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3 posts from December 27, 2013

December 27, 2013

Who owns the edge? Miami vs. Louisville in Russell Athletic Bowl

ORLANDO -- Here is a breakdown of Saturday night's Russell Athletic Bowl game featuring Miami (9-3) and 18th-ranked Louisville (11-1). The Cardinals are favored to win by 3 1/2 points. 

> Here is also a link to my weekly segment with Orlando Alzugaray on 640Sports.com.


Louisville coach Charlie Strong said the Hurricanes present the toughest challenge his defense has faced in his four years with the Cardinals. That's not exactly a stretch -- at least for this season.

The Hurricanes are the highest-ranked scoring offense (35.9 points per game, 25th nationally) and top rushing team (172.5 yards per game, 63rd) the Cardinals will face this season. Although Louisville ranks second nationally in run defense (86.25) and is allowing only 2.74 yards a carry, they've faced only two teams who rank better than 80th rushing: Cincinnati (68th) and UCF (79th). Both of those opponents had some success (160 yards average and three touchdowns each) against the Cardinals.

Can Dallas Crawford, Gus Edwards and Eduardo Clements find running lanes behind a big, beefy offensive line that averages 320 pounds? With Duke Johnson sidelined over the last four games, they haven't done it enough. Miami has averaged 121 yards on the ground. That ranks 109th. To beat Louisville, Miami will also have to be better on third down (37.8 percent, 85th). The Cardinals rank second nationally in third down defense (28.6 percent). Edge: Louisville.


The Cardinals have allowed the fewest passing touchdowns in the country (eight) and rank eighth in passing yards allowed (171.7). Only Cincinnati, whom the Cardinals beat in overtime 31-24 in the regular season finale, managed to throw for more than 250 yards against them. Sophomore cornerback Charles Gaines leads the team with 11 pass breakups and five interceptions.

Miami, led by quarterback Stephen Morris and receivers Allen Hurns and Stacy Coley, has thrived with the big pass play. UM ranks second nationally with 35 pass plays of 30 yards or more. Louisville has allowed only 10 pass plays of 30 yards or more all season (tied for fifth-fewest).

What the Cardinals do best to stop offenses is sack the quarterback (39 total, fifth nationally). Senior defensive end Marcus Smith ranks second nationally in sacks (12.5) and junior Lorenzo Mauldin is 17th with 9 1/2. UM has allowed only 13 sacks on the season. Edge: Even.


About the nicest thing you can say about Miami's run defense (ranked 81st, 182.33 yards per game, 25 TDs allowed) is that it isn't as bad as last year's (114th, 217.92, 29).

Junior Dominique Brown (6-2, 216) and senior Senorise Perry (6-0, 187) are averaging five yards a carry and have combined to run for 1,414 yards and 14 touchdowns on a Cardinals rushing attack that ranks 80th (150.2 yards per game). It's likely Louisville could opt to give them more work than usual Saturday when you consider the Hurricanes have given up 821 yards and nine touchdowns on the ground over their last three games. Edge: Louisville.


For the first time since 2010, Miami's pass defense has produced more interceptions (18) than touchdowns allowed (13). Of course, Teddy Bridgewater, the nation's fifth moss efficient passer (70.2 completion percentage, 3,523 yards, 28 TDs, 4 INTs), could change all that Saturday night.

He's got six receivers with at least 22 catches this season. Bridgewater doesn't go deep as often as Morris does, but when he does 6-3, 209-pound junior DeVante Parker (46 catches, 743 yards 11 TDs) is usually his favorite target.

But for the most part, Louisville doesn't mind killing their opponents slowly. The Cardinals rank sixth in time of possession (33 minutes, 25 seconds per game). Miami's defense is used to being on the field a lot.  The Hurricanes rank 118th in time of possession (26:21). Edge: Louisville.


UM kicker Matt Goudis ended the season by shaking out of his funk with seven consecutive made field goals, finishing 13 of 17 including a season-long of 49 yards. Punter Pat O'Donnell had a special season, averaging 47.3 yards a kick including 20 punts of 50 yards or more.

Gaines has returned a kick (93 yards) and a punt (35 yards) for a touchdown this season and is hands down Louisville's most dangerous weapon in the return game. Cardinals kicker John Wallace hasn't had to boot many pressure kicks, but is 17 of 21 on field goal attempts with no makes longer than 39 yards. He has had three field goals blocked and punter Ryan Johnson (41.2 yards) has had one of his kicks blocked.

