Miami went into the Russell Athletic Bowl knowing it'd have its hands full with Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.
What the Hurricanes didn't see coming—an absolutely suffocating performance, courtesy of the Cardinals defense.
Miami was held to a season-low 174 total yards, unable to get it done through the air, or on the ground. The Hurricanes were an abysmal 0-of-11 on third-down conversions and didn't notch an offensive score until early in the fourth quarter when running back Gus Edwards punched in a meaningless two-yard touchdown.
After self-imposing back-to-back postseason bans and earning their first bowl berth since 2010, the Hurricanes appeared to be ready. Head coach Al Golden and staff had 19 days to prepare, 18 practices to scheme and a roster full of supposedly pent-up kids, ready to relish the opportunity.
Instead, it was the Cardinals and a roster full of Florida-bred players who rolled into Orlando with purpose and passion. Miami couldn't even come close to matching Louisville's energy.
Clint Hurtt got a show cause, Bridgewater got limited immunity, and Miami is showing limited so far.— Tim Reynolds (@ByTimReynolds) December 29, 2013
Bridgewater put together a career night, throwing for 447 yards and three touchdowns. Late in the game, the junior all-everything quarterback ran in a score from a yard out on fourth down—an effort to pad the highlight reel and to put an exclamation point on his season, should this be his final collegiate outing with the NFL calling.
Meanwhile, the Hurricanes invented new ways to unravel.
Down 16-2 late in the second quarter, Stephen Morris was sacked and fumbled away a gimmie scoring opportunity inside the red zone. A few plays later James Burgess Jr.—another former Miami commit—delivered a crowd-silencing hit on Dallas Crawford. Early in the third, a backward pass and some trickery resulted in a 19-yard loss.
Miami was also stuffed twice on fourth down over the course of the game, giving away both field position and momentum in crucial situations.
Five games after losing running back Duke Johnson, the Hurricanes remain identity-less offensively.
Neither Crawford nor Edwards has been able to carry the load, which absolutely crippled what had been a run-first approach all season. Even worse, the fact that the Hurricanes offensive line—thought to be the team's strongest link—was absolutely manhandled by the Cardinals' front seven all night.
Miami tried to utilize speed and create some magic with receiver Stacy Coley, but the go-to bubble screen that worked late season was sniffed out early by Louisville. Coley finished with three receptions for 32 yards and was a non-factor, opposed to a scene-stealer.
Allen Hurns did break UM's single-season record for receiving yardage—1,164 yards on 62 catches—but did so in limited action, held to two grabs for 24 yards on the night.
And 10-3 was the revised goal. Instead, it's 9-4 and back to the drawing board. Golden and staff will make the short trek back to Coral Gables with more questions than answers—not because of the loss itself, but in the manner that Miami failed to show up and went down without a fight.
Thirteen games into the season and most of this roster never having seen the postseason, the lack of heart and subpar effort are inexcusable.
Miami has 29 verbal commitments on board for the 2014 recruiting class, and job No. 1 is making sure the Hurricanes staff can spin this loss into a playing-time positive.
Come on down to "The U." We need you. Every position is open. True freshmen, JUCO transfers or fifth-year seniors—get on board and may the best man win.
Miami commit Kiy Hester—a 4-star safety from New Jersey—made it clear via Twitter after the game that he's headed to Coral Gables on a mission in 2014.
I'm coming crazy next year taking spots— #⃣2⃣ (@Hester_2k) December 29, 2013
Outside of safety, the Hurricanes have glaring holes on the defensive line, which will only get worse as five seniors are moving on. The offensive line will take a hit, too, losing three veteran players.
Morris is also gone under center, meaning that quarterback is wide open in the spring, while Johnson needs some help at running back as he can't shoulder the burden alone.
Miami can't get back what it lost in a lopsided bowl loss against Louisville—but it has to learn from the setback and keep moving forward.
Close strong on the recruiting front, get the right players in the mix, put every position up for grabs and let both competition and increased talent dictate which direction "The U" goes over the next few years.
Follow Chris Bello on Twitter @allCanesBlog.