Team Report - MIAMI

The SportsXchange

INSIDE SLANT

The U, as Miami players, coaches and fans like to refer to their program, didn't forge its reputation as a college football powerhouse by winning games like the Russell Athletic Bowl.

But if the Hurricanes seem a little more geeked up for a second-tier bowl game than normal, there's good reason.

When Miami (9-3) and Louisville meet on Dec. 28 in Orlando, Fla., it will be the Hurricanes' first bowl game since 2010. The Hurricanes passed up bowl bids the last two years in order to minimize potential sanctions, a decision which paid off when the NCAA opted not to tack on additional bowl bans to the school's self-imposed punishment.

Third-year coach Al Golden ran his first bowl practices on Dec. 6 and 7 and his excitement was clear when talking with the Miami Herald.

"It felt great; it was unbelievable," Golden said. "I didn't answer one question about the NCAA. I think you see the attitude today. We're going to try like heck to send them out the first 10-win team in a decade."

That would be a sure sign of Miami's return to prominence. Since 2003, the Hurricanes have been one of the sport's biggest teases, mixing big moments with baffling defeats and overall underachievement.

Beating Louisville (11-1) and its coterie of South Florida players, including star quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, would end the season on a huge high. But Louisville's A game is probably better than Miami's at this point.

Bridgewater is the symbol of what both programs are right now. He originally committed to the Hurricanes, but when coach Randy Shannon was canned, Cardinals coach Charlie Strong swooped in and picked up his signature recruit.

Although Louisville really hasn't played well since a dominant September, Bridgewater's standard of play hasn't dropped off. Nor has his competitive spirit.

Just ask Cincinnati, which saw Bridgewater deny the Bearcats a 10th victory with fourth quarter and overtime dramatics in the Dec. 5 regular season finale.

The bowl matchup will also give the Cardinals an idea of what to expect in their new league in 2014, as they will join the Hurricanes in a bloated 14-team Atlantic Coast Conference.

In fact, the teams are supposed to meet next year in Louisville.

And don't be surprised if Strong, who could use a motivational ploy or two after his team failed to meet their preseason goal of going unbeaten and earning a spot in the BCS title game, uses the program's soon to be ACC affiliation as inspiration.

"You talk about a team with a lot of resiliency and a lot of heart," Strong said after the win at Cincinnati. "There were high expectations this season."

NOTES, QUOTES

PLAYERS TO WATCH:

--QB Stephen Morris has been the dictionary definition of inconsistent for Miami. He passed for 2,868 yards and 21 touchdowns this season, and has 7,736 career passing yards, third-most in the program's proud history. But Morris mixed in 12 interceptions, often in critical spots, and completed only 58.7 percent of his passes.

--WR Allen Hurns was somehow left off the All-ACC first team despite enjoying one of the best seasons by a receiver in Hurricane history. Hurns caught 60 passes for 1,138 yards and six touchdowns, averaging 19 yards per catch. He needs only 19 yards in the bowl game to set the school's single-season record for most receiving yards, and is the fourth player in school history to reach 1,000 receiving yards in a year.

--LB Denzel Perryman was one of two Miami players to make the All-ACC first team. Perryman led the defense with 104 tackles, including 65 solo stops and five tackles for losses, and notched double-figure tackles in six games. Perryman also displayed his versatility, breaking up three passes and defensing three more passes.

--QB Teddy Bridgewater might be the top overall pick in next year's NFL draft and he's the reason Louisville is 23-3 in the last two years. Bridgewater completed 70.2 percent of his passes in the regular season for 3,523 yards, with a 28-4 TD-interception ratio. What's more, Bridgewater leads in about every way imaginable, playing through injuries when needed and producing in the clutch while working behind an average offensive line.

--DE Marcus Smith led FBS in sacks this season with 12 1/2 and also notched a dozen quarterback hurries, which means he either sacked or pressured the QB at least twice a game. Smith also finished with 16 1/2 tackles for losses, forced three fumbles and recovered two. The former high school quarterback is probably going to make a lot of money as a speed rusher at the next level.

--CB Charles Gaines had quite a season for someone who was a wide receiver about nine months ago. Asked to switch to defense in the spring, Gaines took to that side of the ball like he'd played it his whole life. He made five interceptions for 106 yards and a touchdown, defensed 11 passes and broke up six as the Cardinals' defense allowed only 12.4 points per game.