Louisville's punt coverage team is very good having allowed 15 total yards on 13 punt returns. Coley has a punt and kick return for a touchdown this season and should be aided by the return of Phillip Dorsett. Edge: Even.


Strong hasn't faced many ranked opponents in his four seasons as coach, but he's 4-1 in those games. His team has trailed only once at halftime this season -- 13-10 against Houston -- before rallying for a 20-13 win.

Louisville will be Miami's third rank opponent this season. The Hurricanes beat Florida 21-16 back on Sept. 7 before the Gators went into a tailspin and then they were blown out at Florida State 41-14. Miami is 3-5 under coach Al Golden against ranked teams. Good starts are almost mandatory with UM going 17-1 when leading at halftime under Golden, and 3-13 when trailing. Edge: Louisville.

PREDICTION: Louisville 38, Miami 27

Al Golden's Russell Athletic Bowl press conference transcript

ORLANDO -- UM coach Al Golden met with reporters Friday morning to look ahead to Saturday night's showdown with Teddy Bridgewater and Louisville at the Russell Athletic Bowl. Here is the complete transcript.

Opening statement: "Obviously, very grateful to Russell Athletic Bowl and the Orlando community for just an incredible week and an opportunity for our young people and all of our families, our staff, our coaches, wives, our children, just an incredible experience and one that will create lasting memories, so we're excited. We've turned our focus here in the last 48 hours to really getting ready for a really, really good Louisville Cardinal team and excited about the opportunity to kick that ball off tomorrownight at 6:45, so with that I'll open up to any questions that you might have." 

Q: Coach, with a day until the game, what's the perception like with your players knowing that the University of Miami is back in a bowl game and they're this close to being on the field?

COACH GOLDEN:  Well, they're excited.  We've been excited, really, since we started our first practice, you know, probably more than three weeks ago now.  Our freshman, sophomores, and juniors were not able to experience this so -- and that includes everything.  That includes the bowl practices, that includes the travel, the unity and the bonding that occurs during these -- that can really only occur when you -- when you experience things like this.  And they've practiced with a purpose.  I think they've really earned our trust all week by being where you are.  You know, they really conducted themselves well and were accountable to each other and now it's really time to get focused in and get ready to play this game. 

I think we're in the right -- you know, we have a long way to go until we kick it off, but we're in the right frame of mind right now. 

Q: Coach, Teddy Bridgewater is such a dynamic quarterback.  What have you seen that you're going to do to try to stop him tomorrow night?  

COACH GOLDEN:  Well, I think you got to -- you can't let him throw in rhythm, so obviously you have to get pressure on him, you have to change up the rotation or the looks.  He'll pick you apart if you just stay in one coverage or if you don't put any pressure on him.  I think the thing about Teddy Bridgewater that he probably doesn't get enough credit for is his mechanics are tremendous.  Tremendous balance, tremendous mechanics and, you know, really well taught.  So he's got poise.  His completion percentage to interception ratio is phenomenal, so we have to find a way to get pressure on him and we have to, you know, obviously make some plays.  

Q: Coach, given the current competitive nature of college athletics, do you think the concept of the big three as it used to be, is that still attainable for obviously you guys and Florida and Florida State to be at that elite level on a regular basis? 

COACH GOLDEN:  Well, I mean, clearly Florida won championships.  I don't know exactly, I think I want to say six and eight, '06 and '8, and Florida State is playing for a championship this year.  We have to do our part.  We have to continue to build.  Obviously we've been encumbered a little bit more than we would have wanted to be the last two years, but we feel like we are moving the program forward and we do have an opportunity with a win tomorrownight to be the first team in Miami in a decade to win ten games. 

And given the circumstances and the adversity that we've dealt with, that would be a tremendous task and a great honor for our seniors.  So I don't think there's any question that can still happen and we intend to make it happen. 

Q: Can you talk about how the extra bowl practices have helped with recruiting and where you are now in terms of the 2014 signing class?  

COACH GOLDEN:  Well, there's no many different ways to look at it.  Number one, we didn't have the -- clearly we are one of the largest cities in the country in terms of cultivation and recruiting.  We have one of the best bases, but yet the last two years we didn't have the opportunity for those young people to come over and watch bowl practice and be around us the way they are now. 

