Miami Hurricanes Football Bowl Game Preview: Washington State Cougars


Just five years ago, the Miami Hurricanes faced the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in the Sun Bowl with an interim coach and a new one in waiting. In 2015, the Miami Hurricanes return to El Paso, Texas with similar circumstances to face the Washington State Cougars. Wazzu enters the bowl game for the second time in school history and with their first winning season since 2003. The Sun Bowl selects the 5th team in the PAC 12 rankings at the end of the year and an ACC team between 3rd-6th ranking.  The Canes (5-3 ACC) and Wazzu (6-3 PAC 12) produced 8-4 records to finish the season. Will Miami assemble a bowl victory for the first time since 2006? Or can the Cougars get a victory to generate momentum for the 2016 season? Tune in on the day after Christmas.

Game Details

Location: Sun Bowl Stadium, El Paso, Texas

Miami Hurricanes (8-4, 5-3 ACC) vs. the Washington State Cougars (8-4, 6-3 PAC 12)

Saturday, December 26, 2015  at 2 PM EST, CBS

Line – 1.5 WSU

Washington State’s Year in Review

The Cougars entered their first game with aspirations to vastly improve after their disappointing (3-9) season in 2014. In the home opener, WSU faced Portland State, an FCS team, and lost 24-17 . After this black mark to begin this year, they rebounded by beating Rutgers and Wyoming.

Here is how they fared for the rest of the season:

@ #24 California  – L (28-34)

@ Oregon –W (45-38)

Oregon State – W (52-31)

Arizona – W (45-38)

 #8 Stanford – L (28-30)

Arizona State – W (38-24)

@ #19 UCLA – W (31-27)

Colorado – W (27-3)

@ Washington – L (10-45)

There is some impressive wins on Wazzu’s schedule like at UCLA and Oregon. They also fought the conference champion Stanford to a 2-point game, a game where the Cardinals had to kick a field goal to win in the closing seconds of the game. At one point in the season, Mike Leach had this Cougar team ranked 20th in the nation. This remarkable turn around from the previous year allowed Leach to take home the PAC-12 coach of the year award.

WSU Offense vs. Canes Defense

Much of Washington State’s success is predicated off their passing game. Mike Leach will look to exploit the Canes Defense with the Air Raid passing attack. This offensive philosophy picks apart certain overages with multiple route combinations. Zone coverages by opposing defenses struggle to defend this offense because it utilizes the whole field. Man coverage against the Air Raid can also be difficult. Of course, this offense is known for it’s uptempo and speed, but it’s unpredictability.

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The Cougar offense is led by sophomore, Luke Falk, who has thrown for 4266 yards with 36 TDs and 8 INTs with 70.7 completion percentage.  In each game, Washington State has been able to produce over 300 yards of offense and averages 397.0 yards in the air per game. How can Miami stop them?

This season, Miami hasn’t done well against superior offenses like North Carolina and Clemson who both scored 59 and 58 points respectively. Ironically, Miami ranks 29th in passing defense by holding opponents on average to 196 yards per game. But, Miami has struggled to stop the run . They rank near the bottom in run defense, at 108th in the country. However, the Canes are in luck. Wazzu ranks dead last in rushing offense. The Cougars only average 78.8 yards per game.

A key match-up will be one of Miami’s best defenders, Artie Burns (6 INTs) versus Gabe Marks (99 receptions, 1125 yards, 14 touchdowns). Last year, offensive guru Steve Spurrier out-coached Mark D’Onofrio in the X’s and O’s in the Independence Bowl. As previously mentioned, playing zone coverage is somewhat difficult to stop the Air Raid Offense. If D’Onofrio doesn’t make any adjustments to Mike Leach’s passing system by disguising different overages, it could be a very long day. The Canes defense will be without DT Courtel Jenkins and Safety Jamal Carter due to suspensions. They will be missed, but it will have to be that “next man up mentality” for players like Kendrick Norton and Jaquan Johnson.

Miami’s best bet is to create turnovers, dial up different blitzes, and get a great pass rush from the front four.

Miami’s Offense vs Cougar Defense

The Canes offense this year has exhibited a Jekyll and Hyde theme this year. Brad Kaaya and company have shown glimpses of greatness, but also displayed many moments of imperfection. Like Washington State, Miami has relied on the passing game for victories because of its inability to run the ball. Miami ranks 1117th in rush offense, with leading rusher Joe Yearby (936 yards, 6 TDs). That’s an impressive stat considering Miami’s struggles on the offensive line.

Washington State ranks 63rd in pass defense, 100th in rush defense, and 93rd in total defense (allowing 422.2 yard per game). Granted, Wazzu’s defense won’t the best statistically because of their high powered offense. Nevertheless, Miami can strike.

How? Miami needs to control the ball on the ground, and keep the Washington State offense off the field. Joe Yearby and Mark Walton could have some success due to WSU’s lack of defending the rush. However, the Canes wide receivers have shown the ability to make big plays.  Brad Kaaya ( 3019 yards, 15 TDs, 4 INTs) will utilize his receivers like Stacy Coley, Rashawn Scott, and Herb Waters to burn the Cougar defense. So don’t be surprised if the Sun Bowl is an good ole offensive shootout.


There is no doubt that this game will consist of a lot of points due to the firepower of each offense. Can the Canes keep up with Washington State’s point scoring? Can the defense make some stops to slow the game down?  Or will the Wazzu offense be too much for the Canes to handle?

Miami hasn’t proved to play well against good offenses this season, which leads one to believe that Mike Leach will take advantage of this Canes defense. The prediction: The Cougars will win their first bowl game since 2003.

45-31 Washington State.