Spread: Miami (FL) -6.5
Kickoff: 3:30 ET Saturday, ESPN2
247 days after Louisville dominated Miami in the 2013 Russell Athletic Bowl (what would ultimately be the final game for both Teddy Bridgewater and Charlie Strong in their Louisville careers), the Cardinals and Hurricanes met once again on Labor Day night, September 1st, 2014.
Louisville would end up serving a minor repeat of the 2013 bowl game under new head coach Bobby Petrino. Dominique Brown had 33 carries for 143 yards and a touchdown, and quarterback Will Gardner completed 20-of-28 passes for 206 yards and two touchdowns. Corvin Lamb also had a 97-yard kickoff return touchdown, and Louisville’s defense forced three turnovers as the Cardinals kicked off a new era in the ACC with a 31-13 win over the Hurricanes.
Miami leads the all-time series 9-3-1, but Louisville has won the last three games against the Hurricanes.
Meet the 2019 Miami (FL) Hurricanes
The Miami Hurricanes have constantly fluctuated between great and mediocre seasons since joining the ACC in 2004. It seems like for every great season they have, they follow it up with replacing their head coach shortly thereafter.
After a 10-0 start in 2017 that saw the Hurricanes reach as high as #2 in the College Football Playoff rankings, Miami dropped their final three games to Pitt, Clemson (in the ACC Championship game), and Wisconsin (in the Orange Bowl). That led to Miami falling short of lofty Top 25 expectations in 2018, finishing 7-6 and getting beat by Wisconsin again, this time in the Pinstripe Bowl.
Mark Richt’s sudden retirement shortly after the 2018 season forced Miami to look for its fifth head coach since joining the conference. They eventually lured back former defensive coordinator Manny Diaz — who, weeks prior, had taken the head coaching job at Temple.
Diaz had made a name for himself under Richt as one of the top young coordinators in college football; his defenses were among the nation’s best in forcing turnovers, and in doing so, created yet another iconic Miami football tradition with the turnover chain.
2019 has been another up-and-down year in Manny Diaz’s first run as a head coach. They started 0-2 with losses to Florida and North Carolina, but have since gone on to win three of their last four against #20 Virginia at home, and road wins over Pitt and Florida State.
Miami enters the game with a 5-4 record. A win versus Louisville would secure Miami’s bowl eligibility for the seventh straight season.
Key Offensive Players: QB Jarren Williams, WR K.J. Osborn
Jarren Williams surprised everybody in August when he beat out returning starter N’Kosi Perry and Ohio State transfer Tate Martell for the starting quarterback job. It seemed like a given that the job was going to come down to Perry and Martell; both can scramble, and while Perry had previous experience as a starter at Miami, Martell carried a lot of hype as the #2 dual-threat quarterback in the 2017 class.
A lot of people forget, though, that Williams was the #5 pro-style quarterback in the 2018 class. Williams started the first four games completing 72.6% of his passes for 1027 yards, seven touchdowns and no interceptions. But after a disastrous loss to Virginia Tech that saw Williams throw three interceptions, Miami decided to throw Perry back into the starting role. Perry’s scrambling ability made him a more enticing option for the Hurricanes offense on the surface, considering they have struggled in pass protection all season long (35 sacks allowed, T-126th in the FBS).
Perry did play well enough for Miami to go 2-1 in his three starts, but he completed 55.6% of his passes for 896 yards with seven touchdowns and an interception. Williams would earn the starting spot again for the Florida State game, and his performance in Tallahassee seems to have solidified his starting role for now. Williams completed 21-of-37 passes for 313 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions.
Williams is a solid thrower that should get better as he gets more reps. What I liked the most about watching his game last week against Florida State was that he was much quicker in the pocket at finding receivers, especially downfield. Part of that is due to Miami being better in pass protection in comparison to the rest of its season, but if they can find ways for Williams to sit in the pocket and hit throws deep, it will give them a great chance to win out the rest of its regular season (final three games: v. Louisville, v. FIU, and at Duke).
It also helps that Williams has a very talented, deep receiving corps at his disposal. K.J. Osborn is a huge big play threat for the Hurricanes, leading the team in catches (36) and touchdowns (five). Brevin Jordan is one of the best tight ends in the conference, and leads Miami in receiving yards (495). I really like Jeff Thomas and when he gets going, that really opens things up for Miami’s offense as a whole.
Key Defensive Players: DL Gregory Rousseau, LB Shaquille Quarterman
Despite Miami reaching a New Year’s Six bowl once since joining the ACC, most still consider it to be a high profile job in college football. The city of Miami is one of the richest areas for recruiting in college football, and the Hurricanes have a rich history with the great teams from the 1980s and arguably the greatest team of all-time, the 2001 Hurricanes. If Miami keeps its talent in the area and gets a great head coach, the potential is always going to be limitless for the program.
