Russell Athletic Bowl Preview: Miami Hurricanes Passing Game vs WVU Pass Defense

Nov 5, 2016; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Miami Hurricanes quarterback Brad Kaaya (15) throws a pass during the first half against Pittsburgh Panthers at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 5, 2016; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Miami Hurricanes quarterback Brad Kaaya (15) throws a pass during the first half against Pittsburgh Panthers at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports /

When the Miami Hurricanes are on offense they will face a porous West Virginia pass Defense. Brad Kaaya will be facing the nations 99th pass defense in yards allowed per game.

At the Miami  awards banquet last week running back Mark Walton was named the team’s MVP. Walton was outstanding this season with 1,065 yards and 14 touchdowns and another 262 yards and one touchdown receiving. He struggled in the Hurricanes four losses in the middle of the season.

Kaaya carried the Miami offense during the loss streak. Although his numbers were down from their eight wins, the passing game was the majority of the Miami offense during the four losses.

Miami averaged 62.5 yards rushing in their four losses and 203.9 yards rushing per game in the eight wins. They rushed for 652 yards, 34.4 percent of the entire season total in the season opening wins against Florida A&M and Florida Atlantic.

In the losses to Florida State, North Carolina, Virginia Tech and Notre Dame, Kaaya and the Miami passing game averaged 262.25 yards per game. In their eight wins, Miami threw for an average of 279.1 yards per game.

West Virginia was 99th in total yards allowed against the pass at 255.7 yards per game. They allowed 12.42 yards per completion and 6.91 yards per attempt. In the pass happy Big XII, passing yards allowed in big numbers are to be expected. The Mountaineers had mixed success against the pass in their two losses.

Oklahoma State threw for 274 yards against the Mountaineers and Oklahoma threw for only 169 yards. The Sooners chose to pummel WVU on the ground. OU rushed for 316 yards.

Canes Warning partner site Sports Illustrated highlighted the Mountaineers early season success on the defensive side of the ball in October. SI’s College Football writer Andy Staples discussed the WVU defensive scheme and what made it successful.

"The Mountaineers play a 3-3-5 (three down linemen, three linebackers and five defensive backs). This is a popular alignment against up-tempo teams because the three down linemen allow coordinators to disguise coverages and pressures more easily than a four-man front. This makes quarterbacks think more about where the fourth man is coming from, and anything that makes the quarterback hesitate even a millisecond can disrupt an up-tempo offense that relies on timing and rhythm."

Miami plays a pro style offense with a Fullback,  Halfback Tight End and two Receivers. Mark Richt and UM Offensive Coordinator Thomas Brown will utilize three receivers, but they don’t run the up tempo offense that has become popular in the Big XII. Facing such a different style of offense, the Hurricanes should be able to mix in some play action passes to open up the running game and keep the Mountaineers honest.

The Hurricanes have been able to use their big receivers to their advantage throughout the season. Wide Receivers Stacy Coley and Ahmmon Richards and Tight Ends Chris Herndon IV and David Njoku are all at least 6’1. Three of West Virginia’s five starting defensive backs are at least 6’1.

The player to Watch on the Defensive side of the ball when Kaaya attempts to throw the football is Cornerback Rasul Douglas. Douglas earned second team All-American Status and tied for the lead nationally with eight interceptions. He also had 62 tackles, three tackles for loss and seven pass breakups.

Douglas has the size of a safety at 6’2 208 pounds. They might be able to exploit the opposite site that is manned by Maurice Fleming. Fleming is a load a 208 pounds, but is only 5’11. They could chose to line up Njoku out wide at times to take advantage of a nearly six inch height advantage.

Kaaya had some success in the Hurricanes worst performance of the year against Virginia Tech. He threw for 323 yards and three touchdowns. His 14.1 yards per completion topped the Hokies average of 13.27 yards allowed per completion. Kaaya concluded the season averaging 13.7 yards per completion.

He had four 300 yard games and threw for multiple touchdowns in seven out of the 12 games. One of the keys for West Virginia’s pass defense will be keeping Richards from racking up large gains. Richards finished 22nd nationally and led all Freshman with an 18.8 yards per reception average.

Next: Could West Virginia’s Dana Holgorsen Have Been Miami Hurricanes Head Coach?

Miami’s passing game finished 27th in the nation (273.5 YPG). Kaaya does a great job taking care of the football. He posted a 23-to-7 touchdown-to-interception ratio this season. That will also be a key as WVU intercepted 14 passes this season, led by Douglas’ eight.