Saturday, December 27, 2008

Emerald Bowl: Miami vs. California


December 27, 2008 * 8:00 * ESPN
AT & T Park * San Francisco, California

After a one-year hiatus from going bowling, the ‘Canes are back and second year headman Randy Shannon is looking for his first bowl win at the helm. Miami is not all the way back, but this youthful squad is full of potential and a bowl win could provide a solid building block. The Golden Bears start eight freshmen or sophomores themselves, but have a veteran core leading the way with the likes of center Alex Mack on offense and three senior starters at linebacker on defense.

When the Bears Have the Ball

After an overall disappointing season, the Golden Bears will have the opportunity to end on a high note. They have to be salivating over a Miami defense, which collapsed in its last two games and surrendered 691 yards on the ground. Jahvid Best will certainly be eager to continue his outstanding season (1,394 yards and 13 TDs) against that defense and California coach Jeff Tedford will likely test Miami early on the ground. However, the Hurricanes do have some very fast linemen and can adjust on the fly. On top of that, the Golden Bear offensive line has struggled due to injury and has had problems opening lanes for Best as well as protecting whichever quarterback is behind center. Both senior Nate Longshore (starter) and sophomore Kevin Riley took some snaps in the last game but neither one has been prolific the last few games. Riley has been the lead horse in this stable but has turned the ball over in four of the last five games. Often the California pass game will throw for no more than 100 yards so it is hardly surprising that they have no marquee wide receivers, utilizing instead a group of solid athletes who can catch the ball, run crisp short routes and help move the chains. But their ability is limited both by who they are as well as by the problems at the quarterback position. If Best stalls running the pigskin the Golden Bears could very well struggle to move the ball.

When the ‘Canes Have the Ball

Like California, Miami has flopped quarterbacks to little effect. Neither Robert Marve nor Jacory Harris has played particularly well. Marve, who has more yards but has also thrown 13 interceptions, is suspended for the contest. Meanwhile Harris has thrown 10 touchdown passes but has only barely crossed the 1,000-yard mark. Overall the Hurricanes have turned the ball over a stunning amount and rank 101st in the nation in turnovers. This could be a major problem – Miami throws interceptions and the Golden Bears are ranked third in the nation in interceptions with 23 and are second in the Pac-10 in defensive scoring. With the turnover problems, Miami may be best served by handing the ball off to their tandem of Graig Cooper and Javarris James. Neither of the tailbacks is in Best’s category in terms of game-breaking ability, but when the Hurricanes can get them going, it helps the offense stay moving. Both backs can move the chains and would keep the defense honest.

Final Analysis

Another potential factor could be the long trip to the Bay Area from Florida. California only has to hop a bus to the stadium while Miami must fly across the country. After completing the regular season with a two-game skid, the Hurricanes could struggle to get going after the long trip.

Inside the Numbers – Pass, Run & Catch

Miami Hurricanes (7-5, 4-4)

Pass: Jacory Harris – 1,001 yards, 10 TDs
Run: Graig Cooper – 778 yards, 4 TDs
Catch: Aldarius Johnson – 321 yards, 3 TDs

California Golden Bears (8-4, 6-3)
Pass: Kevin Riley – 1,360 yards, 14 TDs
Run: Jahvid Best – 1,394 yards, 13 TDs
Catch: Nyan Boateng – 412 yards, 5 TDs

The CFI Prediction: California 27, Miami 17

Photo Credit: Collegiate Images, University of Miami Sports Media Relations Office