BOWL HISTORY: Miami boasts a 19-17 record in bowl games, losing its last three, including a 33-17 decision to Notre Dame in the 2010 Sun Bowl under interim coach Jeff Stoutland. Louisville is 8-8-1 going into its 18th bowl appearance, including a 2-1 mark under fourth-year coach Charlie Strong, and thumped Florida, 33-23, last year in the Sugar Bowl.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Huge. We haven't had it." -- Miami coach Al Golden on the importance of 15 extra bowl practices for the development of his program, which hasn't been to a bowl game since 2010.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

BOWL BREAKDOWN

Scouting the running game: Both teams like to line up in traditional pro-style sets and establish a power running attack, but neither can really count on doing it in the bowl game. Miami has played without Duke Johnson since a season-ending injury on Nov. 2 at Florida State, and while Dallas Crawford has 523 yards and 12 touchdowns, he's not a game-breaker, as he averages 4.2 yards per carry with no run longer than 35 yards. Louisville got 783 yards from Dominique Brown, who took over as the starter in the second half of the season, and 631 from Senorise Perry, but the Cardinals really don't have a dominant offensive line.

Scouting the passing game: The Hurricanes love the big play, averaging an impressive 15.4 yards per completion, and got a huge season from WR Allen Hurns, who had 60 receptions for 1,138 yards and six touchdowns. The Cardinals get their yardage in measured chunks, but can produce big plays with the likes of WR DeVante Parker and TE Gerald Christian. The difference here is that Louisville QB Teddy Bridgewater is simply more accurate than counterpart Stephen Morris, 70.2 percent completion rate to 58.7 percent, and avoids the kind of mistakes that Morris sometimes makes in bunches.

Scouting the run defense: Clear advantage to the Cardinals here, as they allowed only 86.2 yards per game and 2.7 yards per carry in the regular season. Miami was routinely gashed over the season's second half and permitted an average of 182.3 yards per game and 4.5 yards per carry. Perhaps the most damning number of all was that the Hurricanes gave up 25 rushing touchdowns, which is as much about will as it is physical skill.

Scouting the pass defense: Slight edge for Louisville in this category. With CB Charles Gaines picking off five passes and DE Marcus Smith leading FBS in sacks, the Cardinals allowed opponents to complete only 51.2 percent of their passes and made 16 interceptions. Miami did notch 18 interceptions and 28 sacks, but permitted a 58.2 completion percentage, and must face QB Teddy Bridgewater, who is every bit as good as QB Jameis Winston of Florida State.

Scouting the special teams: The Hurricanes own an advantage here as they have reliable P Pat O'Donnell (47.3 yard average), solid K Matt Goudis (13-of-17 on field goals, 56-of-56 on extra points) and game-breaking return threat Stacy Coley, who averaged 22.0 on punt returns, 26.5 on kickoff returns. Louisville K John Wallace has 33 field goals in his first two seasons and P Ryan Johnson allowed only 15 return yards all year, but kickoff return coverage has been an issue at times.

Intangibles: After missing bowl games the last two years, Miami figures to be fired up for its return to college football's version of a postseason. How excited will the Cardinals be for this game after aiming for a BCS berth and falling short by blowing a three touchdown lead in the second half lead to Central Florida in October? Can coach Charlie Strong convince them this game means something?

ROSTER REPORT:

--CB Ladarius Gunter (neck) missed Miami's season-ending victory at Pittsburgh on Nov. 29, but he practiced on Dec. 7 and it appears Gunter will be able to play in the bowl game.

--DE Anthony Chickillo (toe) was wearing a protective boot during the Hurricanes' first bowl practice on Dec. 7, but is expected to be able to return to practice as early as Dec. 13. Chickillo started all 12 games and finished with 3 1/2 sacks.

--RB Duke Johnson (broken ankle) made the All-ACC second team despite missing the last four regular season games after being injured against Florida State Nov. 2. Johnson rushed for 920 yards and six touchdowns, averaging 115 yards per game. He won't play in the bowl game.

--RG Kamran Joyer (leg) was injured during Louisville's last regular season game Dec. 5 at Cincinnati and wasn't able to return. His status for the bowl game uncertain.

--RB Senorise Perry (wrist) missed some time in the first half against Cincinnati, but played through the second half and overtime after getting a tape job. Perry, second on the team in rushing with 631 yards, should be able to play in the bowl game.

--WR Kai De La Cruz (hamstring) dressed for the game at Cincinnati but didn't play. De La Cruz didn't play for most of the season's second half, but figures to be available for the bowl game.

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