Teddy Bridgewater will lead Louisville back to his home state of Florida to face his hometown Miami team.
The 2013 edition of the Russell Athletic Bowl will feature the Miami Hurricanes (9-3) of the Atlantic Coast Conference and the No. 18 Louisville Cardinals (11-1) from the American Athletic Conference.
Headlined by once-Miami commit and current Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, this postseason matchup marks the 12th time the programs have met.
The Hurricanes hold a 9-1-1 all-time series lead, but in 2006, the Cardinals toppled 'The U' 31-7, which is the most recent clash.
Miami last played in this bowl game in 2010 when it was titled the "Champs Sports Bowl," and the 'Canes fell 20-14 to Wisconsin. This will be Louisville's first appearance in the Orlando postseason game.
Date: Dec. 28, 2013
Time: 6:45 p.m. ET
Place: Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium, Orlando, Fla.
Radio: ESPN Radio, Louisville Radio Network
Spread: Louisville -3.5 (via VegasInsider)
Establish a Running Game
For better or worse, offensive coordinator James Coley loves having quarterback Stephen Morris throw deep passes. According to CFBstats.com, the Hurricanes are tied for the second-most 30-plus-yard passing plays this season, trailing only Baylor.
The most effective way to launch the ball downfield is when an effective running game is established. When Morris can sell a play-action fake, the Miami receivers have speed to burn.
However, the trio of Dallas Crawford, Eduardo Clements and Gus Edwards is facing the nation's No. 2 rushing defense, so the 'Canes offensive line must step up.
Get Off the Field on Third Down
The Hurricanes defense was atrocious last year, but Miami appeared to have turned the corner during 2013. The unit forced five turnovers against Florida and racked up 21 sacks through the first six games.
But then, considering Wake Forest, Florida State, Virginia Tech and Virginia each converted at least 50 percent of third downs, the 'Canes struggled mightily during the second half of the season.
Overall, opponents converted on 49 of 92 third-down situations and six of seven on fourth down. What's more, Louisville is the second-best team in the nation, gaining the required yardage on third down 55.9 percent of the time.
It is absolutely essential that Miami forces a punt when the opportunity is there.
Control the Red Zone
When "The U" gets into scoring territory, Morris cannot allow Miami to settle for a field goal.
The 'Canes have only scored touchdowns on 61.5 percent of red-zone possessions, while the Louisville defense allows just 48.6 percent of such drives to break the plane.
Miami's offense leaving points on the field will be detrimental to its quest for victory, especially against a tough defense like the Cardinals.
Similarly and somewhat surprisingly, Louisville has reached the end zone on 58.5 percent of drives that enter the opponent's 20-yard line. At 56.8 percent, the Hurricanes defense has limited opponents to a slightly higher clip compared to the Cards defense.
If Miami can hold Louisville to a few field goals, Golden's team will be in a much better position to win.
Jump Out to an Early Lead
Louisville has scored first in every game this season, while Miami has opened the scoring during its last four contests.
The Cardinals must strike first, because they have allowed their last three opponents to hang in throughout the entire game, but the competition hasn't been great. Louisville earned seven-point wins over Houston, Memphis and Cincinnati.
Bridgewater has engineered 10 of these 12 drives, tallying seven passing touchdowns, two field goals and one rushing touchdown.
Additionally, Charlie Strong's squad has earned two non-offensive scores, meaning the entire Cardinals team always comes ready to play. Miami has done so lately, so Louisville must continue to be efficient during the first quarter.
Make the Hurricanes One-Dimensional on Offense
With All-American-caliber Duke Johnson in the backfield, Miami had a very balanced offensive attack. Since Johnson fractured his ankle against Florida State, though, the Hurricanes' effectiveness on the ground has varied.
Virginia Tech and Virginia were limited to 28 and 90 yards, respectively, while Miami gashed Duke and Pittsburgh for 186 and 180, respectively.
If Louisville dominates the trenches and forces Morris to pass all game long, the Cardinals can sell out in coverage and mix in blitzes—something the 'Canes have struggled to overpower.
