Russell Athletic Bowl
Louisville 36, Miami 9
Basically … Miami had all the momentum early on as Deon Bush tackled Teddy Bridgewater in the end zone for a safety and a 2-0 lead. And then it was all Louisville the rest of the way. Bridgewater threw for a career-high 447 yards with three touchdown passes and a one-yard scoring run as the Cardinals cranked out 36 straight points. John Wallace hit field goals from 36, 43 and 42 yards out, and then Bridgewater went to work finding DeVante Parker from 26 yards out, Michaelee Harris for a 12-yard score, and Senorise Perry for a 25-yard touchdown. The Canes finally got into the end zone on a two-yard Gus Edwards run in the fourth.
Louisville (11-1) vs. Miami (9-3) Dec. 28, 6:45, ESPN
Here's The Deal … The college football world gets a sneak peek of a matchup that's destined to blossom into a rivalry before too long.
When Louisville and Miami meet at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, they'll do so as non-conference foes. But that arrangement changes in 2014 when the Cardinals become a member of the ACC. The programs already have the seeds of a budding conflict since Louisville spends most of its recruiting budget looking for talent in the Hurricanes' backyard. Miami native Teddy Bridgewater, for example, who could be playing his final game as an unpaid quarterback. His Cards began the season as the consensus favorite in the American, with darkhorse dreams of contending for a national title. However, Charlie Strong's kids were never able to fully recover from an Oct. 18 loss to UCF.
Welcome back to the postseason, Miami. The ‘Canes were idle the past two Decembers, enduring self-imposed bowl bans related to a protracted NCAA investigation that seemed as if it might never be resolved. Closure was finally realized on Oct. 22, which just might have trumped the high points on Saturdays. Miami is on the verge of its first 10-win season in a decade, rising as high as No. 7 in the BCS standings before drifting back to reality with three straight November losses. Still, it's been a triumphant overall campaign for Al Golden and his program, both on and off the field.
Players to Watch: A bowl game in Orlando against the Hurricanes. Short of playing in the Orange Bowl, this could be a fitting end to Bridgewater's college career if he decides, as expected, to forego his final year of eligibility. He's arguably the best quarterback prospect in the country, and he's surrounded by a bunch of playmaking receivers, like DeVante Parker and Damian Copeland. However, the Cardinals have underachieved with the ball in 2013, averaging less than 30 points over the last eight games. Louisville has been surprisingly average running the ball and producing red-zone touchdowns.
Besides LB Denzel Perryman, who'll step up for the Miami D if Bridgewater & Co. find their rhythm Saturday evening? The ‘Canes essentially ran out of gas down the stretch on defense, which goes a long way toward explaining their late-season struggles. Five times during the regular season Miami yielded at least 500 yards. All five of those collapses occurred over the final seven games. Mark D'Onofrio's unit labored in all phases, including an inability to get to the quarterback. If Bridgewater isn't pressured by ends Anthony Chickillo and Shayon Green, he'll carve up the defense from wire-to-wire.
Bridgewater will be performing for pro scouts. So, too, will Miami QB Stephen Morris, who's had a disappointing season. Expectations soared for the senior before the year began, but he threw 12 picks and completed only 58% of his passes. It was a ho-hum year for Morris, meaning he has one more chance to change minds before the pre-draft process goes into high gear. He'll have access to plenty of speed on the outside, including Allen Hurns, rookie burner Stacy Coley and Phillip Dorsett, who's finally healthy after sitting out the second half of the season with a partially torn MCL.
The Louisville has to be one of the more underrated units in the FBS this season. Bridgewater attracts a lot of attention and, sure, the schedule was soft, but the Cardinals are allowing just 12 points per game and are No. 2 in the country in run defense. The team is getting contributions up and down the depth chart, from ends Marcus Smith and Lorenzo Mauldin in the pass rush to First Team All-AAC defensive backs Calvin Pryor, Charles Gaines and Hakeem Smith. Pryor is a knockout puncher, but Gaines, who played wide receiver in 2012, has been a real find for defensive coordinator Vance Bedford.
Louisville will win if … it holds up at the point of attack against the massive Miami O-line.
The ‘Canes are enormous up front, averaging close to 320 pounds. This is the most physical group that the Cardinals have faced all year. Miami will try to run the ball with Dallas Crawford, who's shown flashes as the replacement for injured star Duke Johnson. If Crawford enjoys running room, it's liable to transform the entire Hurricane attack, especially Morris and the receivers. If, on the other hand, Smith and Mauldin, who've combined for 22 sacks, continue to crash the pocket, all of those active Louisville defensive backs are going to benefit from forced and errant throws.
Miami will win if … it makes timely stops on third downs.
Only LSU has been more efficient this season on third downs than Louisville, which is converting almost 56% of its attempts. Having Bridgewater in the huddle can result in boredom for a team's punter. It's incumbent upon the Hurricane defense to reverse its November results by making stops and getting the ball back in the hands of the offense. Miami just can't afford to allow long, time-consuming drives. If Bridgewater controls the tempo, a thin ‘Can defense is going to be dragging by the fourth quarter. Somehow, some way, Miami has to find the right packages and mix of personnel to shut down drives.
What Will Happen: Louisville will play with a chip on its shoulder, beating a prominent Florida school in a bowl game for a second straight year.
The Cardinals have something to prove to critics of their schedule and their one-loss mark. They'll use a vulnerable Miami squad as a proving ground. Bridgewater wants to finish strong, and he'll have ample support from both sides of the ball to achieve his goal. Louisville will wind up being much sounder on defense than Miami in this final meeting between the programs as non-conference combatants.
Prediction: Louisville 33 … Miami 24
Line: Louisville -3.5 o/u: 56.5
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