Louisiana Tech vs Miami Hurricanes
When: 4:00 PM ET, Thursday, December 26, 2019
Where: Independence Stadium, Shreveport, Louisiana
Preview for Digital Sports Desk by Gracenote
WALK-ON’S INDEPENDENCE BOWL STORYLINES
- Miami (Fla.) stumbled to the finish line of the regular season, closing out a disappointing campaign with consecutive ugly defeats at local rival and non-power 5 school Florida International (30-24) and ACC foe Duke (27-17), which had come into the game with just two conference victories. As a result, Miami is fighting just to finish the season above .500 and avoid losing to a Group of Five team for the second time in three games, with first-year head coach Manny Diaz looking at the matchup as “a bridge to 2020,” expecting to get a look at some of his talent for next season. But recent history is not on Miami’s side as the Hurricanes enter their Independence Bowl matchup with Louisiana Tech on Dec. 26 in Shreveport, La. sporting a dismal 1-8 mark in their past nine bowl games after last year’s 35-3 debacle against Wisconsin in the Pinstripe Bowl.
- Miami’s bowl woes may be compounded by Louisiana Tech’s expected home-field advantage since the game will be played in its home state. The Bulldogs, in Skip Holtz’s seventh season as head coach, are in position to record the school’s first 10-win season since 1984 and they have won five bowls in a row – tied with Wisconsin for the longest active streak in the nation – averaging 42.4 points and 471 yards in those contests. Louisiana Tech struggled down the stretch with back-to-back losses to Marshall (31-10) and UAB (20-14) before coming back to defeat Texas-San Antonio 41-27 in the regular-season finale, but redshirt senior quarterback J’Mar Smith missed those losses as he was suspended for violating athletic department policy.
- The Hurricanes’ roller-coaster season mirrors the up-and-down play of quarterbacks Jarren Williams (2,093 yards, 19 TDs) and N’Kosi Perry (993 yards, eight TDs), both of whom have had their chances but struggled with inconsistency and ineffectiveness. Diaz declared the battle open for the starting job in the Independence Bowl when Williams faltered in the final two games after seemingly turning the corner during a three-game winning streak in late October and early November that included a school-record six touchdown passes against Louisville. “We’re going to come back and see what happens in practice,” Diaz told reporters. “It’ll be a performance of everything in the month of December, which is going to be academic performance, doing the right things off the field and all those types of things.”
TV: 4 p.m. ET, ESPN. LINE: Miami -6
ABOUT LOUISIANA TECH (9-3): Despite sitting out two games, Smith enjoyed a career year while throwing for 2,814 yards and 17 touchdowns with just four interceptions as he led the conference in passing yards per game (281.4) to earn the Conference USA Offensive Player of the Year award. The Bulldogs have gained 390 yards or more in eight games and scored at least 35 points seven times, as the offense ranks at or near the top of C-USA in nearly every offensive category, including first in total offense (445.2 yards) and third-down conversions (41.8 percent) and second in scoring (34.0) along with first downs (23.8 per game). Miami’s offensive struggles could play into the hands of a Louisiana Tech defense ranked third in the nation in stopping opponents inside the red zone, giving up scores just 64.7 percent of the time.
ABOUT MIAMI (6-6): The erratic play at quarterback certainly hampered the Hurricanes all season, but so did a weak offensive line along with a ground game that ranks dead last in the ACC (116.5 yards per game), and it will be without injured starter and leading rusher DeeJay Dallas (693 yards). Defense has long been a cornerstone for the Hurricanes but, despite ranking 13th in the country (307.6 yards against), the unit was far from dominant – too often failing to get critical stops late in games and surrendering 57 points in the final two contests. Miami still remains aggressive as the defense ranks fourth in the nation in tackles for loss per game (8.6) and sixth in sacks per contest (3.58) under Diaz along defensive boss Blake Baker, both of whom were defensive coordinators under Holtz at Louisiana Tech and are quite familiar with the explosive nature of the Bulldogs attack.
PREDICTION: Louisiana Tech 40, Miami 23