This is the first in a series of stories breaking down the 2009 Champs Sports Bowl between No. 14 Miami and No. 25 Wisconsin, which will be played at 7 p.m. CT, Tuesday, December 29.
Offensive coordinator Mark Whipple has done wonders for the Hurricanes' offense in his first season. He, along with the emergence of sophomore quarterback Jacory Harris, helped Miami finish the regular season with the ACC's third-ranked offense with 413.5 yards per game and 31.7 points per game.
Harris is a high-risk, high-reward type quarterback who threw for 21 touchdowns this season, but also added 17 interceptions. He's got a cannon of an arm and can beat you with his feet, but the way to beat him is by shutting down the running game and forcing him to take over the football game. That's when he starts to the turn the ball over.
The Hurricanes don't have a dominating running back, but that doesn't mean they can't beat you on the ground. They have a committe of running backs that ran for over 1,700 yards and 17 touchdowns this season. Junior Graig Cooper led the way with 666 yards, but he only accounted for three scores. Junior Damien Berry is the guy they use in the red zone, while senior Javarris James has been battling injuries for a good part of the season.
Harris and his trio of talented receivers will present a big challenge for Wisconsin. Junior Leonard Hankerson, LaRon Byrd and Travis Benjamin are all dangerous, racking up 44, 30 and 28 catches, respectively. Harris also loves to find his tight ends, Dedrick Epps and Jimmy Graham in short yardage situations.
On the line, Wisconsin catches a big break with All-ACC left tackle Jason Fox missing the game after knee surgery. The rest of the line is pretty good, but the loss of Fox is a huge blow for Miami.
Senior defensive end O'Brien Schofield must be eager to play this game after hearing Fox won't play. He is tied for second in the country with 22.5 tackles for loss. Sophomore J.J. Watt might be forced to move inside next season and he prefers to play defensive end so look for him to prove his worth outside in this game.
The line will have to create pressure because Wisconsin's mediocre secondary will be tested by Harris. It's been a trying year for a group of cornerbacks that have all struggled and things won't get any easier in the bowl game. They do have a knack for grabbing interceptions and picking off a couple of passes against the turnover-prone Miami quarterback would go a long way in this game.
At linebacker, the guy to continue to watch is true freshman Chris Borland who has filled in nicely for Mike Taylor since he suffered a season-ending knee injury week seven. Taylor was leading the team in tackles at the time.
Who has the edge?
Fox's injury cannot be emphasized enough. One has to worry about UW's secondary in this game as they attempt to cover three talented receivers. But the loss of Fox could mean a big day for O'Brien Schofield who knows a great game in primetime against a team like Miami could boost his draft stock immensely.
Still, Miami is going to find the end zone in this game. The Badgers are only giving up 22.4 points per game but Indiana, Michigan and Northwestern all scored at least 24 points in UW's final three Big Ten games. However, one could argue that Wisconsin's track record after bye weeks is more significant in this matchup. Purdue was shutout and a good Hawaii offense was held to only 10 points after UW's two bye weeks this season. Dave Doeren will have had 24 days to prepare his defense for this game when they kickoff Dec. 29.
The Verdict: Even. Harris will put up some passing yards and find the endzone a couple of times, but he is also destined to throw a couple picks with the pressure UW's defensive line will be able to create.