We also didn't get this opportunity for a week long infomercial, if you will, that a lot of our adversaries had the chance to and then it was all compounded by the fact we were embroiled in something that brought a sensational element and we were dealing with a very difficult task.  So I think clearly the first two are in place now.  The third one has been eliminated, and just in the two weeks that I was able to get out, you know, we just have not, Manny, since we've been here -- and, again, you've covered us from the get-go.  You know, the first year was a transition year and we didn't have much time at all to go recruiting and then the second two years we were dealing with a very tumultuous situation. 

It's never felt like it's felt right now.  We feel like we're recruiting to a higher level right now.  We feel like the questions that we're getting from parents or coaches or young people, prospects are in line with what they should be.  They should be about our university, about our program, our systems, our philosophy, and I can't tell you how good that feels to be able to go just out and recruit without handcuffs on.

It's been -- it's again great.  This week has been great for us and can't wait to get back out on the road again. 

Q: Coach, you were talking about those inroads with recruiting. Sometimes Louisville is known as Miami north, 26 guys from the area.  In that regard, how important is this for the future with so many eyes in that area on this game? 

COACH GOLDEN:  Again, Coach Strong and his staff do a great job of identifying who they want to recruit and I believe the same for our staff.  The difference now for us is that we don't have to do it with one hand -- really two hands tied behind our back.  Again, whatever Louisville's philosophy is, their philosophy, I don't really worry about what anybody else is doing.  I don't worry about the ones you don't get.  I worry about the ones that you do get. 

The ones that you do get have to be able to play, have to be able to execute.  They have to be able to execute your philosophy on a daily basis.  And as it relates to the University of Miami, they have to attend the number one school in the state of Florida, a top 40 institution nationally.  So we're proud of that.  And so, again, we have so much -- I mean this with a great deal of respect for Coach Strong and Louisville, but I would say the same thing if you were talking about Florida or Florida State or any of our adversaries, especially in the southeast.  I don't negatively recruit.  I don't talk about the other team, ever.  We feel like we have one of the greatest products that there is in college football.  We've gone through a very, very difficult time and we're excited to go out and sell that again and be able to do that.  And so to be honest, I really don't worry about the other programs because we're in one of the greatest climates mats that there is in the nation.  We have one of the best institutions in the nation.  We've had more guys in the NFL than anybody.  We've got a great tradition.  We've played for more national championships than anybody over the last 30 years.  We've won more, and it's our job to get it back and we're going to do it and we're going to keep fighting.  And this is a big step obviously moving forward. 

Q: Coach, are there any -- I know you're seeing Louisville again next year in the regular season.  Are there any benefits at all preparation wise, spend some time looking -- how do you think they might have fared competitively in the ACC this year? 

COACH GOLDEN:  Again, I think, you know, Coach Strong, they're fundamentally sound as any team that we'll see.  I think they're going to do what they'll do.  I feel the same way about us.  We're going to do what we do. 

And whenever we meet again next year, you know, depending on quarterbacks, depending on personnel, depending on what direction both programs go in the spring and then obviously the way we start the season, it might change a little bit, but we are pretty much who we are and we're just going to try to get better at it.

I think the one thing that we sorely missed, and maybe I underestimated it, that we really missed were these bowl practices.  You know, to see Jermaine Grace and Jamal Carter and Artie Barnes, Gus Edwards and how much better they have gotten over this, you know, three and a half weeks or whatever, whatever it has been, this time of bowl preparation has been invaluable and clearly those young guys are going to benefit from it down the road.  We've missed that. 

Q: The second part was how do you think they might have fared?

COACH GOLDEN:  I think they're going to be an excellent team.  It's a great addition.  I'm sorry I didn't follow up.  I'm being blinded here by the light.  It's a great addition for the Atlantic Coast Conference, it really is.  It's making us stronger in every aspect, in every sport, but certainly from a football standpoint, from a men's and women's basketball standpoint, baseball.  It's going to make us really strong.  We're excited to have them in. 

You know, we have to do our part.  We have to continue to move and get better and that's going to help the national appeal of the ACC.  But certainly I think Louisville coming in is going to help us an the brand recognition now from Boston down to Key West is really going strong for us in terms of television sets and population density.  It's going to make us strong and I think Louisville is going to help us with that. 

