Miami vs. Louisville Complete Game Preview
On Labor Day Monday, Sept. 1, the Miami Hurricanes look to redeem themselves against the Louisville Cardinals following an embarrassing finish last season.
The programs squared off in December during the Russell Athletic Bowl, where since-departed Teddy Bridgewater manhandled the 'Canes en route to a dominating 36-9 victory.
Since then, Louisville officially joined the ACC, raising the stakes for both teams as they attempt to open the year with a crucial conference victory. ESPN will carry the matchup, which is scheduled to kick off at 8:00 p.m. ET.
Both teams have a couple keys to victory and important players to watch in what will be an exciting finale to Week 1 of the 2014 college football season.
Miami Keys to Victory
Run, Run, Run Some More
Second-year offensive coordinator James Coley needs to keep as much pressure off quarterback Brad Kaaya as possible, considering it is the freshman's first career start, after all.
Fortunately for the Hurricanes, Duke Johnson is really good at football.
Of course, the star junior can't do it by himself. The onus ultimately rests on Ereck Flowers, Jon Feliciano, Shane McDermott, Danny Isidora and whoever starts at right tackle to open running lanes for the Miami backfield.
And if Johnson, Joe Yearby and Gus Edwards have room to run, the 'Canes are both utilizing their offensive strength and protecting their young gunslinger.
Time for the "Tougher" Defense to Show Up
Miami was a putrid defensive team throughout the second half of 2013, ceding 37.3 points per outing over the last six games.
"We need to eliminate our mental errors and continue to be confident," junior safety Deon Bush said, per David Lake of 247Sports (subscription required). "I already know that we are going to be a tough, physical defense. We have a lot of tough players and we have a lot of pride right now. We don't have a lot of soft people on the defense."
Toughness starts on the line of scrimmage, where the Hurricanes defensive line needs to start disrupting on a consistent basis. The disruption forces short gains and, consequently, longer third downs—and Miami turns to edge-rushers Tyriq McCord and Chad Thomas.
A defensive stand gets the offense back onto the field, and the 'Canes return to attacking Louisville with the running game.
Louisville Keys to Victory
Establish a Passing Game
After serving as the second-stringer to Bridgewater, Will Gardner took full advantage of his first opportunity to showcase his abilities. The sophomore had an extraordinary spring game, completing 32 of 37 passes for a ridiculous 542 yards and four touchdowns.
"As a backup, you kind of have to know your role," Gardner told Jeff Greer of The Courier-Journal. "Some guys still respect you, but it's a lot different. Now guys are counting on you. You have to live up to what guys are saying."
However, as excitement built for the upcoming campaign, elite receiver DeVante Parker suffered a foot injury, and his season is in jeopardy.
Gardner's first career start comes without his top target, someone with whom he had certainly built a valuable connection during the spring and fall. He needs to find Eli Rogers, Gerald Christian and other pass-catchers early, lest Louisville become one-dimensional.
Build an Early Lead
The Hurricanes want Kaaya to stay calm, so the Cards must find a way to shake the true freshman's confidence. Granted, if camp reports are true, it definitely won't be easy.
"I can't rattle that guy for nothing," Miami linebacker Denzel Perryman said, per Matt Porter of the Palm Beach Post. "I think nobody can."
Forcing a turnover and jumping out to a quick lead is the best way for Louisville to get Kaaya thinking about anything other than, say, a pre-snap read or proper timing with a receiver.
If the Cardinals can play from in front, the pressure will be on Kaaya, and that's exactly what Miami wants to avoid.
Miami Players to Watch
Brad Kaaya, Quarterback
Sunday afternoon, Miami head coach Al Golden surprised many by naming the true freshman his starting quarterback.
The Hurricanes follow the Labor Day contest with Florida A&M and Arkansas State in successive weeks, two outings in which Kaaya will gain valuable game experience.
But those won't help him against Louisville. Though his debut is not quite in a gauntlet, the Cardinals are an undeniably strong team backed by a tough environment.
Kaaya is one of, if not the game's biggest storyline, and he'll be surrounded by national attention whether he likes it or not. Monday will show how the freshman copes with the spotlight.
Denzel Perryman, Linebacker
Despite a small stature, Perryman has been lauded for his abilities, especially when discussing his tackling technique.
NFL.com's Mike Huguenin calls the senior the No. 2 hardest hitter in the nation, noting Perryman "is a physical, aggressive player who makes up for his lack of height with tremendous instincts."
And after two absolutely crushing blows this offseason to teammate and 230-pound power back Gus Edwards, it's hard to disagree.
Perryman racked up 104 tackles as a junior, and his move to middle linebacker will lead to an increase in impact, starting with the opener at Louisville.
Louisville Players to Watch
Eli Rogers, Wide Receiver
A Miami native, Rogers has been phenomenally consistent throughout his collegiate career. The senior tallied 41, 46 and 44 receptions during his three respective seasons at the school.
But as Parker's availability remains in serious doubt, the Cardinals offense needs Rogers to evolve into a No. 1 target—and quickly.
While the 5'10" target is the team's best healthy receiver, Parker smashed Miami for single-game season-bests in catches (nine) and yards (142).
Replacing that production is not easy, but Rogers will shoulder that load for the 'Cards.
Charles Gaines, Cornerback
After being recognized with first-team All-AAC awards as a sophomore, Charles Gaines has a penchant for outstanding defense. In 2013, he snagged five interceptions, broke up seven passes and defended 12 more.
Gaines "can take an interception 80 yards, he can take a fumble recovery 50 yards," Louisville defensive backs coach Terrell Buckley said, per Mike Hughes of 247Sports (subscription required). "It puts pressure on the offense because when he gets it he can take it to the house."
Nevertheless, standing opposite Hurricanes rising sophomore Stacy Coley will be quite the early season test for Gaines.
Miami may have a freshman quarterback, but it's easy to connect with a wide-open receiver. Gaines must contain Coley all game long and force the Hurricanes to search for a different contributor in the passing game.
What They're Saying
Per Susan Miller Degnan of the Miami Herald, Golden's decision to start Kaaya over graduate transfer Jake Heaps was largely based on the freshman's ability to translate knowledge into solid performances.
The biggest thing was we saw how much he was devoted to it, how many sacrifices he made, how well he learned and how it translated to the field. A guy can be good in the film room or be good out of the book and then it doesn't translate. But it has translated here. We've put him in very tough situations.
He's protected the ball really well, he can articulate the offense, he's very poised. At the end of the day, as I told him, he's our quarterback. He's not a freshman quarterback, he's the University of Miami quarterback.
Louisville head coach Bobby Petrino told Fox Sports' Bruce Feldman that he alone feels all the pressure for beating Miami for the second consecutive time. Via Greer:
The pressure's just on me. I have to make sure I do a great job of our players understanding that they just need to go through the process, prepare properly and then go out and perform like they're capable of performing.
While Kaaya has a decent debut, the 'Canes heavily rely on the rushing attack—as they should.
Parker's absence is minimized, but his contributions are simply too much for the Cardinals to replace. Louisville turns to its own running game, but Perryman and the Miami defense slows the opposition just enough in the second half.
Duke Johnson proves to be the difference in a highly contested game that comes down to the final possession.
Final Score: Miami 24, Louisville 20
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand.
Follow Bleacher Report college football writer David Kenyon on Twitter: @Kenyon19_BR.