It might not be the sexiest bowl game on the college football schedule, but it might end up being the most entertaining, as two very good offenses meet when Louisville takes on Miami in the Russell Athletic Bowl.
Miami is 26th in the nation with 25.9 points per game, while Louisville is just behind them at 29th with 35.1 points per contest. Can you say shootout?
So in a game between two very prolific offenses, which players will be key for either side? Who must step up for either team to ensure a win to close the year?
Let's find out.
Allen Hurns and Stacy Coley, WR, Miami
Hurns is arguably Miami's best offensive player, finishing the year with a team-leading 60 receptions, 1,138 receiving yards, 19.0 yards per catch and finishing second on the team with six touchdown catches.
Coley might just be the team's most explosive weapon, however. Despite making just six starts this year, he caught 30 passes for 559 yards and seven touchdowns. He also added a rushing, punt return and kick return touchdown on the season, making him a very, very dangerous player every time he touches the ball.
In a game likely to become a shootout, these two weapons on the outside will need to come up big.
Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
The unflappable Bridgewater is undoubtedly Louisville's key player, throwing for 3,523 yards, 28 touchdowns, just four interceptions and an impressive 70.2 completion percentage. He led the Cardinals to an 11-1 record behind an 18th-ranked pass offense that averaged 302.9 yards per game.
Quite possibly the top pick in next year's NFL draft, Bridgewater will want to complete an excellent college career with a win. And he should have little problem carving up a Miami defense that ranked 71st in pass defense, allowing 233.4 yards through the air per game.
It's pretty simple for Louisville—if Bridgewater plays poorly, they lose. Of course, it's also very unlikely that Bridgewater will play poorly.
Miami's Front Seven
The only way Miami is likely to disrupt Bridgewater is by generating pressure, thus making the play of the front seven very vital in this contest.
Miami did register 28 sacks on the season, a respectable mark, and players like Tyriq McCord (four sacks, one fumble recovery and three forced fumbles) will have to step up. Of course, getting after Bridgewater is easier said than done, as safety A.J. Highsmith told Susan Miller Degnan of the Miami Herald:
You have to give him difficult looks, things that are hard for them to pick up. And when you get to Teddy, you have to do a good job of tackling him, because he makes a lot of guys miss when the pressure does get there.
He’s very elusive in the pocket.
Which team wins?
Miami's only chance on defense is to keep Bridgewater out of a rhythm. If he's given time to sit in the pocket and dissect the defense, well, it will be a long afternoon for the Canes.
And Louisville is pretty solid on defense—12th in the nation in points allowed per game, 12.4—so simply assuming Miami's offense can save the day and outscore Louisville is a risky game to play. The Canes absolutely must slow down Bridgewater, and that starts and ends with the team's front seven on defense.