Q: I wanted to get your thoughts on just Ladarius Gunter's progress.  The last time he was out there, it ended very scary for him.  You know, how has he just been working back from that injury and that situation and how did that impact all the guys afterwards? 

COACH GOLDEN: I think Ladarius -- you know, first of all, we have great medical staff and we're so much better prepared, all of us, in the sport now to handle any injury that may look significant as it relates to head or neck.  So we -- he ran through all the tests.  Certainly he missed the last game, but was really cleared the next week when we started practice.  And he's another young man that has gotten better and especially at the bowl side.  I think he's practicing with a purpose.  I think he understands the challenge ahead of him with Teddy and this great receiving core that we're going to face.  He's been really doing well.  In terms of the impact on the team, the team knows that we're going to always be smart with them relative to head injuries or, you know, the protocols that we have in place to make sure that we safeguard their health and put the student athlete welfare first.  I think our team trusts that and understands that, so I know they were glad that he was, A, okay, number one, okay, and then, B, that he was able to return to action and compete like he is. 

Q: Is there room in this state for the big four with the way UCF has been progressing? 

COACH GOLDEN:  Again, for you guys -- those are all the story lines for you guys.  I mean, I wished I lived in that world.  Sometimes I wish I did, but I don't live in that world.  I don't worry about any of those things.  I just think George has gone a great job.  George is a class act and he's done a great job and I'm happy for George.  

But, again, it's hard for me to understand, you know, without playing them or seeing them or being in the league, you know, what all goes into that, you know, other than, you know, you admire the job he's done from afar.

Really, with our student athletes, with our staff, with all that we've been through, we're just focused on Miami and moving Miami forward and I just can't tell you how good it feels to finally be able to do the things that you came to Miami for, A, go to bowl games, B, get your team better, C, recruit like you are at Miami and not, you know, being challenged by things that are -- circumstances out of your control. 

Q     Coach, as you've watched the film, who at Louisville kind of jumped off the screen and you believe is the next level talent?  

COACH GOLDEN:  There's quite a few.  Starting with Teddy -- you know, again, I can't say enough kind things about the young man and his maturity and probably the leadership that he provides to their organization, but he's such a good decision-maker and so good with his balance and his rhythm and those are the challenges for us, so certainly Teddy.  

But there's others.  I mean, wide receiver core is really talented.  Again, I got them all here, Parker Copeland, you know, all those guys do a great job, Eli Rogers.  I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Marcus Smith on the other side of the ball, a very disruptive -- you know, 12-plus sacks, the TFLs that he has, very active, you know, active secondary, you know, Brown at middle linebacker, a big, strong physical kid who can run, so those are all some guys. 

But overall very balanced and offense.  You know, they'll rush for 150 and throw for 300, very balanced.  They do a great job with time and possession.  They convert on third down better than just about everybody that we've seen at over 55 percent.  On defense, you know, they're top ten on just about everything on defense.  I think the one thing that jumps off to me at defense is how disruptive they are.  Tackles for loss sacks and interceptions, very disruptive group.  And their experience, they have an experienced offensive/defensive line.  If you can get experience there, you have a chance to be good. 

Q:  I know you're limited in what you can say in terms of names and so forth, but in terms of early enrollees do you have a number now that you're thinking you're going to end up with? 

COACH GOLDEN:  No.  It's still evolving.  I would say safely eight, you know.  You probably have it in front of you more than I do.  It's probably about eight.  It may grow depending on what transpires here.  But, you know, we need that.  You know, we needed some guys to come in and offset some of the losses we had.  I'm excited for those young people that are coming in because it's going to give us an opportunity to challenge them and acquaint them to how we do things at the University of Miami and cultivate them into our philosophy and how we do things systematically and then obviously give them a chance to adjust to college life itself.  I'm excited about that.  

Q: Obviously you have a lot of commitments.  You've been rebuilding this class for awhile.  But this last month, are there any position areas that you're still hoping to address, or do you feel like you've pretty much shored up everything you've wanted? 

COACH GOLDEN:  No.  We still got some positions that we have earmarked.  I really don't want to get into the specifics of it, Manny, with all due respect.  You know, there's still some -- you guys really probably do a better job of just charting who we're recruiting.  That will tell you what we're still looking for. 