Louisville boasts the third-best turnover margin in the nation, taking the ball away 16 times more than it has turned it over.
Though Miami also has a positive difference (plus-six), Morris often throws a few head-scratching attempts that can very well be intercepted.
The Cardinals picked off 16 passes during the regular season and will be looking to grab a few more.
Stacy Coley, Wide Receiver
The true freshman exploded as the season came to a close.
Stacy Coley scored six touchdowns over the last four games (four receiving, one rushing, one punt return) and has been the Hurricanes' biggest explosive-play threat without Duke Johnson.
Allen Hurns has been the 'Canes most reliable receiver throughout the season, but Coley provides a necessary spark on both offense and special teams.
Denzel Perryman, Outside Linebacker
Nagged by injuries as a sophomore, Denzel Perryman has been all over the field as a junior.
The leader of the Miami defense, he has registered 104 tackles (5.0 for loss, 1.5 sacks), broke up two passes and forced a fumble.
Bleacher Report's Matt Miller lists Perryman as the ninth-best outside linebacker prospect for the 2014 NFL draft, and against Bridgewater, the 6'0", 240-pounder must play like it.
DeVante Parker, Wide Receiver
Junior wideout DeVante Parker does not rack up tons of receiving yards, but he is a consistent scoring threat.
Parker has caught a career-high 11 touchdowns, and the 6'3" receiver causes mismatches near the goal line.
During the regular season, Parker set another career high in receptions (46) and is a single yard (743) away from tying his personal-best yardage mark.
Parker has made a living terrorizing opposing secondaries this year, and Miami defensive back Tracy Howard will have his hands full.
Marcus Smith, Defensive End
A converted quarterback, senior Marcus Smith has been disrupting shot-callers all season long, tallying 12.5 sacks this year.
Smith is one of four Cardinals with at least 10 tackles for loss and leads the team with 16.5 of that variety. He has been credited with 12 quarterback hits, three forced fumbles and has even blocked a kick.
Ereck Flowers and Seantrel Henderson, Miami's starting offensive tackles, must contain Smith. Otherwise, Morris will be forced out of the pocket and forced to run away from pressure quite often.
Stephen Morris, Miami Quarterback
Matt Porter of the Palm Beach Post notes Morris' comments, whom he says is familiar with Bridgewater from high school all-star games. "It would be a great game. Obviously, Louisville is a great program. Teddy’s a great quarterback as well. I think it’d be a big opportunity for two Miami kids to shine on the big stage."
According to Christy Cabrera Chirinos of the South Florida Sun Sentinel, Morris is excited to return to a bowl game after a two-year hiatus.
It’s a great feeling knowing your season’s not over. The past two years, that last game really meant our last game for us. It was unfortunate, but we had to do what we had to do so we’re able to play in a bowl game like this. It means a lot for us. We’re excited to go back to a bowl.
Charlie Strong, Louisville Head Coach
Jeff Greer of The Courier-Journal says Strong is looking forward to the opportunity to play Miami in Orlando for a few reasons.
Seniors Maurice Hagens and Allen Hurns will end their collegiate careers with a win.
Teddy Bridgewater is expected to declare for the 2014 NFL draft, so this matchup could very well be the final game of his collegiate career. The Cardinals flat-out dismantled No. 3 Florida during the Sugar Bowl last year, so Charlie Strong will have his team ready for action at the opening kickoff.
Louisville scores first for the 14th consecutive game after Bridgewater connects with DeVante Parker for an early touchdown.
During the second quarter, the Hurricanes find their offensive rhythm and tie up the game before halftime. Stephen Morris finds his weapons, connecting with Hurns, Coley and Herb Waters to move down the field.
The Cardinals have struggled to put away opponents, and Miami is more talented than the likes of Houston, Memphis and Cincinnati. Ultimately, the 'Canes outlast Louisville, making one defensive stop as the fourth quarter comes to a close.
Miami finishes the season at 10-3, winning 10 games for the first time since 2004, while Louisville's campaign ends at 11-2.
Prediction: Miami 31, Louisville 27