Miami was the first team in Independence Bowl to be shut out in the 44 year history of the bowl with a 14-0 loss to Louisiana Tech. I’m not entirely certain what else needs to be said, but here it goes.
Many questions surrounded the Hurricanes since they played their last game against Duke on Nov. 30. Some were answered, such as who will play and who won't. Seniors Michael Pinckney and Trevon Hill elected to sit out of this game, as did juniors Jeff Thomas and Jonathan Garvin.
The quarterback situation, which has essentially been a battle since Spring ball, continued into bowl practice. Ultimately, it was Jarren Williams who got the nod.
Manny Diaz has labeled the redshirt freshman as “his guy” many times this season and he stayed true to that by starting him against Louisiana Tech.
Jarren Williams found senior KJ Osborn to move the sticks on the first series of the game, but the Hurricanes got stuck in a far too familiar situation — a third and long — and couldn't convert, true to their nature.
Then out came Conference USA Player of the Year J’mar Smith and the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs (9-3) and he found his top receiver Malik Stanley for 34-yards on the first play of the drive.
But that would be all for Skip Holtz’s Bulldogs on the opening drive. Senior DE Scott Patchan, starting in place of NFL-bound Garvin, and Greg Rousseau sacked Smith on the following series, forcing a 4th and 40.
Miami took over at their 11 after a 51-yard punt by Brady Farlow and Williams went right back to Osborn, the teams leading pass-catcher, for 15-yards.
On 3rd and 2, following an 11-yard catch by fullback Michael Parrott following a false start, Osborn gave the Hurricanes their first third down conversion of the game.
As the worst third down team in the country, that’s a big deal.
Facing another 3rd and 5, Jarren Williams called his own number and, after a review, had just enough for a first down. Two conversions on a single drive is not something the Hurricanes could afford to waste.
On the following set of downs, Williams missed an open Osborn on the sideline for a sure first down.
Instead, the Canes faced yet another third down situation and could not convert it for a third time. A Williams pass was well behind tight end Will Mallory and Miami had to punt.
Lou Hedley’s second punt of the day pinned the Bulldogs to their own 7.
Then it began to feel like their offense got going. Running back Justin Henderson had runs of 18, 9 and 7 on his first three attempts and brought the Louisiana Tech offense near midfield by himself.
But the Hurricanes defense said “no more” and halted the drive with a four-yard tackle for loss. It forced a clear passing situation on third down and Miami locked up.
Osborn continued to pop off the screen, this time with a 33-yard return of Farlow’s punt that gave the offense the ball on Louisiana Tech’s 48.
Cam’Ron Harris got the following drive going with a 9-yard run up the middle.
A play-action bootleg failed miserably as Williams was swarmed by Tech defenders and then nearly threw an interception on second down.
A dreaded third and long resulted in a check down to Harris that left the Hurricanes in a 4th and 5. Jarren Williams evaded pressure and scrambled for a first down run that displayed a lot of grit and toughness from #15.
Unfortunately, a hands to the face penalty on John Campbell wiped it off the board and Osborn’s potentially momentum swinging return resulted in nothing.
Hedley, an early MVP of the game candidate, pinned the Bulldogs inside their 10 again.
But Henderson continued to be a problem by bulldozing his way through the middle of the Hurricanes defense.
Miami got the stop that they needed and put Tech in a 3rd and 7 situation, but J’mar Smith ran it 8-yards for a first down.
On the next set of downs, Henderson ran into a group of Miami defenders, bounced right off of them, broke left and ran it 13-yards for a first down.
On the 13th play of the drive, Smith let go of the ball and he was being dragged down by Rousseau and found Isreal Tucker down the left sideline, who could have walked into the endzone.
It broke the scoreless tie and capped off a 91-yard drive by Todd Fitch’s offense.
Miami simply couldn't respond. Osborn wide open on a very manageable third down and Williams completely missed a seamingly easy pitch and catch. Williams moved to 5-12 for 49 yards nearly halfway through the second quarter against a G5 opponent.
To add insult to injury, freshman Te’Cory Couch hit the punt returner just a hair too early and got flagged for a 15-yard penalty. The Bulldogs would get the ball back on their 40.
