of Florida, so an appearance in this game against Miami is a good showcase for coach Dana Holgorsen’s program. The Mountaineers are coming off their best win total (10) since joining the Big 12. Holgorsen was inked to a long-term contract following the regular season finale against Baylor. Quarterback Skyler Howard (26 TDs) took a step forward in his development, but the Mountaineers also have a solid collection of running backs and a standout offensive line.
Mark Richt’s return to his alma mater was a much-needed stabilizing force for Miami and better days are ahead for this program. Quarterback Brad Kaaya and running back Mark Walton will test a West Virginia defense that limits opponents to 5.6 yards per play. Keep an eye on the turnover battle. In two losses this year, the Mountaineers were minus-six in margin. Miami was plus-eight for the season and finished the year with positive or even turnover margins in five straight games.
ABOUT WEST VIRGINIA (10-2, 7-2 Big 12)
The Mountaineers rank No. 12 in FBS in total offense (506.9 yards per game) with a balanced attack behind Howard (3,194 yards passing, 60.8 percent, 26 touchdown passes). They also have a backfield that had four different players rush for more than 100 yards in a game. Justin Crawford leads the group with 1,168 yards, 7.4 yards per carry and four TDs. Howard, who is also a running threat, has a trio of dangerous receivers in Daikiel Shorts Jr. (58 receptions, 833 yards), Ka’Raun White (48, 583) and game-breaking Shelton Gibson (40, 927, 23.2 yards per reception). All-American senior cornerback Rasul Douglas, who had eight of the team’s 14 interceptions, is the leader of a unit that ranked No. 3 in total defense (but only No. 79 in FBS) in the offensive-minded Big 12 (431.2 yards per game).
ABOUT MIAMI (8-4, 5-3 ACC)
Kaaya (3,250 yards, 61.2 percent, 23 touchdowns) played his best at the end of the season. He benefited from improved protection from his line, the emergence of explosive freshman wide receiver Ahmmon Richards (46 receptions, 866 yards, 18.8 yards per reception) and the improved play of tight end David Njoku (38, 654, 17.2), who caught seven TD passes. The offensive line’s re-emergence after being dominated during the losing streak also helped. Walton (1,065 yards, 5.5 yards per carry, 14 TDs) and Joe Yearby (592, 6.0) provided balance in the final four wins. With four freshmen in their front seven, Miami’s defense held nine foes to 21 points or fewer.