Sun Bowl Preview: Miami (FL) Vs. Washington St.

2015 Hyundai Sun Bowl

Saturday, December 26th, 2:00 PM ET on CBS

Miami (FL) Hurricanes 8-4 (5-3 ACC)

Miami_FLMiami is now far, far removed from the glory days of the ’80s, ’90s, and the early 2000s, but they may have found just the coach to bring them back to football prominence. Former Georgia coach Mark Richt was hired just a few short weeks ago to replace interim coach Larry Scott, who took over as coach following Al Golden’s firing in late October.

Now, with Washington State waiting in the wings in El Paso, Texas for the 2015 Sun Bowl, the Hurricanes will look to finish their season on a three-game win streak and head into 2016 with some positive momentum. Sophomore Brad Kaaya has been excellent at quarterback again for the Hurricanes this season, tossing 15 touchdowns to only four interceptions while posting nearly a 62% completion percentage and over 3,000 yards through the air.

On the ground, the Hurricanes have leaned on sophomore Joe Yearby, who has carried the ball for 939 yards and six touchdowns on the season while averaging 4.9 yards per attempt. Yearby finished the season out strong with a 22 carry, 99-yard performance in the regular season finale against Pittsburgh. However, he has not eclipsed the century mark in rushing yards since October 1st against Cincinnati, a stretch that has now spanned eight games. The Hurricanes are 117th nationally in rushing overall at just over 119 yards per game, and the inconsistency in that aspect of the offense has been a big reason why Brad Kaaya and company have struggled at times to move the football this season.

While the offense has been touch-and-go, the defense has been far and away the achilles heel of this year’s Miami team, with the 58-0 loss to Clemson ringing most prominent in the minds of fans and players alike. Ranked 76th in the country in total defense, the Hurricanes have allowed 5.86 yards per play and have surrendered 407 yards per game. Additionally, the 28.8 points per game that the ‘Canes have given up is tied for 83rd in the FBS. Changing the defensive identity will be paramount to Miami’s success in the years to come, but for the time being, the focus will be on slowing down the highly efficient Washington State passing attack, which is much easier said than done.

 

Washington State Cougars 8-4 (6-3 PAC-12)

washington stateWhile Washington State has had their best season yet under Mike Leach in 2015, the Cougars have been a tough team to figure out. They opened the season with a seven point loss to Portland State, an FCS team, but rallied to win eight of their next 10 games before getting blow out of the stadium on the road in their annual Apple Cup game against the Washington Huskies, 45-10.

Although the Cougars have not been met without questions throughout portions of this season, the one known quantity of their team has been the passing attack. Led by sophomore quarterback Luke Falk, Wazzou has exploded on offense, throwing for 397.0 yards per game, which ranks first in all of college football. In total, Falk has completed nearly 71% of his passes for nearly 4,300 yards and 36 touchdowns to only eight interceptions.

As expected, the receivers have done quite well for themselves within the offense this season. The Cougars have nine receivers with 200 yards or more receiving this season, and have four players with 400 yards or more. All Pac-12 performer Gabe Marks, a 6’0″ 190 lb. junior out of Venice, California, has led the way with 99 catches for 1,125 yards and 14 touchdowns, but is questionable for the bowl game after leaving the season finale against Washington with a lower leg injury. He is the go-to receiver for Luke Falk, so not having him in the bowl game would be a considerable blow, despite the proven play-making ability of the rest of the receiving corps.

For all of the plays that the Cougars have made in the passing game, they have not been nearly as successful rushing the football. When they do run the ball, sophomore Gerard Wicks is the man who gets the carries, as he leads the way with 599 yards and three touchdowns this season. He has been used mostly as a back to keep the defense honest, and has not been much of a focal point in the game plan to speak of, as he has only carried the ball for over 100 yards once all season, during a late November match-up against Colorado. Overall, the Cougars have been content with being one-dimensional, as their 79.9 yards per game rushing is dead last (128th) in all of college football.

On defense, at least statistically, Washington State has been even worse than Miami. Ranked 93rd in total defense, the Cougars have given up 5.79 yards per play and an average of 422.8 yards per game. Ironically, they have given up 28.8 points per game as well, as they are tied with the Hurricanes for 83rd in the nation. The game will ultimately come down to which team gets one more stop than the other, which is a question that we still might be asking ourselves up until the final whistle.

 

Prediction

This will be one of the more entertaining Sun Bowls in quite sometime. While Miami runs the ball a bit better overall that Washington State, I’m just not sure that they will be able to keep up with the points that the Cougars will put on the board in the passing game. The Hurricanes couldn’t stop Deshaun Watson and Clemson, so what evidence is there to think that they can stop this passing game? Luckily for the Hurricanes, Washington State can’t stop anyone on defense either, so points will be aplenty in this one. I like the Cougars to narrowly edge Miami in this one, although it’ll be a fun, yet defensively challenged, bowl game.
 

Washington State 38

Miami (FL) 34

 

 

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