The Miami defense tightened up after just a few moments of rest due to a quick offensive drive and forced a three and out, but a great Furlow punt pinned Miami at their 9-yard line.
The Hurricanes offense would have to go the exact distance Louisiana Tech went to score.
And they would have to do it led by Tate Martell.
His first attempt was a 6-yard designed draw and on third down he found Osborn on the sideline for a first down.
Facing a 3rd and 13, Martell was sacked after he scrambled around for a little. Another terrible drive for the offense.
The defense continued to play well by forcing their second straight three and out.
With 1:49 left in the half and no points on the board, Miami needed to find something, anything to get in a groove.
Diaz immediately went back to Williams after the very brief Martell experiment in hopes that the experienced quarterback could put something together.
He didn't. Miami punted almost immediately and it was not a good one. It traveled just 29-yards and Louisiana Tech had :35 to go half the field and score.
The Miami defense stayed strong and held J’mar Smith and the Tech offense to their third consecutive three and out.
After finding Osborn, the seemingly only available wide receiver on Miami’s roster in the first half, for 21-yards, Williams nearly made the dumbest play of the entire 2019 season — which says a lot.
The half ended, to the mercy of every Miami fan, with Louisiana Tech leading 7-0.
The Bulldogs received the ball at the half, but their offense continued to be stagnant following their 91-yard touchdown drive.
Jarren Williams came out as the ‘Canes quarterback to open the second half and found Dee Wiggins for a first down on the first play of the half.
That would be the only positive play of another miserable drive. You’d think Miami was playing Clemson with the way the Louisiana Tech defense was giving them fits.
Truly atrocious. Not unexpected, but still atrocious.
I want it to be clear that this Louisiana Tech team is not good. This offense, aside from Justin Henderson, is extremely average all-around. Smith is good but is very underwhelming as a passer. I credit the Canes defense but there has also been a lot of bad throws and indecision from the CUSA Player of the Year.
That being said, the Hurricanes offense had nearly 40 less total yards at this point of the game — which is six minutes into the third quarter.
Miami punted which is shocking, I know. It was only the eighth time they had done it all...game. Did you think I was going to say year?
After converting their first third down in their last six attempts, Louisiana Tech got fancy with a reverse that went for 14-yards. Greg Rousseau shut down that momentum with a shoe-string sack, moving him to 15.5 on the year. Patchan followed with a tackle for loss on a designed QB run to force a punt.
But Jarren Williams gave it right back with an interception and Tech would take over on Miami’s 31.
Miami had zero points through three quarters against a team in the Conference USA. Flat out embarrassing.
Then, finally, Gilbert Frierson stepped in front of a J’mar Smith pass and intercepted it, ran it for 34-yards, then pitched it back to Te’Cory Couch who ran it for another 16.
Then out came N’Kosi Pery, the Canes third quarterback of this 7-0 thriller in Shreveport, La.
And he was on the money on an essential 3rd and 7, finding Mark Pope for a 12-yard gain.
After a holding call, Perry nearly hit Mike Harley on 3rd and 14, but was just wide. Lou Hedley punted his Independence Bowl record ninth time with just over nine minutes left in the fourth.
Smith found his top target Stanley for 19-yards, the longest offensive play of the game since the end of the first half. The Bulldogs ran the ball a couple time to kill some clock and they did. By the time Furlow had to punt for the ninth time, there was five and half minutes left in the game.
This drive felt like it had to be the one. If the Hurricanes couldn't score on this possession, it was surely over.
And just like that — on the first play of the possession — sophomore Will Mallory nearly fumbled what would have been a 20-yard gain for the Hurricanes on first down. Instead, to the fortune of the Hurricanes, the call on the field was reversed to an incomplete pass.
Mallory got his redemption right away with a 12-yard reception.
Perry scrambled on 2nd down and was nailed with a head-to-head hit by Tristian Allen that would have gotten a Miami player ejected and banned for life from the sport of football. Instead, a flag wasn't thrown on the field until an irate Manny Diaz seemingly forced a review of the play. Allen was then ejected for targeting.
Shortly after, Perry threw an interception, his third of the year, to Aaron Roberson.
That was the dagger.
The game and the sorrowful 2019 season was over.