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Miami vs. Washington State: Sun Bowl Preview

Prolific passers Brad Kaaya and Luke Falk square off as Miami meets Washington State in the Sun Bowl.

Miami Hurricanes (8–4) vs. Washington State (8–4)

Dec. 26, 2 p.m. ET (CBS)

Reason to watch

Quarterbacks! Both Miami and Washington State feature talented sophomore signal-callers who can sling the ball all over the field. Brad Kaaya hasn’t been the program savior Hurricanes fans hoped for, but when healthy, he can put points up in a hurry. The Los Angeles native threw for over 3,000 yards for the second straight season, despite missing one game due to a concussion. Kaaya completed at least 60% of his passes in five of his last six games. Luke Falk, playing in Mike Leach’s Air Raid system, put up huge numbers for the Cougars. Falk completed over 70% of his passes, throwing for 4,266 yards and 36 touchdowns. Falk may not have had the pedigree Kaaya did when entering college, but his numbers speak for themselves. Both quarterbacks should be in line for big games.

Keep an eye on: Miami's secondary

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The Hurricanes' defense is filled with talented recruits, but their depth in the secondary will be tested with safety Jamal Carter missing the game due to a suspension. Carter was extremely productive in his role as the team’s third safety, often playing in the box and racking up tackles. This is exactly the kind of game in which Miami needs an all-hands-on-deck approach in the secondary, with the Cougars expected to throw early and often. The ’Canes play a lot of zone coverage, which could play into the hands of Washington State, with Leach finding the holes and taking what the defense gives him. Can Miami’s secondary overcome the loss of Carter to match up with Washington State’s receivers? Will the Hurricanes roll out any new coverages to combat the Air Raid attack? Those could be the central questions of the game.

Did you know...?

Former Washington State coach Dennis Erickson has the most championships as a head coach in Miami history. Erickson left the Cougars for the Hurricanes after the 1988 season and led Miami to two national titles, one in ’89 and the other in ’91. Erickson isn’t always remembered fondly amongst Miami fans because of NCAA violations during his tenure, though Erickson himself wasn’t implicated.

He spent two seasons at Washington State. After a 3-7-1 record his first year, Erickson led the Cougars to a 9–3 record in his second, and the school won its first postseason game since the 1916 Rose Bowl. Erickson’s departure turned out to be a blessing in disguise for Washington State, which hired Mike Price from Weber State. Price would lead the program to unprecedented success over 14 seasons.

Final analysis

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Miami has played hard for interim coach Larry Scott, who took over for the fired Al Golden after a 58–0 loss to Clemson, the worst loss in program history. But the Hurricanes also have had a couple of shaky win in Scott’s tenure (remember the Duke play?) and were blown out by North Carolina. The Cougars have an unrelenting offense and flashed their potential in a close loss to Stanford and a win over UCLA. The Hurricanes’ defense has struggled mightily against explosive offenses, and there’s no reason to believe that why it won’t again Saturday. Expect both offenses to put up big numbers, but expect better execution from Washington State

The pick: Washington State 41, Miami 35