West Virginia is set to take on the Miami Hurricanes in the Russell Athletic Bowl, so here are some predictions and storylines for the Mountaineers ahead of the game.
1. Skyler Howard’s Rocky Finish Continues in Orlando
Howard has been a gutty, capable quarterback in Morgantown. But his uneven second half of his senior season will continue against a young and aggressive Miami D that matured throughout the campaign. Howard was erratic during the regular season, particularly in the Mountaineers’ two losses to Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. Accuracy and a tendency to force the ball have been issues, despite having access to a pair of quality receivers, Shelton Gibson and Daikiel Shorts. Howard will toss a couple of picks, one to the Canes top cover corner, Corn Elder.
2. Noble Nwachukwu Sparks the Mountaineer Pass Rush
Pass rush has been the Mountaineers’ weakest area this season. The team has only 22 sacks and ranks 119th nationally in tackles for loss, so backfield pressure is uncommon. Nwachukwu, though, will finish his college career on a high note by harassing QB Brad Kaaya throughout the night. While the Miami O-line has generally done a nice job this season, it lacks star power on the flanks. And Nwachukwu will play in Orlando with all of the determination, heart and intensity of someone playing the final game of his West Virginia career.
3. Blue-Collar Front Seven Bows to the Miami Ground Game
The Mountaineers are very deep in the offensive backfield. But so is Miami, with feature runner Mark Walton, Gus Edwards and Joseph Yearby, who’ll soften a West Virginia front seven that’s longer in toughness than elite upside ability. Walton will rush for more than 100 yards, while the Mountaineers will also have to contend with the fresh legs of Edwards and Yearby, who’ll be trying to impress NFL scouts. Linebackers Justin Arndt and Al-Rasheed Benton will be active as usual, but largely ineffective at shutting down the Cane ground game.
4. Rasul Douglas Neutralizes Ahmmon Richards
Richards is one of Mark Richt’s rising young stars, a Freshman All-American receiver who caught 46 balls for 866 yards and two touchdowns in his first year out of high school. He can flat-out fly and take the top off defenses. But Douglas is a cagey senior corner, with a future on Sundays. He has been lights out all year in his debut as a starter and his second season out of junior college. Plus, Douglas is a physical 6-2, 203-pounder who’ll jam Richards at the line of scrimmage to prevent him from getting to top speed and behind the West Virginia secondary.
5. Justin Crawford Vaults Into the National Consciousness
Crawford used his first season out of Northwest Mississippi Community College to rush for more than 1,000 yards, despite sharing touches with Rushel Shell and Kennedy McKoy and missing time late in the year. In two of his final three games, he ran for 331 yards against Oklahoma and 209 versus Baylor. He’s a tough and determined runner who’ll get plenty of help on the interior from C Tyler Orlosky and G Kyle Bosch. Crawford will be West Virginia’s offensive star against Miami, laying the foundation for a monster senior season sharing the backfield with transfer QB Will Grier in Morgantown in 2017.