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2016 Russell Athletic Bowl

G A M E P R E V I E W UNIVERSITY OF MIAMI VS. WEST VIRGINIA UNIVERSITY 2 0 1 6 R U S S E L L AT H L E T I C B O W L 2 1 CANES, MOUNTAINEERS SEEK MOMENTUM WIN by J. Daniel Pearson This year’s Russell Athletic Bowl offers a little more intensity than normal as former conference foes meet in Orlando. Today’s game matches the West Virginia Mountaineers and Miami Hurricanes to rekindle a rivalry that hasn’t been played since 2003, when both teams were part of the former Big East conference. For the University of Miami, today’s game offers an opportunity to cap a successful inaugural campaign under first-year head coach Mark Richt. In the nine seasons prior to Richt’s return to his alma mater, the Hurricanes held a 47-23 record in September and October (a .671 winning percentage) but won only 17 of 44 games after Oct. 31 (a .386 percentage). Miami had also lost its last six bowl games dating back to 2008. This season, however, the ‘Canes won four straight ACC games to go undefeated in November for the first time since 2002. At 8-4, a win in today’s game would not only break the bowl losing streak but would also give Richt and Miami some valuable momentum heading into the offseason. On the other side of the field, West Virginia will look to punctuate its best season since joining the Big 12. The Mountaineers finished tied for second in the conference, with their only losses coming to #7 Oklahoma and #12 Oklahoma State. On the heels of his second double-digit win season at the helm, Coach Dana Holgorsen signed a contract extension that will keep him in Morgantown through 2021. A victory in today’s game would give the Mountaineers their first 11-win season since 2007 and would also provide WVU with a lot of momentum heading into next season. Although they no longer play on a regular basis, West Virginia and Miami were both in the Big East Conference from 1991-2003. During that time, the Canes dominated West Virginia – winning eight of 10 conference games. Overall Miami leads the series, winning 16 of 19. This season, West Virginia is led by senior quarterback Skyler Howard. The second-year starter is the linchpin in an offense that has average almost 33 points a game. Howard has thrown for 3,200 yards and 26 touchdowns but is also a sneaky runner. When sacks are taken out of the equation, Howard has averaged just under six yards per rush and has scored nine touchdowns on the ground. Howard spreads the ball around and has three receivers with 40 or more catches this season. Daikiel Shorts Jr. (55 catches, 883 yards, 5 touchdowns) and Ka’Raun White (48-583-5) lead the Mountaineers in receptions, but the team also has a home run threat in Shelton Gibson (40- 927-8), who is averaging a gaudy 23.2 yards per catch. White had a seasonending leg injury at Iowa State and won’t be available for tonight’s game. Without question, balance has been the key to the Mountaineer offense in 2016. The team has a 1,000-yard rusher in Justin Crawford (157-1,168) and had three other backs gain more than 400 yards this season. In all, WVU rushed for almost 2,900 yards this season – giving them an almost 50-50 balance between the run and pass while averaging more than 500 yards of total offense per game. Miami also features a potent rushing attack. Led by Mark Walton (1,065 yards, 14 touchdowns), the Canes averaged more than 150 yards on the ground this season. Junior quarterback Brad Kaaya is a seasoned quarterback who will have an option to leave for the NFL after the season. The all-time leader in passing yards for the Hurricanes, Kaaya has thrown for 3,250 yards and 23 touchdowns this season. Ahmonn Richards is Kaaya’s deep threat, averaging more than 18 yards per reception (58-703); while Stacy Coley is polished receiver leading the team in both receptions (58) and receiving touchdowns (9). If the Canes have an advantage in this game, it may be on the defensive side of the ball. Miami is allowing just 18.9 points per game. An athletic defense, led by freshman tackle Joe Jackson (7.5 quarterback sacks) have recorded 34 sacks and 99 tackles-for-loss this season. In eight of 12 games, the Canes defense has held opponents to three touchdowns or less. WVU’s defense has been both hot and cold. The Mountaineers held high-flying Texas Tech, TCU and Baylor to an average of just 16 points a game. With the history between these two programs and the high-powered offensive attacks, today’s game could very well come down to the final possession.


2016 Russell Athletic Bowl
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