But because of, you know, some of the things that we imposed against ourselves in the last two years, we had a very small class last year.  That's not ideally how you want to build your team.  This class is going to be a large class.  It's kind of backwards.  It should have been the other way around.  But having said that, we're excited about this group and what they bring and I really feel like it has a chance to be our best class since we've been here.  It may be that way already, Manny, to be honest with you.

Q: Coach, with it being only a day away from the bowl game, what's your main message to the whole team?  Is it to make sure that they win?  Is it to make sure that they get out there and play? 

COACH GOLDEN:  Well, I think clearly we're prepared, you know.  We're prepared, but, you know, you can lose a lot of games in the final 48.  I think the most important things for our guys is to trust.  We have 120 years of bowl experience on our staff, but yet we have very few young people on our team that have been to a bowl game so now they have to understand how to stay focused and how to avoid the lobby and how to avoid all the -- because, you know, as the preparation dwindles, you know, as the game approaches, the amount of distractions increases. 

There's more people in town.  There's more family in town now since the holiday, you know, has ended, so now they really have to trust the formula that we have for them, win the final 48 mentally, and just really stay focused and eliminate the distractions.  That's easier said than done when you don't have a lot of guys on the team that have been there, so that's going to be our -- you know, in addition to what the message is to the team, it's going to be making sure we do that. 

Q: I'm going to try to take you to that world, so I apologize.  You're a hot commodity coach.  Charlie Strong is a hot commodity coach.  Having dealing with him, he is frustrated with answering questions and questions and questions.  How do you deal with it?  

COACH GOLDEN:  I'm going to have Charlie answer them.  Is Charlie coming back in?  I'll have Charlie answer them for me.  You know, we're in one of the greatest places that there is in college football and we've gone through a really hard time.  But it's hard to imagine, you know, places out there that you could, you know, sell, that you could present better than the University of Miami.  We know we're not where we want to be, but we know we're not where we were.  It was pretty dark days, as you remember.  Many of you covered it.  We were on the cover of Sports Illustrated two years ago.  For these kids -- and it wasn't because we were holding up a trophy.  They wanted to end the program.  I dealt with masses of media. 

My first training camp at the University of Miami, if you can imagine throngs of media three or four times the size of this.  Manny is over there shaking his head.  And the questions were are you going to have a team next year, and I couldn't believe it. 

But we had a lot of young men that stood with the University of Miami.  We had a lot of coaches and staff that stood with the University of Miami through really, really dark times, dark days and we're excited about moving the program forward.  We're excited about the experience this week and the opportunities that we have and all that we're doing.  You know, we just moved into a new football complex.  We just finished a new student center on campus.  There's never been a better time to be at the University of Miami in terms of the educational opportunities, in terms of everything that we can afford.  Young people in our college town of Coral Gables, South Miami, Coconut Grove, you know, but yet we have the diversity and culture that only a world-class city like Miami can bring.  So we haven't had the opportunity to really sell that and I'm looking forward to doing that here in January and thereafter.

UM Canes' No. 1 WR Allen Hurns (1,138 yards & about to break UM single-season receiving yards record) wearing a boot. We're told it's precautionary.


ORLANDO -- This is getting crazy.

In the words of Al Golden (but said by me): Are you kidding me?

Senior Allen Hurns, Miami's No. 1 receiver with with 60 catches for 1,138 yards and six touchdowns, is wearing a boot on his left foot. He was seen by our Manny Navarro in the past hour at the Russell Athletic Bowl Kickoff Luncheon.

Manny was told it is precautionary. And Manny said he was walking fine, which is great news for the Canes. But if someone is 100-percent fine they're not wearing a boot. We were told that Hurns practiced fully this week, so I have no idea of the specific situation.

You already probably know by now that Herb Waters, (on crutches) is out for the game.

Herb has 28 catches for 406 yards and five touchdowns.

And veteran Phillip Dorsett, supposedly full go after partially tearing a knee MCL, has only played in seven games and has 272 yards and two touchdowns.

Calling Stacy Coley!

Freshman Coley, a star in the making, has 30 catches for 559 yards and seven touchdowns.

Junior tight end Clive Walford also has 30 catches for 372 yards and two touchdowns.

I have a feeling Hurns, one way or another, is going to be fine in this game. But it's only a feeling.  

An already significant challenge for the Canes appears to be getting tougher.