1, Keep grinding with the run game. This is a battle of weakness against weakness, as Miami averages just 119 yards on the ground while WSU gives up 199. The problem is that go-to back Joe Yearby has tended to fade late in games, averaging 5.7 yards per carry in the first half but just 4.2 in the second half. The Hurricanes have to find a way to sustain drives against a WSU defense that is among the nation’s worst on third down (46.1 percent). Look for quarterback Brad Kaaya to go deep early to keep the Cougars honest.
2, Force turnovers. To stay in the game, the Hurricanes will need to do what they do best: take away the ball. Miami is among the best in the nation at that category, but they’ll need to throw in some wrinkles to force WSU quarterback Luke Falk into some bad reads. It will help that Falk hasn’t played since mid-November, but a bigger factor might be how he adjusts to Miami’s speedy linebackers in its 3-4 scheme. Given their strength at cornerback, the Hurricanes will expect a heavy dose of crossing routes, and will have bodies waiting.
3, Make a special play in the red zone. The Hurricane defense has been bending and breaking: they’re among the nation’s worst on third-down as well as in the red zone, so expect them to roll the dice more often than usual. Expect more blitzes out of the 3-4, which lends itself to more aggression on the edge. Al-Quadin Muhammad and Chad Thomas are good enough at DE to get some pressure on Falk. But WSU uses a lot of screens and quick slants to nullify the opposing pass rush. Artie Burns and Corn Elder are among the best cover corners on the East Coast, but they’ll be tested by the Air Raid, which can’t be expected to throw crossing routes all day.
4, Stay disciplined. That means respecting the WSU ground game and commiting fewer penalties.The Cougars are running the ball more than ever this year; look for more of the same, given Miami’s defensive weakness on the ground. Miami defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio is keenly aware of it, but he needs to impress it further on his young linebackers and safeties. The bigger task is cutting down the penalties. Miami is the most-penalized team in the nation (averaging of 82.4 yards); more of the same will make the Cougars’ job that much easier when third-and-8 turns into third-and-3.
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