The Miami Hurricanes football team (9-4) beat the West Virginia Mountaineers (10-3) 31-14 Wednesday in the Russell Athletic Bowl in Orlando, Fla. The victory ensured the Miami football program its first bowl game win since the 2006 season.
The road between bowl game victories proved a tough mountain to climb for Miami. Six straight bowl defeats, mixed with a couple of self-imposed bowl bans, and 10 years separated bowl wins for the Hurricanes.
Finally, 2016 was their year.
Things clicked for the ‘Canes offense in the second quarter after failing to show up in the first quarter. In the opening period Miami combined for 19 total yards. The ground game found five yards on four carries while quarterback Brad Kaaya completed four of eight passes for 14 yards. Miami also went 0-for on third down.
It seemed as though the struggles would continue as the ‘Canes first two possessions of the second quarter netted a dismal 21 yards.
Looking to simplify the passing game for Kaaya, Miami head coach Mark Richt called a simple hitch route to freshman wide-receiver Ahmmon Richards. Kaaya faked a handoff and fired to Richards; fifty-one yards later, Richards was in the end zone and Miami never looked back.
The ‘Canes scored 31 points on their next four possessions — making it five scores on five consecutive possessions — to put the game away.
All four touchdowns came by the way of Kaaya’s right arm. Either he was in the holiday season of giving or he had just read Das Kapital, because Kaaya distributed his touchdowns to four different receivers.
The scoring frenzy was a marked shift from their last 10 bowl games. Over that stretch, Miami scored over 21 points in only one game — the 2004 Peach Bowl against Florida (Miami won 27-10). In fact, this year’s Russell Athletic Bowl was the first bowl game that Miami scored at least 30 points since they won their last National Championship Game following the 2001 season.
Heading into the game, Miami’s last bowl win came in the 2006 MPC Computers Bowl against Nevada. Larry Coker, who presided over Miami’s most recent national championship, won his final game as ‘Canes head coach and then-receiver Sam Shields scored a game-winning 78-yard touchdown for Miami. Shields is now a cornerback for the Green Bay Packers. (LaDarius Gunter and Herb Waters, both ex-‘Canes, also currently play cornerback for the Packers).
After the 2006 bowl, the slide began. Especially on offense. Let’s take a slightly closer look at their recent bowl games:
- 2008: Following a year-long bowl absence, Miami lost to Cal in the 2008 Emerald Bowl, 24-17. The ‘Canes never led in the game.
- 2009: Miami lost to Wisconsin in the Champs Sports Bowl (the precursor to the Russell Athletic Bowl) 20-14. Again, the ‘Canes never held a lead.
- 2010: Against Notre Dame in the Sun Bowl, the ‘Canes were down by as much as 27 (on two occasions) and went until the fourth quarter without scoring a touchdown en route to a 33-17 rout.
- 2011-12: Self-imposed bowl bans while under investigation by the NCAA.
- 2013: Facing Louisville in the Russell Athletic Bowl, Miami’s never got closer than 2-0, surrendering 36-straight points. Miami again went the first three quarters without scoring a touchdown and lost 36-9.
- 2014: In the Independence Bowl Miami faced South Carolina and got out to a 6-0 lead but ended up losing 24-21.
- 2015: Miami lost to Washington State in the Sun Bowl (that saw snow flurries), 20-14. The ‘Canes defense posted a second-half shutout but the offense was only able to cobble together one touchdown drive after the first quarter.
So yeah, it’s been tough sledding for Miami up until now.
Miami has finally shaken the proverbial monkey off their back with one win. Richt was able to do what the two head coaches before him — four in total, including two interim coaches — were unable to pull off. Win a ‘freaking bowl game.
Sure, winning the Russell Athletic Bowl doesn’t bring much esteem along with it outside of Coral Gables. It probably doesn’t bring much esteem to Coral Gables, either.
Yet, even with all of the professional-caliber players to come through the program from 2006-now, a bowl victory had eluded the team. For a program with a history as rich as Miami’s, there’s something to say for ending a decade long drought.
For Miami, a bowl win was the first step. Next up, either playing for a conference championship or putting together a 10-win season. Miami hasn’t done either since joining the Atlantic Coast Conference prior to the 2004 season.
The ‘Canes could be turning the corner to a more positive stretch of success.
Allow me to draw a parallel to the Green Bay Packers, who were mired in mediocrity for the 1970’s and 1980’s. Prior to their down years (or down decades), the Packers won several NFL championships in the 1930’s, 1940’s, and 1960’s. Since 1993, the Packers have been a cornerstone for sustained success in the NFL.
Miami was the best college team of the 1980’s, the early 1990’s and early 2000’s, winning five national championships in all (and playing for several others). Down years followed their 2001 national title including, of course, the decade-long bowl win drought. The Russell Athletic Bowl could be the beginning of a prolonged stretch of quality football for the ‘Canes. That’s the wish for Miami fans, at least.
Here’s to hoping Miami doesn’t end up like the 49ers.
Alex Goldman is a senior majoring in journalism with a minor in political science. He is currently the Sports Editor of distractionmagazine.com. He’s a Northern California native and loves snowboarding, writing, and above all the Green Bay Packers.