(CBS Miami)- The first season of Manny Diaz’s tenure in Miami has been rocky. The team began the year with a 3-4 record that included tough losses to Florida, North Carolina, Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech. Then, they ripped off three straight victories against Pitt, Florida State and Louisville. The ship seemed to be steadied and headed in the right direction.
That win streak was followed by a loss to FIU and a loss to Duke to close out the year 6-6, just barely bowl eligible. But, they are eligible, and as a result they’re headed to Shreveport, LA for the Walk On’s Independence Bowl. Their matchup? The Louisiana Tech Bulldogs who, in their seven seasons under Skip Holtz, have made six bowl appearances now and won the previous five.
In theory, the Hurricanes should have the better roster and therefore, the better chance of winning this game. But, as CBS Miami sports anchor Mike Cugno points out, the ‘Canes have one big disadvantage.
“For Miami, you really have to look at their weaknesses. Coming off of byes this year, they are 0-3. Basically, the strength for Louisiana Tech is they get Miami after a month off. Miami doesn’t seem to get up for games that they think are small,” said Cugno. “Who knows? Maybe for a bowl game they’ll feel like they need to win this, especially if you’re looking at the recruiting aspect. You don’t want to go into the offseason on another L with Miami losing to both Duke and FIU. That is really where this stands. Miami has been ill-prepared going into games, especially after layoffs.”
The team’s play coming off of bye weeks is concerning, particularly when considering that the last time they had a bye they lost to FIU the week after. LA Tech is a much better outfit than FIU, making this game a bit scary for fans. To further muddy the waters, Cugno says that the ‘Canes are “having a quarterback competition going into the game with Jarren Williams and N’Kosi Perry.”
The redshirt freshman Williams got the call to start at the beginning of the season, but then injuries and poor play saw the team revert to Perry in the middle of the year. Williams came back against Florida State and Louisville, once again showing promise before faltering against FIU (3 INT) and Duke (11/26 142 yards). That has left the starting job for the bowl game up for grabs, which Cugno says is “a big problem at any point in the season, let alone the postseason.”
The bright side for Miami all year has been the defense, which, in spite of the offense’s ineptitude, gave up just 5.3 yards per play and 20.8 points per game. They were effective in getting off the field on third downs allowing just a 25% conversion rate to opponents. But defensive linemen Trevon Hill and Jonathan Garvin have already announced they will skip the bowl game to prepare for the draft, leaving Cugno to wonder how that affects the defense overall.
Louisiana Tech’s offense is already difficult enough to deal with, averaging 6.0 yards per play and 34 points per game. Quarterback J’Mar Smith has a plethora of receiving options at his disposal, with six players racking up between 300 and 575 receiving yards. Tech converts third downs at a 42% clip, and once in the red zone they have been lethal, posting a 91% scoring rate. All of that adds up to some fear for Cugno looking at this matchup.
“I hate to say it, but I really am worried that Louisiana Tech wins this game with Miami being a double-digit favorite because like I said, coming off of byes, Miami is not great,” said Cugno.
The oddsmakers do have Miami listed as a six-point favorite as of this writing. But, the ‘Canes were just 3-6 as a favorite this season. Kick-off for the Walk On’s Independence Bowl is set for Thursday, December 26th at 4:00 p.m. EST.