Miami Football: 3 Things We Need to See in Russell Athletic Bowl

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Miami Football: 3 Things We Need to See in Russell Athletic Bowl
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images
Stacy Coley will be difficult for Louisville to contain, and Stephen Morris will be looking for the freshman to get open.

The Miami Hurricanes' first postseason game since 2010 will pit "The U" against the Teddy Bridgewater-led No. 18 Louisville Cardinals.

Squaring off in the Russell Athletic Bowl, the 9-3 Hurricanes will face Bridgewater, who is touted as a top prospect for the 2014 NFL Draft, and the 11-1 Cardinals.

Louisville brings a premier squad to Orlando, Fla., so Miami will be tested both offensively and defensively.

If Al Golden's team is going to emerge victorious, the 'Canes must do certain things on both sides of the ball to give themselves the best chance to win.

 

The Offensive Line Protects Stephen Morris

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Similar to his junior campaign, quarterback Stephen Morris recovered from his mid-season struggles, hitting his stride as the season came to a close.

And the biggest reason for this success is his massive offensive line.

During the final four games of 2012, Morris completed 66 of 110 passes (60 percent) for 1,131 yards, 11 touchdowns and zero interceptions. This year, Morris is 76-of-132 (57.6 percent) for 1,213 yards, nine scores and two picks.

In addition to being tied for the fourth-most 30-plus yard gains (31) and fourth-most 40-plus yard gains (15), Morris has completed a pass of at least 50 yards in nine of 12 games.

But Louisville doesn't allow explosive plays, ranking in the top 25 of every yard range for opposing passing plays (e.g. 10-19 yards, 20-29, etc.) according to CFBstats.com. Additionally, the Cardinals have allowed just 17 touchdowns (eight passing) to its opposition all season.

Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Marcus Smith has made life difficult for opposing quarterbacks.

That's it. Seventeen.

The Hurricanes have a stable of pass-catchers, but the Louisville pass-rush tends to not let receivers have time to get deep. Led by Marcus Smith and his 12.5 sacks, the Cardinals lead the nation with 3.25 per game and are tied for the second-most with 39 total.

Now, senior Brandon Linder and the Miami offensive line have only allowed Morris to be sacked 11 times this season, so Smith and Co. will not be waltzing through the line of scrimmage.

But clearly, blocking the Louisville linemen is not an easy task, either.

When Morris has time to make a good pass, the 'Canes O-line is obviously directly responsible for it. The senior gunslinger has been heating up lately, so he must continue to make the correct reads and proper decisions.

One mistake against the Cardinals could result in a 14-point swing—something Miami may be hard-pressed to overcome.

 

Miami Utilizes its Healthy Receivers

Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
Allen Hurns went from a decent receiver in 2012 to Morris' favorite target during 2013.

After Phillip Dorsett suffered a slight MCL tear against North Carolina, Stacy Coley stepped up in his absence. But the trio of Allen Hurns, Dorsett and Coley was rarely used on the field at the same time early on. 

Christina De Nicola of Fox Sports Florida notes Dorsett expects to be 100 percent for the bowl game. The receiving corps is finally completely healthy, and Coley will now get an opportunity to play alongside the veterans.

Dorsett's presence cannot be understated, considering the junior ran a 4.29 40-yard dash this summer (h/t The Miami Herald) and constantly stretches the field. He fried the vaunted Florida secondary for a 52-yard touchdown and North Carolina for a 68-yard gain.

Because his speed demands attention from safeties, Dorsett opens throwing lanes underneath for receivers on crossing routes or Clive Walford on a seam.

What's more, Hurns and Coley were both on hot streaks as the regular season concluded. Over the last four contests, Hurns caught 27 passes for 548 yards and two scores, while Coley racked up 647 all-purpose yards and six touchdowns.

The receivers are at full strength and on a roll, so they must repeatedly test the Louisville secondary.

 

Defense Needs to Contain Bridgewater Right Away

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Though it may be hard to stop Teddy Bridgewater, it's not impossible. But is it for Miami's struggling defense?

During the first quarter, the Cardinals have outscored their opponents by a staggering 90-points (96-6).

Since the Hurricanes started the year with a 7-0 record, the Miami defense has allowed 518.6 yards and 37.6 points per game.

That combination is a major reason why the 'Canes lost three of their final five games. It doesn't matter in which quarter Miami concedes those points, because nearly 40 points per outing is, well, awful.

Additionally, Miami has a horrid habit of making below-average or purely average passers look like All-Americans (Michael Rocco in 2012 and Logan Thomas in 2011 and 2013 to name two).

So what will the Hurricanes do when they face a true All-American-caliber quarterback? Bridgewater has completed 70.2 percent of his passes, thrown for 3,523 yards and tallied 28 touchdowns to just four interceptions.

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He ain't exactly just average.

Florida State had likely Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston, but the Seminoles' running game destroyed Miami. Of course, Rayshawn Jenkins and Deon Bush each intercepted a pass, so Winston was not mistake-free, but the 'Noles star threw for 325 yards and a score.

Winston led five touchdown drives, and Bridgewater is more than capable of doing the same.

However, the Hurricanes' defensive unit must try to make Louisville settle for a few field goals instead of allowing six-pointers. Plus, if the 'Canes force the Cardinals to punt more than it did to Florida State (once), Miami's offense is talented enough to recover.

But against Bridgewater and the Cardinals, that is often easier said than done.

 

Note: Stats taken from CFBstats.com, HurricaneSports.com and GoCards.com.

Follow Bleacher Report CFB Writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.

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