Hurricanes Overcome Slow Start, Down WVU 31-14 to Win Russell Athletic Bowl

Dec 28, 2016; Orlando, FL, USA; Miami Hurricanes head coach Mark Richt celebrates after defeating the West Virginia Mountaineers 31-14 at Camping World Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 28, 2016; Orlando, FL, USA; Miami Hurricanes head coach Mark Richt celebrates after defeating the West Virginia Mountaineers 31-14 at Camping World Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports /

The Miami Hurricanes overcame a first quarter without any first downs to score 21 second quarter points and never looked back in a 31-14 win over West Virginia to win the Russell Athletic Bowl.

It was Miami’s first bowl win in a decade and ended a six game bowl losing streak. Brad Kaaya overcame a 5-13 start to the game. He completed 19 of his final 21 attempts and finished the game 24-34 for 282 yards and four touchdowns. Now the Miami staff, administration, and fans await Kaaya’s decision on whether or not he will return for his senior season.

Kaaya’s four touchdowns tied a career high, a number he had reached three times earlier this season including the Hurricanes final regular season game against Duke. After punting on their first six possessions including three and outs on their first five possessions, one play turned the entire game around.

Ahmmon Richards took a bubble screen 51 yards from the right sideline and cut across the field to score Miami’s first touchdown of the game to even the score at seven. Kaaya connected with Malcolm Lewis from three yards out just over four minutes later and topped it off with a 26 yard touchdown pass to Braxton Berrios 27 seconds before halftime to extend the Miami lead to 21-7.

They added to the lead when Kaaya and David Njoku collaborated on 23 yard strike to essentially put the game away at 28-7 on the ‘Canes first drive of the second half. Njoku finished with five catches for 44 yards and the one touchdown. He announced after the game that he was turning pro. He said “It’s kind of bittersweet, leaving my team a couple years early.”

Kaaya earned the game’s Most Valuable Player Award and Miami’s defense held West Virginia to less than half of it season’s average yards on offense. The Hurricanes defense set the tone early.

After Mountaineers Quarterback Skyler Howard ran ten yards for a first down to the WVU 40 on the third play of the game, he was stripped and by Chad Thomas and Kendrick Norton recovered. Despite the excellent field position, UM went three and out.

West Virginia opened the scoring on their third possession of the game. The Mountaineers took over at the Miami 39 after Travis Homer interfered with WVU’s Gary Jennings’ ability to catch a punt.

The Mountaineers took four plays culminated by a seven yard Kennedy McCoy touchdown run. They added a second score on their first possession of the second half. Howard ran in a scored from four yards out to cut the deficit to 28-14.

Miami kicker Michael Badgley kicked a 30 yard field goal on the Hurricanes ensuing drive to extend the lead to the game’s final score at 31-14. Kaaya and the Hurricanes defense were the keys to victory.

West Virginia came into the game averaging 485.5 yards of total offense per game. Miami held the Mountaineers to 229. Justin Crawford who rushed for 1,184 yards this season finished with 16 yards on six carries. Crawford was the Big XII conference’s Newcomer of the Year.

As a team, the Mountaineers rushed for an average of 228 yards per game this season, but managed only 95 against Miami. Howard managed just 134 yards passing. Howard finished the season with 400 yards rushing and ten touchdowns. He also threw for 3,328 yards, 26 touchdowns and ten interceptions.

Miami was able to hold down stars WVU receivers Dakiell Shorts and Shelton Gibson. Shorts and Gibson both earned second team All Big XII. Shorts led West Virginia this season with 63 receptions and added 894 yards and five touchdowns. Shelton finished fifth in the country averaging 22.1 yards per catch and had eight touchdowns.

Shorts finished with five receptions for 61 yards and Gibson just three for 24. The Hurricanes played Defensive Coordinator Manny Diaz’ Defense nearly flawlessly. Miami continued disrupting their opponent at the point of attack. They finished the game with four sacks and nine tackles for loss.

The Hurricanes defensive backs led the way. Seniors Corn Elder, Rayshawn Jenkins and Jamal Carter all went out with a win playing at the top of their game. Elder finished with seven tackles, six solo, Jenkins had six and five and Carter, Six, four and one tackle for loss.

Asked about Miami’s Defense, West Virginia Coach Dana Holgorsen said: “That’s the best defense we faced all year.”

Kaaya said he would take a few days before he makes his decision, but it will come in the early window before the January 17th deadline. Speaking to the media after the game he said:

"“I’ve got some soul-searching to do…Regardless of if I’m here or not next season, I think this team is headed to greatness,” Kaaya added…I think there’s a lot of good things going on and a lot of progress has been made, so I think this team will be good regardless of what happens over the next few days.”"

Next: Russell Ath Bowl Preview: Miami Hurricanes DL vs WVU OL

Final Notes

  • Kaaya had entered Wednesday’s game as Miami’s career leader in passing yards and became the career leader in attempts and completions in the win over West Virginia.
  • Malcolm Lewis second quarter touchdown reception was only the second of his career and his first since scoring against Nebraska in 2014.
  • Michael Pinckney was ejected for targeting with 10:55 left in the third quarter on Gibson. Per NCAA rule will have to sit out the first half of next season’s opener. Miami’s opponent in that game has not been determined yet.
  • The Hurricanes will play at Arkansas State on September 9, host Toledo September 23 and Notre Dame November 11. The rest of the schedule will be determined by the ACC.
  • Ahmmon Richards finished his season with 934 yards receiving to cap the Miami freshman record.