This past offseason, the Miami Hurricanes entered the 2019 season with high hopes. New head coach Manny Diaz, a Miami native, had infused some much needed energy into the program, and it appeared the Canes were recharged after a disappointing 7-6 campaign in 2018. In an ideal world, the Hurricanes would be spending Christmas in Coral Gables, as they would be getting ready for the Orange Bowl at their home stadium. However, there is no ideal world, and the Canes ended up about as far away from the Orange Bowl as possible.
After a season filled with ghastly losses, uneven quarterback play, and less than desired offense, the Miami Hurricanes will trudge into Shreveport, Louisiana, as the 6-6 Canes will play the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs in the Walk-On’s Independence Bowl. Yes, the Canes went from having Orange Bowl ambitions to playing in a bowl game sponsored by a sports bar. That’s how this bumpy rollercoaster ride of a season has ended up. The Canes are limping into this bowl game, as they ended the season with two abysmal losses, to now 6-7 FIU, and 5-7 Duke.
Meanwhile, the Bulldogs put together a very solid season in the Conference USA, finishing 9-3, as well as 6-2 in their conference. Those three losses came against Texas, Marshall (who finished 8-5), and UAB (who ended up 9-5, including a loss in the C-USA Championship Game). That means, the Bulldogs are no joke, especially for a team like Miami, who has no room to take teams lightly after the way the 2019 season played out. Additionally, this is essentially a home game for the in-state Bulldogs, who will need no motivation to take down a storied Power 5 program.
Meanwhile, it remains to be seen how motivated the Canes will be, as they’re coming off an arduous and disappointing season, and they’re playing a group of five program in a low-level bowl game. Additionally, another big question is how well-prepared Miami will be for this game. This season, Miami was 0-3 in games following a bye week, and this contest will take place almost a month after their last game. UM enters this game shorthanded, as it’ll be without starting RB Deejay Dallas (injury), as well as LB Michael Pinckney, DE Trevon Hill, WR Jeff Thomas, and DE Jon Garvin, who are all sitting out as the next step of their football career awaits them. As of this moment, the Canes stunningly do not have a quarterback for the game, or it at least hasn’t been revealed to the public yet.
The competition for the job appears to be between redshirt freshman Jarren Williams and redshirt sophomore N’kosi Perry. Williams started 10 games this season, throwing for 2,093 yards, 19 touchdowns, as well as six interceptions. Williams had a very up and down season, as he started it with very encouraging performances against Florida and North Carolina. Then, a few weeks later, he threw three interceptions in the first quarter against Virginia Tech, which led to him being benched.
Williams wouldn’t really appear again until late October, when he came off the bench to help a struggling offense by leading a game-winning drive to beat Pitt. Williams then experienced his two best games as a starter, as he threw for a combined 566 yards, eight touchdowns, and no interceptions in two dominating victories against Florida State and Louisville. After that, Williams spiraled, as he threw three interceptions against FIU, and he only managed to throw for 142 yards against Duke.
His counterpart, N’kosi Perry, has seen limited action this year, as he started three games. For the season, Perry threw for 993 yards and eight touchdowns. The Canes defense will be depleted for this game, so they will have to rely on DE Greg Rousseau and LB Shaq Quarterman to fill the talent void. Quarterman, the senior linebacker, has been one of the stalwarts of Miami’s defense, as he led the team with 96 tackles, in addition to being second in tackles for loss with with 15.5.
Rousseau burst onto the scene in his first season of college football. The redshirt freshman recorded a staggering 14 sacks and 18 tackles for loss, which both led the team. Rousseau did this despite not starting until October, and he was named First-Team All-ACC for his stellar season. Rousseau will look to make life hard on Louisiana Tech’s offense, which comes into Thursday’s game ranked 30th in the country in total offense, as the Bulldogs averaged 445.2 yards per game.
The Dawgs are quarterbacked by J’Mar Smith, who completed 65.8% of his passes for 2,814 yards and 17 touchdowns, while only throwing four interceptions. Louisiana Tech has a potent rushing attack, led by RB Justin Henderson, who finished the regular season with 967 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns. Smith also got involved on the ground, as he recorded 230 rushing yards and three rushing touchdowns. Through the air, Smith’s top weapons include Malik Stanley (574 receiving yards, three touchdowns), and Griffin Hebert (511 receiving yards and six touchdowns). The Bulldogs defense isn’t nearly as stout. They finished the regular season ranked 68th in total defense, and allowed 390.3 yards per game.
Some key players on the Dawgs defense include safety L’Jarius Sneed (leads team with 72 tackles), and CB Amik Robertson (five interceptions in 2019). In summation, Louisiana Tech is a solid team that Miami cannot take for granted.
The Dawgs would love nothing more then to beat a tradition-rich ACC program, and while the Independence Bowl isn’t terribly significant, Miami simply cannot go into the offseason having lost to two Conference USA teams in 2019. The Canes have had a rough season to say the least, but a loss in this game to move them to 6-7 would make this season downright atrocious. Miami is only 1-6 in bowl games in the 2010’s, so Miami will look to end the season and the decade on a high note. The Canes will kick off against Louisiana Tech on Thursday at 4PM on ESPN.