ORLANDO (CBSMiami/SportsDirect) – The matchup in Wednesday’s Russell Athletic Bowl could provide one of the more entertaining games during bowl week.
West Virginia attempts to clinch its first 11-win season since 2007 and Miami tries to finish its first season under Mark Richt with a five-game winning streak when the former Big East foes meet in Orlando, Fla.
The No. 12 Mountaineers rebounded from their mistake-filled 56-28 loss to Oklahoma with victories against Iowa State and Baylor to finish an impressive 7-2 in the Big 12.
The Hurricanes recovered from a mid-season four-game losing streak that included a pair of agonizing losses to Florida State and Notre Dame by outscoring their final four ACC foes 152-76 to save a season that appeared to be slipping away.
Bowl games are often decided by which team is more motivated, but in this case both squads should be excited to get on the field at Camping World Stadium.
Miami hasn’t won a bowl game in a decade and is looking to build momentum for the future as it attempts to regain its past glory under Richt, a former Hurricanes quarterback.
The Mountaineers’ outstanding regular season has already resulted in coach Dana Holgorsen being given a five-year contract extension, and they have the opportunity to possibly finish ranked in the top 10 while avoiding finishing the season on a sour note.
Perhaps the most interesting battle will be between West Virginia’s physical offensive line, anchored by All-American center Tyler Orlosky, and Miami’s freshman-led front seven that keyed a defense that allowed only 18.9 points per game.
The offensive talents mirror one another with Miami junior quarterback Brad Kaaya, who could be headed to the NFL after this game, and West Virginia senior Skyler Howard having similar numbers while both teams have a 1,000-yard rusher in Miami’s Mark Walton and West Virginia’s Justin Crawford.
If it comes down to the kicking game, Miami appears to have an edge with Michael Badgley (10-of-11 on field goals of 40 or more yards) and Justin Vogel (44.2 yards on 57 punts, 23 punts inside the 20 and one touchback) having performed better than Mike Molina (2-of-5 from 40 yards or more) and Billy Kinney (41.4 yards on 51 punts, 14 inside the 20, five touchbacks).
TV: 5:30 p.m. ET, ESPN. LINE: Miami -3
ABOUT WEST VIRGINIA (10-2, 7-2 Big 12): The Mountaineers rank No. 12 in FBS in total offense (506.9 yards per game) with a balanced attack behind Howard (3,194 yards passing, 60.8 percent, 26 touchdown passes) and a backfield led by Crawford (1,168 yards, 7.4 yards per carry, four TDs) that had four different players rush for more than 100 yards in a game.
Howard, who is also a running threat, has a trio of dangerous receivers in Daikiel Shorts Jr. (58 receptions, 833 yards), Ka’Raun White (48, 583) and game-breaking Shelton Gibson (40, 927, 23.2 yards per reception).
All-American senior cornerback Rasul Douglas, who had eight of the team’s 14 interceptions, is the leader of a unit that ranked No. 3 in total defense (but only No. 79 in FBS) in the offensive-minded Big 12 (431.2 yards per game).
ABOUT MIAMI (8-4, 5-3 ACC): Kaaya (3,250 yards, 61.2 percent, 23 touchdowns) played his best at the end of the season when he benefited from improved protection from his line, the emergence of explosive freshman wide receiver Ahmmon Richards (46 receptions, 866 yards, 18.8 yards per reception) and the improved play of tight end David Njoku (38, 654, 17.2), who caught seven TD passes.
The offensive line’s re-emergence after being dominated during the losing streak also helped Walton (1,065 yards, 5.5 yards per carry, 14 TDs) and Joe Yearby (592, 6.0) provide balance in the final four wins.
With four freshmen in their front seven, including end Joe Jackson (7.5 sacks) and linebacker Shaq Quarterman (nine tackles for loss), and a secondary led by senior cornerback Corn Elder, Miami’s defense held nine foes to 21 points or fewer.
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