InsideTheACC: Previewing The Independence Bowl

Miami (6-6) and South Carolina (6-6) both entered the season with higher aspirations, but will be left to tangle in the Independence Bowl.

Miami Offense

  • Scoring offense: 29.9 PPG (60th nationally)
  • Passing offense: 251.1 YPG (46th nationally)
  • Rushing offense: 179.9 YPG (52nd nationally)
  • Total offense: 431 YPG (49th nationally)

Brad Kaaya emerged from an uncertain quarterback situation during summer camp and had a phenomenal freshman season for Miami. Kaaya showed the poise and pocket presence rare in even veteran quarterbacks and had the Hurricanes up 23-7 over Florida State before the defending champions rallied for the win. Kaaya finished the season throwing for 2,962 yards with 25 touchdowns and a quarterback rating of 148.2. He also threw just 11 interceptions, a great mark for a true freshman. Two of his offensive weapons, tight end Clive Walford and Herb Waters will miss the bowl game with injuries, but Kaaya still has some viable options. Senior receiver Phillip Dorsett only caught 31 passes, but lead the Canes in receiving yards with 826 and touchdowns with nine. Junior running back Duke Johnson also continued to be one of the best dual-threat backs in college football, catching 33 passes for 370 yards and three touchdowns.

On the ground Johnson has also put his name in the same category as Hurricane greats Clinton Portis, Willis McGahee, Edgerrin James and Ottis Anderson. Johnson rushed for 1,520 yards with 10 touchdowns while also passing Santana Moss for most all-purpose yards and Anderson for most rushing yards in school history. Johnson will decide after the bowl game if he will return for his senior season or depart for the NFL draft. Should he declare for the NFL, freshman Joseph Yearby showed his potential as a possible replacement. Yearby rushed for 489 yards and a touchdown in limited action (80 carries) for the Hurricanes.

Miami Defense and Special teams

  • Scoring defense: 24.3 PPG (43rd nationally)
  • Passing defense: 184.1 YPG (9th nationally)
  • Rushing defense: 143.8 YPG (38th nationally)
  • Total defense: 327.6 YPG (14th nationally)

The Miami defense had a bounce back season from 2013, lead by senior linebacker Denzel Perryman. Perryman recorded 102 tackles, two sacks and an interception en route to becoming an All-American. Perryman was joined by a solid group of linebackers in sophomore Jermaine Grace and senior Thurston Armbrister who recorded 57 and 53 tackles respectively. The unit upfront is lead by third-generation Hurricane, lineman Anthony Chickillo. The senior was key to the Miami run defense, collecting 38 tackles and two interceptions.

The Miami secondary quietly put together a top 10 effort this season, despite not having any true standout players or major statistical achievements. Senior Nantambu-Akil Fentress lead the secondary in tackles with 51 and junior Deon Bush was just behind with 48. Bush, who also had a pair of sacks and interceptions recently declared his intention to remain with the Hurricanes for his senior season. Ladarius Gunter also had two interceptions, tying with Bush for the team lead in his final season at Miami.

Sophomore receiver Stacy Coley handled both kickoff and punt return duties for Miami. He returned 24 kickoffs for 541 yards and 15 punts for 105 yards. Freshman kicker Michael Badgley had an up-and-down first season at Miami, converting 12 of his 15 field goal attempts but missing four extra points. Sophomore Justin Vogel maintained a 43.7 yard average on 49 punts for the Hurricanes.

South Carolina Offense

  • Scoring offense: 33.3 PPG (37th nationally)
  • Passing offense: 281.4 YPG (21st nationally)
  • Rushing offense: 169.4 YPG (59th nationally)
  • Total offense: 450.8 YPG (32nd nationally)

Despite South Carolina’s struggles this season, quarterback Dylan Thompson put together a solid campaign for the Gamecocks. The gunslinging senior threw for 3,280 yards with 24 touchdowns, 11 interceptions and a 139.25 quarterback rating — a similar stat line to his Miami counterpart Brad Kaaya. Thompson’s favorite target was receiver Pharoh Cooper, who emerged as the team’s top threat on offense in his sophomore season. Cooper lead in almost all receiving categories for the Gamecocks, with team highs in receptions (60), yards (966) and touchdowns (8) while also boasting a nice 16 yard average per catch. Across from Cooper was senior Nick Jones, who played well, but was often overshadowed by the younger receiver. Jones was good for 490 yards and five scores on 39 receptions, and was often a dangerous threat for teams that focused too heavily on Cooper.

Junior running backs Mike Davis and Brandon Wilds combined to match the total number of yards that Miami’s Duke Johnson put up, which both speaks to how good Johnson is as well as the struggles of the Gamecocks to find a single dominant runner. In any event, the duo was effective together averaging 169 rushing yards per game. Davis led the way with 927 yards and nine touchdowns on 186 carries. Wilds number was called on less, only 101 times, and finished with 567 rushing yards plus four scores.

South Carolina Defense and Special teams

  • Scoring defense: 31.2 PPG (93rd nationally)
  • Passing defense: 219.2 YPG (54th nationally)
  • Rushing defense: 214.4 YPG (109th nationally)
  • Total defense: 433.6 YPG (93rd nationally)

The days of Jadeveon Clowney carrying the South Carolina defense are gone and the Gamecocks have struggled to adjust, dropping to 93rd in total defense this season. Sophomore linebacker Skai Moore lead South Carolina in tackles for the second consecutive season with 82, and showed great improvement over 2013. Fellow linebacker Jonathan Walton also showed marked improvement in his second season, increasing his tackle total from eight to 57. Opposing quarterbacks had a lot more time in the pocket this season as the team only had a combined 12 sacks. To put that into perspective, a year ago the departed Kelcy Quarles and Clowney combined for 12.5 sacks. In 2014 only lineman Gerald Dixon had two sacks to lead the team.

Senior defensive back Brison Williams was one of the leaders of the South Carolina secondary, coming up with four interceptions (team leader) and 33 tackles. Joining Williams was secondary teammate T.J. Gurley who improved on his 30 tackles a season ago with 80, leading all defensive backs in that category. While the run defense for the Gamecocks has been dismal, the pass defense has been able to hold its own, keeping South Carolina from being one of the worst defenses in the nation this year.

Junior Shon Carson didn’t see much action at his native running back position, finishing with only 141 yards, but he did bring out 30 kickoffs for South Carolina, for an average of 20 yards per return. Pharoh Cooper handled the bulk of punt returns, which saw him average 5.57 yards on 14 returns. Sophomore kicker Elliott Fry was perfect on extra points, but missed five of his 22 field goal attempts. Tyler Hull finished with a nice punting average of 41.2 after being called on 38 times.

Outlook and Prediction

This game features two schools that could have been much more this season, but settled for .500 records. Both teams are capable of filling up the scoreboard, but the difference on defense plus Duke Johnson’s ability to exploit South Carolina’s poor run-stopping should make the difference.

Miami 34 South Carolina 24

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