Game week finally has arrived for the 2015 Sun Bowl, which means it's time to ramp up our efforts to get to know the Washington State Cougars' opponent, the Miami Hurricanes.
The Cougars have never faced Miami in their entire history, which is one of the cool parts of bowl games, especially for a team like WSU -- there's no way the Hurricanes are coming to Pullman, and it's unlikely the Cougars would ever travel all the way to Miami (although they have gotten as far as Alabama a couple of times).
Miami is a program in transition at the moment, having fired its coach, Al Golden, midway through the season. Under interim coach Larry Scott, the Hurricanes finished strong, winning four of their last five to achieve eight wins and earn a trip to El Paso. Not that anyone from south Florida would consider west Texas a dream destination, but all things considered, it was a pretty great way to finish the season.
Now, Hurricanes fans await the beginning of the Mark Richt era. The former Georgia coach has been hired to lead his alma mater, but there's one more game to play.
CougCenter: The first thing that jumps out about Miami is how the Hurricanes responded to the dismissal of Al Golden. Can you explain to us how a 4-3 coach got canned and why the team was able to rebound to win four of five to end the season?
State of the U: To answer why Golden was dismissed, for starters, the reasons go way back before this year. Last season’s 6-7 squad, in particular, was a massive disappointment, especially considering the talent that team put in the NFL (Ereck Flowers, Duke Johnson, Phillip Dorsett to name a few). A loss to No. 1-ranked Clemson is nothing to be ashamed of, but a school-worst 58-0 loss was just too much to allow Golden to even finish the season. 0-for vs. FSU did not help the cause either.
As far as how they have responded, well it comes down to a few things. Interim coach Larry Scott, whom I hope Mark Richt retains on staff, is very charismatic. He has the kids playing more complete football. They have managed to stay relatively healthy sans the LB position. And yeah, the miracle in Durham (essentially pulling one out of you know where) didn’t hurt, and is basically the difference between 4-1 and 3-2 under Scott. More than anything though, the kids have stuck together and used the firing of Golden as inspiration rather than an excuse to pack it in. Scott deserves a lot of credit for that as well.
CougCenter: WSU fans love their QB, Luke Falk, but Miami has its own young and talented thrower in Brad Kaaya. What makes him special?
SOTU: Brad Kaaya is head and shoulders above any QB the program has had since Ken Dorsey graduated. He makes all the right reads at the line of scrimmage and gets the team in the play that gives them the most optimal chance at success. In the pocket, his footwork is sharp and concise, and as a result his passes are accurate and well timed. He has a strong enough arm to go deep, but can put touch on the ball when needed. Kaaya does everything well, short of scrambling. But the most impressive parts of his game are still his mental approach and how he reads defenses.
CougCenter: Kayaa has a trio of talented targets. What does each member of Miami’s three-headed monster bring to the table?
SOTU: Rashawn Scott (above) is probably the most complete of the bunch. He can make plays down the field but also over the middle or in the red zone. Scott combines great route running with very strong hands and excellent size (6’3 range). Stacy Coley is the most explosive of the group by far. Coley has world class speed, and is a threat to take it the distance anytime he has the ball in his hands. Senior Herb Waters is the wily veteran. He, too, has speed to burn, but he uses quickness and excellent routes to do the majority of his work from the slot (though Coley lines up there often as well). The other guy you want to watch is redshirt freshman H back David Njoku, who is emerging quickly. Njoku is 6’4 245 pounds and runs like a deer. Think of a young, poor man’s Shannon Sharpe type if you need a comparison for Njoku.
CougCenter: The strength of the defense seems to be its ability to take the ball away. One of WSU’s strengths is avoiding interceptions. How will Miami’s defense hold up against the high-volume passing attack of the Air Raid if the Cougars aren’t giving the ball away?
SOTU: Junior CB Artie Burns has six INTs on the season and has the look of a high NFL Draft pick. He is not only good at taking the ball away, but sticky good in coverage. His counterpart, Corn Elder, is better known for scoring the game winning TD vs. Duke than his coverage skills, but he is very underrated as a cover corner. And safeties Deon Bush and Jamal Carter are a pair of thumpers who can separate you from the ball. The UM secondary is easily the strength of the defense. If they get any pass rush at all to help these guys out, and stop the run well enough they aren’t always in unfavorable down and distances, this group can get the job done vs. anyone. That includes the very good pass O of the Cougars. But those are some very big "ifs."
CougCenter: Which player on the defense is most likely to haunt our dreams?
SOTU: Aside from Elder or Burns, I would watch out for LB Jermaine Grace. Grace has battled some nagging injuries this year, but if healthy, he can flat out ball. He runs a sub-4.4 40, hits like a runaway train, and just has a nose for the ball.
CougCenter: If Miami is going to win the game, it’s probably going to happen like this …
SOTU: Brad Kaaya throws for 300+ yards, Joe Yearby runs for 100+, the offense produces more TDs than FGs (a huge problem this year), and they get a big play or two from the special teams. The Hurricanes D, even in the 4-1 stretch to close the season out, has not been stout. Despite their team speed, they struggle to make plays on the edges. Expecting them to slow WSU’s offense down is unrealistic. They will need to outscore them and win the ST/turnover battles.
Thanks again to Steinberg! You can read my answers to his questions here.