The Miami Hurricanes officially accepted a bid on Sunday to play Louisiana Tech in the 2019 Walk-On’s Independence Bowl in Shreveport, Louisiana on December 26 at 4pm on ESPN.
While this is not the bowl assignment most fans or people associated with the program were hoping for, it gives the Hurricanes one last chance to end the 2019 season on a positive note and build some momentum heading into spring football in 2020.
Bovada currently lists Miami as a seven point favorite over Louisiana Tech although ESPN believes that Louisiana Tech will win the game by double figures.
What must Miami accomplish to make the Independence Bowl experience worthwhile for the future of the program? Keep reading to find out and don’t forget to include your thoughts in the comments section at the bottom of the page.
Establish a Consistent Quarterback who can Convert Third Downs
Manny Diaz announced during his media availability that the starting quarterback position is open for the Independence Bowl and the Hurricanes have not yet decided who is starting.
UM's Manny Diaz says QB job is open for bowl game and decision based on practice, academics, doing right thing off field.... Navaughn Donaldson will miss the bowl game.— Barry Jackson (@flasportsbuzz) December 9, 2019
With practice, academics and off-field behavior being taken into account, it is currently a mystery who will start on December 26 for the Hurricanes.
One thing is for sure, whoever starts must do a better job converting third downs than Miami did during the regular season.
Miami was dead last (130 out of 130) in FBS football during the regular season as it converted just 26.4 percent of its third downs into first downs. That is not acceptable at the University of Miami.
The Hurricanes need to find a quarterback who can consistently put the offense in shorter third down situations that those scenarios are easier to convert and Miami can tire out Louisiana Tech’s defense while resting its own.
Now addressing the elephant in the room...the play calling. Offensive coordinator Dan Enos has caught the ire of Miami fans on social media for much of the season because of his play calling and maybe more importantly the odd timing of certain play calls in game-altering situations.
Enos needs to tailor Miami’s game plan on December 26 to the quarterback chosen by he and Diaz and that game plan needs to include measures for helping the Hurricanes to better convert third downs.
He needs to do a better job of playing to strengths of Miami’s personnel and matchup advantages while understanding that Miami struggles to protect in obvious passing situations because of the inexperience of the offensive line.
Is it an easy job? No, but the play calling and execution of said plays must improve against Louisiana Tech on December 26 for the Hurricanes to feel good about their offense going into the offseason.
See What You Have in Young Players While Not Burning Redshirts
It had already been previously announced that defensive ends Trevon Hill and Jonathan Garvin will not play in the Independence Bowl because they are getting prepared for the NFL Draft. Diaz announced Monday that Navaughn Donaldson would not play because of injury.
It is also possible that more players elect to sit out the game because they have declared for the NFL Draft or don’t want to risk tweaking an injury of some sort.
No matter how many upperclassmen dress and play, this game is a great opportunity to see what you have in younger players while not burning their redshirts.
Players that immediately come to mind that could use some playing time at key positions for Miami: Freshman defensive Jahfari Harvey, freshman linebacker Sam Brooks, and Miami’s trio of freshmen defensive tackles in Jason Blissett, Jalar Holley and Jared Harrison-Hunte.
Brooks has already played in five games this season and cannot redshirt. The bowl game will be Harvey’s fourth game this season (therefore keeping him eligible to redshirt if he plays) and the freshmen defensive tackles have played sparingly and have guaranteed 2019 as a redshirt year.
Freshman wide receiver Jeremiah Payton, freshman defensive Keontra Smith and senior linebacker Zach McCloud have each played in four games apiece this season and if they play one or more snaps against Louisiana Tech, will lose 2019 as a redshirt season. For obvious reasons, I hope Diaz and the coaching staff elects to not play these players to give them an extra year of eligibility.
The coaching staff should not be afraid to play young players against Louisiana Tech so that the Hurricanes can know what they have in the future and those young players can have more game experience heading into the 2020 season.
The most obvious thing of them all that must be accomplished on December 26.
Miami cannot lose a second game in the 2019 season to a group of five program. It cannot happen.
The 30-24 loss to FIU on November 23 has been well-documented and won’t be brought up here again to save everyone’s sanity. But a second loss to a non-power five program would be detrimental to Miami’s reputation and would send the Hurricanes into the near 9-month offseason with a horrible taste in their mouthes.
Louisiana Tech certainly isn’t awful by any means. The Bulldogs actually defeated FIU 43-31 earlier this season.
But the Hurricanes have no business losing to a team that lost back-to-back games to Marshall and UAB this season.
Miami must avoid coming out flat for the fourth time off a bye week (or in this case, bye weeks) and take control of this game early by establishing the running and short passing games. The defense must tackle soundly and force a turnover or two to put the offense in good position to score quickly.
While a 7-6 record isn’t glamorous, it is a lot better than the 6-7 record Miami would be saddled with if it lost to Louisiana Tech on December 26.
The Hurricanes most do whatever it takes to top the Bulldogs to avoid being under .500 in 2019 and to have some positive momentum entering 2020.