ORLANDO, Florida–West Virginia University’s offense will face a tough test on Wednesday night when the Mountaineers face former Big East foe Miami in the Russell Athletic Bowl at Camping World Stadium.
WVU’s offense averages 506.9 yards per game and it’s rushing offense ranks 18th in the country, averaging 239.5 rushing yards. Due to injuries, the Mountaineers have had four different backs come up with big games.
Rushel Shell, Justin Crawford, Kennedy McKoy and Martell Pettaway all had 100 plus yard games. Five different WVU players rushed for at least 200 yards this season. Shell, Crawford, McKoy and Pettaway and senior quarterback Skyler Howard is the fifth with 400 yards rushing on the season.
Crawford has run for 1,168 yards and four touchdowns this season. The junior averages 7.44 yards per carry.
Pettaway’s redshirt was burned 11 games in against Iowa State and the freshman went on to rush for 181 yards that afternoon.
The Mountaineers’ up-tempo run game has been a huge part of the team’s success during the 2016 season but it has been slowed down before.
BYU, TCU, Kansas State and Texas were able to contain WVU’s ground game. The Mountaineers averaged just 136.3 yards during those games.
But WVU still found a way to come out on top. Howard and his receiving corps found a way to get it done, averaging 236 passing yards in those wins.
Howard has thrown for 3,194 yards and 26 touchdowns. The Forth Worth native has rushed for nine touchdowns.
The Mountaineers have seen wide receivers Jovon Durante, Shelton Gibson and Daikiel Shorts all come up with unbelievable plays this season.
So how will WVU fare against a top-notch defense?
After all, the Big 12 is a conference that lacks defensive stability and the Mountaineers haven’t faced a team with the caliber defense like that of the Hurricanes. Kansas State is the only defense close to resemble that of the Hurricanes.
“Miami is so good on defense,” WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen said. “I don’t know if we will get a first down, let alone score a bunch of points. I guess with more time to prepare you come up with some different things, some creative things. Hopefully, that holds true and we will be able to score a few points.”
Miami’s defense is an athletic and aggressive group that ranks 28th in the nation in total defense and 30th against the run. Only Georgia Tech, who has an explosive run game, picked up more than 200 yards against the Hurricanes this season.
Miami has held its opponents to 4.84 yards per play and the Hurricanes have surrendered 355.3 yards per game.
Miami’s defense ranks 23rd in the country in sacks and sixth in tackles for loss, meaning they could cause fits for Howard.
“Our goal is to not let the quarterback get comfortable if possible,” Hurricanes head coach Mark Richt said.
Howard’s versatility poses a threat for Miami.
“Having a dual-threat quarterback always presents a challenge,” cornerback Corn Elder said. “They can throw the ball. They can run the ball. We have to be very disciplined.”
The Hurricanes ability to blitz opponents has been crucial to their success.
“It’s very important,” Elder said. “It catches teams off-guard. We have the athletes to do it. We have speed on defense. To bring pressure helps a lot.”
But the Mountaineers are well aware that Miami will try and confuse WVU.
“They do a lot of different things,” Howard said. “They do some things that we have never seen before because we are used to teams manning us up and then bringing pressure. This kind of pressure is different than what we have seen. We can’t rely strictly on man routes. We have to execute our plays and get the ball into play.”
The Mountaineers just need to focus on what exactly the Hurricanes are doing on the field.
“It’s going to be difficult, because they don’t do what normal teams do,” WVU offensive linemen Tyler Orlosky said. “They don’t really give away blitzes, they do a good job of hiding them with the safeties. Usually the safeties tell you everything but they do a good job of hiding the safeties. We need to work on noticing things and hopefully get on the right page.”
For the Mountaineers’ offense turnovers were costly in their two losses this season. WVU turned it over four times against Oklahoma and three against Oklahoma State.
The Mountaineers will need to hang on to the ball if they hope to extend Miami’s post season losing streak to seven games.
The Hurricanes’ last bowl win was against Nevada on Dec. 31, 2006, in the MPC Computers Bowl.
Cover Photo Credit: Kelsie LeRose, BGS