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Matchup of the Week: West Virginia Edition

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After an 8-4 season, the Canes were selected to play in the Russell Athletic Bowl in Orlando vs. former Big East rival West Virginia.

NCAA Football: Duke at Miami Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

IT’S BOWL SEASON!!!!

The Miami Hurricanes (8-4, 5-3 ACC) are set to square off against the West Virginia Moutaineers (10-2, 7-2 Big 12) in the Russell Athletic Bowl on Wednesday, Dec. 28th at 5:30 p.m. on ESPN.

Motivation will be extremely high on both sidelines, as WVU and head coach Dana Holgorsen (or Dana Hologram, per Uncle Luke) will look to win 11 games for the first time since his hiring in 2011, and Miami will look to break a 10-YEAR BOWL LOSING STREAK. It’s well-known and has been broadcasted everywhere, but the Canes haven't won a bowl game since 2006, when they defeated Nevada 21-20 in the MPC Computers Bowl. In the previous five seasons, Miami has gone 0-3 in bowl games (self-imposed a two-year bowl ban), which included losses to Louisville, a PISS POOR South Carolina team, and a beatable Washington State squad.

Although mentioning Miami’s bowl losing streak is like beating a dead horse, it will be relevant and necessary until Miami wins in postseason play.

Moving forward, this will be one of the toughest matchups for the Canes to date. WVU was predicted to finish seventh in the Big 12 and finished third, behind No. 7 Oklahoma and No. 12 Oklahoma State, both of whom they lost to. WVU is said to run an “Air Raid” offense but their stats tell another story. WVU QB Skyler Howard threw for 3,194 yards and 26 touchdowns in the regular season, compared to the 3,250 yards and 23 touchdowns Brad Kaaya threw for. Similarly, WVU running back Justin Crawford rushed for 1,168 yards and four touchdowns, compared to Mark Walton’s 1,065 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns. WVU has also had four different running backs rush for more than 100 yards this season, all of which came vs. FBS opponents.

Before we head into what matchup to look for, let’s take a look at the history between the two schools. According to Winsipedia, Miami holds a 16-3 overall record over the Mountaineers, with Miami currently riding a six-game winning streak. The last time they played...one of the greatest runs EVER took place, and it wasn’t by the Canes.

My word. My mind can’t even wrap around what happened on that play. Unfortunately for WVU, Miami still wound up winning the game 22-20.

WVU Tempo vs. Miami Defense

This game will be won or lost by Miami’s defense, that’s how I see it. Despite having similar statistical leaders, WVU likes to move the ball fast and take plenty of deep shots through the air. WVU wide receivers rank 17th in the country in plays of 30 yards or more, while the Miami defensive backs rank 7th-best in the country in allowing plays of 30 yards or more. With WVU’s tempo, a defense may not line up fast enough or have a busted coverage, which is exactly what WVU feeds on.

WVU leading receiver Shelton Gibson has accounted for 927 yards and eight touchdowns on just 40 catches. That is an astounding 23.2 yards per catch, which ranks third nationally. This big play ability are the type of plays WVU looks to capitalize on to go along with their balanced and effective run game.

WVU averages 506.9 yards per game (12th nationally) and has run a total of 918 plays, which come out to 76.5 plays per game. Miami’s offense has run 125 LESS than WVU, but maintained a points per game advantage - Miami (34.6), WVU (32.6). So while WVU is expected to run A LOT more plays than Miami, the Canes appear more efficient in their scoring and capitalize more on per possession.

Don’t let the scoring deficiency fool you, WVU’s ability to chew clock and tire out a defense is what has gotten them to their 10-win season, something Miami hasn’t done since 2003.

The Canes have their work cut out for them next week. With the pressure of winning their first bowl game in a decade, along with the game potentially (likely) being QB Brad Kaaya’s and TE David Njoku’s final game as a Hurricanes, it is important to pay attention how the team comes out and plays. Even in losses, Miami has shown poise, resiliency and fights in every game until the clock hits :00.

WVU coach Dana Holgorsen has publicly stated that this Miami defense will be among the best defenses, if not the best defense the Mountaineers face all season. He has crediting Miami’s defense for being fast and physical, something that hasn’t been said about the defense in five years, and has also individually praised senior CB Corn Elder.

Again, this game will be won and lost by Miami’s defense. If the unit can limit the run game and the amount of explosive plays that WVU depends on, they should find success. Making them one dimensional won’t be an easy task, but it’ll make the game that much easier for the Canes. If WVU can play their game and operate up and down the field vs. the Canes defense, it will be a LONG day for them.

To touch on Miami’s offense, it will be imperative for them to score. Because its a bowl, teams get weeks to recover and prepare for this game, and I fully expect for WVU to pull out all the stops and bring out every play in the book vs. Miami. The lowest points scored in a game this year for the Mountaineers was 17 points against Kansas State (a defense Holgorsen compared Miami to) and that was in Week 4. WVU is primed to score, so Kaaya & Co. MUST score early and often to put the pressure on a WVU offense that likes to set their own tempo.

WVU gives up approximately 175.5 yards per game on the ground in their 3-3-5 defense, while the Canes rush for 157.7 yards per game. Conventional wisdom would be to run there ball down the WVU defense’s throats and use that run game to ease the pressure of (future 2017 NFL draft pick?) Brad Kaaya. WVU also gives up 431 yards per game, which is about 76 yards MORE than the Canes defense gives up. Remember, WVU plays in the pass-happy Big 12, so the numbers may be inflated.

This should be a fun matchup for both teams looking to close their seasons out on a high note and carry momentum into National Signing Day and until next season. For the Canes, a win would be CRUCIAL for the direction of this program. Beating a ranked team in their own state on national television would do wonders for this team. It will be a 60-minute football game and most likely will go back and forth. The team with the best defense should win this ballgame, and the advantage goes to Miami.

Miami 31 - WVU 27

Go Canes!!!!