Miami could have gone after almost anyone this offseason once Richt retired in December, but they chose Diaz for a reason. His defenses were among the nation’s leaders in takeaways when he was defensive coordinator under Richt, and also credited with creating one of the newest, coolest traditions in the sport. Born in Miami, the homegrown Diaz was a natural fit for the job once it came open.
Even if Miami’s offense has been average for a majority of the season, their defense has kept games competitive for the Hurricanes in 2019. They have one of the best captains in the conference in linebacker Shaquille Quarterman, who bypassed an early start on his NFL career to return for his senior season. Quarterman has started 48 games in his Miami career, and since day one on campus has been one of the best linebackers in the conference. He’s a versatile linebacker that can do it all for Miami; pass rush, run support, pass coverage, you name it. He leads the team in tackles (63) and QB hurries (seven), to go along with four PBUs (second on the team). Wherever he is, Louisville has to key on him so that he doesn’t blow up plays like he did last week at Florida State.
Quarterman’s presence in the front seven will be tough to replace in 2019, but they will be in good hands with two more years of defensive end Gregory Rousseau. Rousseau has been one of the best freshman in the country on defense, tallying 12 sacks and 15.5 tackles for loss this season. In his last two games against Pitt and Florida State, Rousseau has been a huge part of their wins with seven sacks and eight tackles for loss. Teammates Trevon Hill (four sacks, 7.5 tackles for loss) and Jonathan Ford (2.5 sacks, three tackles for loss) are also solid players on the line, making this one of the toughest defensive lines Louisville will face all season.
Will Louisville’s pass rush continue its momentum on Saturday?
Almost everyone of Miami’s losses in 2019 can be traced back to one common thread; troubles in pass protection. The Hurricanes have allowed 24 sacks in their four losses (including ten to Florida), and as mentioned earlier, they are among the worst in the country in pass protection with 35 sacks allowed through nine games this season.
Louisville’s front seven is also coming off its best game against Virginia, where they sacked Bryce Perkins four times and shut down the Cavaliers’ offense for a majority of the second half. Their strong play against UVA is also encouraging, since they will be playing two of the worst teams in the country this month in terms of sacks allowed (Miami and Syracuse).
Given that, priority number one for a Louisville victory should be winning the battle at the line of scrimmage against Miami. If Louisville’s front seven can win the line of scrimmage like they were able to last week, that will stifle Miami’s offense and their passing game as it has all season.
Will Miami’s defensive line continue to dominate like last week?
Javian Hawkins has indisputably been one of the best freshmen in the conference and maybe even the country, but Miami’s Gregory Rousseau might be up there with him in terms of overall impact. Rousseau has 12(!) sacks this season, and in last week’s game against Florida State, he and teammate Jonathan Ford led a Miami defense that tallied nine sacks and 16 tackles for loss against their rival.
Miami’s defensive line can also have a huge impact on the game against the Cardinals. Miami showed last week that they can stop an elite running back in Florida State’s Cam Akers, and they will be tasked with shutting down a Louisville running game that has been solid all season. If they can win the line of scrimmage and force Louisville into third-and-long situations, that will give Diaz and his defense a chance to dial up unique pressures and confuse Micale Cunningham (or Evan Conley, if he plays once again). In Louisville’s three losses this season, they have allowed 16 sacks (an average of 5.3 per loss).
Jarren Williams v. Micale Cunningham
I normally try to avoid using the QB battle as a talking point when dissecting how a game ultimately will play out, because the position is the most talked about in all of sports. But I feel that Louisville v. Miami will ultimately come down to which quarterback will perform better against defenses that should be able to get pressure all game.
For Williams, the message is simple: continue to buy time as a pocket passer and get the ball out to your playmakers. Williams got back on the right track against Florida State last week, and with a tight end as athletic as Brevin Jordan, that is a huge asset against a Louisville defense that has been vulnerable to that position. Osborn and Thomas will also get their chances deep downfield, and while Louisville’s secondary has played better since the Wake Forest game, it will still be a tough challenge for them against a speedy unit.
Cunningham will have to continue to do what has gotten him here so far; make the throws, and make the runs count. What I am curious about, though, is if Scott Satterfield will continue the two-QB experiment with Evan Conley. Against a Miami defensive line that is among the best in the nation in sacks (34, third in the FBS), it would seem ideal for the offense to stick with Cunningham and his proven running ability for the whole game.
For either of Louisville’s quarterbacks, though, the receivers should have a solid test against an underrated Miami secondary that is allowing 192 passing yards per game. The matchup to watch outside will be Dez Fitzpatrick and Seth Dawkins versus Miami’s Trajan Bandy and DJ Ivey.