There were NFL scouts at the Russell Athletic Bowl and it is safe to say that they were looking at quarterbacks. One can only hope that they were there to cement their belief in Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater and not pass judgment on Miami's Stephen Morris, who arguably had his worst game as a quarterback at UM. Miami lost to Louisville in the Russell Athletic Bowl 36-9 before a crowd of 51,098 at the Florida Citrus Bowl.
Bridgewater, from Miami Northwestern High School, finished the night 35-of-45 for 447 yards and had three passing touchdowns. He added a rushing touchdown in the fourth quarter when the game was out of hand. To make matters more embarassing, he threw up the "U" after he scored. He looked like the man that many say will be the first pick in the upcoming NFL Draft. His top receiver DeVante Parker had nine grabs for 142 yards and a score.
"He made a lot of plays where he broke a tackle and got the completion," Miami coach Al Golden said. "He converted a lot of big throws and made all the plays. They made the plays and we didn't."
Morris, meanwhile, went 12-of-27 on the night for 160 yards and was sacked five times. He also fumbled in the red zone when Miami had its best opportunity to score in the first half. Morris did nothing to improve his draft status and put the finishing touches on a dismal, below par season that saw Miami lose four out of its last six games.
"It certainly was not the performance that I wanted to have in my last college game," Morris said. "Louisville was in the right spots at the right time and they made more plays than we did."
It has been said that Miami's offensive line was one of the mainstays of the team. Not on this night. Miami could not run the ball and Miami could not pass protect. Of the four losses that Miami sustained this season, this was by far the worst and the most embarrassing for a team that had 15 extra bowl practices to get ready.
"The blitz packages that we saw tonight were significantly different," Golden said. "We didn't protect as well as we needed to protect and I take responsibility for that."
Gus Edwards, who had UM's lone touchdown, led Miami with 38 yards on 12 carries. Dallas Crawford chipped in with 35 yards on 11 carries.
This was the type of loss where people are going to take a serious look at personnel and some of those personnel might not be back next season, regardless of what recruits might want. It is not like the coaching staff did not know what to expect from Bridgewater.
"We're gonna keep fighting our asses off, we just didn't get it done tonight," Golden said. "I'm going to evaluate the whole program to move this program forward."
The only good thing to come out of this game was that if Bridgewater does come out early and enter the draft, Miami will not have to face him next season.
Bridgewater would not commit to either staying or leaving after the game.
"I have until January 15 to make up my mind," Bridgewater said. "I will talk to my coaches and my mom and we will make the right decision."
Things started well for Miami as Deon Bush introduced himself to Bridgewater with 11:51 to play in the first quarter and came in untouched on a safety blitz to nail the UL quarterback in his end zone for a safety. Bush looked like he was going to drop back into coverage, but led a UM barrage that did not let Bridgewater release the football. The ball actually popped out, but rolled out of the back of the end zone. The play was made possible only after All-World punter Pat O'Donnell dropped a punt that died on the Louisville two.
UL took a 3-2 lead on their next drive as Bridgewater went 4-for-5 for 52 yards. John Wallace kicked a 36-yard field goal to give the Cardinals points as they moved the ball down the field on the Canes. Miami did look good, but was just a step too late on the drive. Miami looked as if they gave great deference to Bridgewater and played pretty far off the line of scrimmage.
The Cardinals increased their lead on the next drive after a play-calling blunder by the Hurricanes. Miami set the Cards up in their own territory after turning the ball over on downs. On 4th and 1 on their own 45 Miami went for it and came up short. Bridgewater went to work immediately and hit Michaelee Harris on a slant that was good for 14 yards and a first down. Tyriq McCord lost him at the line of scrimmage. Wallace came in for a 43 yard field goal attempt that looked like a knuckleball, but went through the uprights. UL led with 1:38 to play in the first quarter 6-2.
Morris did not have a good first half. He looked tentative on his deep throws and could not get anything going offensively. Morris finished the first half 7-of-15 for 67 yards and was sacked three times, fumbling once. Bridgewater, by comparison, was 19-of-26 for 231 yards and two scores.
Louisville started the second quarter strong. They took over on their own 17 and two plays later were at midfield. Bridgewater had a 14 yard scamper up the middle to get them moving. Miami had a chance to get them off the field on a 3rd and 9, but Bridgewater hit Parker for a big first down. When it appeared as though they converted a 4th and 1 deep in the UM zone, UL was flagged for illegal formation. Wallace came out again to attempt his third field goal of the game, this time from 42 yards and UL increased its lead to 9-2.
Bridgewater led the Cards 80 yards on their next drive and tossed a 27-yard pass to Parker that gave UL a commanding 16-2 lead. Bridgewater was starting to fire on all cylinders. The 3:52 drive ended with Parker standing over Artie Burns and shaking his head at how easy it appeared to be. Burns battled for it, but like everything else in the first half, it just was not meant to be.
An unsportsmanlike conduct penalty gave Miami its first third down conversion with 5:26 to play in the half. The play set up a Morris pass to Clive Watford that put the ball on the UL five yard line and gave Miami some signs of hope. However, Morris was sacked for the second time in the quarter and fumbled the ball back to the Cards. UL took over on its own 13 yard line. Miami lost its best chance of scoring in the half.
Louisville added another touchdown before the half to make the score 22-2. Bridgewater hit Harris on a post to close out the first half scoring. The point after was unsuccessful. The scoring toss was Bridgewater's 30th of the season and it tied a team record. The six play drive went for 60 yards and put the dagger into the hearts of the UM faithful. Bridgewater would break the record midway through the third quarter.
O'Donnell punted five times in the first half as Miami could not get anything going on offense. Maybe he can get extra frequent flyer miles in the off-season for his yeoman's effort in the first half.