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Sun Bowl 2015: WSU vs. Miami football preview

Read all about some of the key Hurricanes to watch in El Paso.

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

It's the week of Christmas, and we are writing previews for a football game here at CougCenter. This is something that has never happened before. so I am truly feeling #blessed to share some knowledge on Washington State's opponent in the Sun Bowl (Saturday, 11 a.m. PT, CBS): The Miami Hurricanes.

The Thrower

Luke Falk will get a lot of publicity for the gaudy numbers he has put up and the gutsy comebacks he has staged, but Miami has a good sophomore quarterback of its own in Brad Kaaya. He completed nearly 62 percent of his passes this season for 8.4 yards per attempt while logging 15 touchdowns against four interceptions.

But Kaaya might have one undoing, and that is his in inner Agent Fox Mulder.

Kaaya WANTS TO BELIEVE, and he could surely be distracted by unidentified flying objects around Sun Bowl Stadium. This could be an area that WSU fans could exploit, but unfortunately the Cougars and Hurricanes will be facing off in the daytime. Perhaps a flying banner is in order?

The sophomore QB seems to get most distracted by the sky when the 'Canes are facing 3rd down and between 7 and 9 yards to go. In those situations, Kaaya has completed just under 38 percent of his passes and has netted a first down on just 9 of 29 throws. The redzone treats him only slightly better, as he completed around 45 percent of passes inside the opponent's 20, and his interception percentage multiplies five times over, jumping from 0.67 to 3.45.

That's part of the reason Miami hasn't been great at finishing drives. The Hurricanes ranked 76th in Bill Connelly's "Points per trip inside the 40" metric.

But Kaaya does make up for that with some explosiveness. The 'Canes rank 30th in passing explosiveness, and nearly 10 percent of Kaaya's passing attempts yield 25 yards or more, with second down being the most dangerous. An impressive 15 of 109 second-down throws netted at least 25 yards for Kaaya. WSU should be weary of Miami going deep on second down.

The Runners

Miami runs and passes pretty evenly, with 379 non-sack rushing attempts vs. 432 drop-backs. But perhaps the 'Canes should consider chucking the ball around a little more, as their running game has been just plain ineffective.

The U is averaging 4.1 yards per carry on non-sack rushing attempts, and is 116 overall in Rushing S&P+. Miami's rushing attack is neither efficient (117th in success rate) nor explosive (86th in explosiveness).

However, sophomore back Joseph Yearby has averaged 4.9 yards per carry on his team-leading 192 attempts, and needs just 61 yards to top 1,000 for the season. You could really say he is the "support bra" for a sagging Miami running game.

When Yearby isn't getting the ball, it's most likely going to be in the hands of Mark Walton, especially near the goal line. Of Walton's 121 carries, 41 have come inside the 20-yard line. That may impact his yards per carry a bit, as he only averages 3.6 overall and just 2.2 in the redzone.

The Catchers

Kaaya spreads the ball around quite a bit. Miami has three receivers with 38 or more catches and 600 or more yards, with the top guy being junior Stacy Coley.

Coley missed two games this season, but still leads the 'Canes in yardage (645), is second on the team in receptions (44) and receiving touchdowns (3). Senior Rashawn Scott leads the team in the latter two categories with 47 grabs and five touchdowns.

Freshman tight end David Njoku has shown excellent flashes, catching 20 balls for 18.05 average. He also has photoshop skills:

Is there a movement to ban Photoshop? Maybe we should start one.

The Tacklers

Miami's best defensive player is Artie Burns, but don't take my word for it. This is what SB Nation's Miami site, State of the Union, had to say about him:

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.

Burns is part of a good Miami secondary, one that has been the 38th best passing defense in S&P+ and 26th-best on passing downs. It's especially impressive considering that the defensive line is 72nd in havoc rate. The team overall is 95th in havoc rate, and 75th in sacks. The secondary is covering without a lot of pressure.

The most likely defensive lineman to get pressure on Falk will be Al-Quadin Muhammad, who posted five sacks in 11 games this season. Trent Harris is second on the team with 3.5 sacks.

Weaknesses in Miami's front seven rear their head in the run game. The Hurricanes are 118th in rushing defense S&P+, and have allowed 6.2 yards per non-sack attempt. This is a game where Falk could really benefit from checking to a few more runs, the Cougs themselves are averaging 5.3 yards on non-sack rushes.

So, run Cougs, run (slightly more than usual)!