Miami downs WVU in Russell Athletic Bowl

By Ryan Decker, Originally published for West Virginia Illustrated 

Two bowl streaks were on the line Wednesday evening as No. 16 West Virginia (10-3) took on Miami (9-4) in the Russell Athletic Bowl at Camping World Stadium in Orland, Florida.

Miami, one of the most successful programs historically, was trying to win its first bowl game since 2006 and put an end to a six-game losing streak in the postseason. The Mountaineers, on the other hand, were attempting to win their second-straight bowl game for the first time since winning three in a row from 2006-2008.

After not getting any production from the offense in the early going, the Hurricanes offense came out firing on all cylinders in the second and third quarters, putting distance between themselves and the Mountaineers en route to a 31-14 victory.

Ahmmon (Richards) made a play and just energized the whole team. That’s what happens sometimes in games like this,” Miami head coach Mark Richt told ESPN sideline reporter Tom Luginbill at halftime. “Something big happens and everybody get’s juiced up, and I think really that’s what got us cranked up.”

Both offenses had troubles getting going early, Miami being forced to punt on each of its first four drives and West Virginia turning the ball over on a fumble and also punting once during its first two times with the football.

It was WVU’s offense, though, that was first able to put points on the board as result of a four-play drive that started in good field position due to a penalty against the Hurricanes special team unit.

Skyler Howard ran up the middle on third down for 24 yards and freshman running back Kennedy McKoy ran six yards untouched for the score on the next play to give the Mountaineers the early 7-0 lead.

West Virginia’s defense came out strong, flying all over the field to the football and limiting the Hurricanes to just 19 total yards in the first quarter, only five of which came on the ground. Tony Gibson’s unit also didn’t allow Miami to pick up a first down until there was 11 minutes remaining in the second quarter, that coming on a penalty against the Mountaineers.

It took just one big play in the middle of the second quarter to change the narrative for the Hurricanes, offensively.

Brad Kaaya, the highly touted quarterback for Miami, completed a short pass to Ahmmon Richards, who eluded multiple WVU defenders and went 51 yards to the house to tie the game up at seven points apiece.

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Momentum appeared to swing fully to the Miami sideline’s benefit from there on out. That touchdown started a 21 unanswered-points scoring spree by the Kaaya and the Hurricane offense.

Meanwhile the West Virginia offense sputtered, only gaining 17 yards and zero first downs on offense in the second quarter, while the defense was gashed for nearly 200 yards.

Miami led 21-7 heading into the intermission.

Miami’s offense continued to work the ball downfield on its first possession of the second half, however, for the second time in the game, Kaaya had an interception erased on a questionable pass interference call.

With the penalty keeping the drive alive, Kaaya completed five out of six passes, including a 23-yard pitch and catch to David Njoku for a touchdown, giving Miami a 28-7 lead.

Kaaya ended the game completing 24 of his 34 pass attempts for 282 yards and four touchdowns in what some are speculating could be his final game at the college level.

The Mountaineers added a touchdown with three minutes remaining in the third quarter as result of a nine-play, 75-yard drive.

Shelton Gibson started the drive with a 15-yard reception, and Howard completed three more passes to put WVU in scoring position. He then ran the ball in for a four-yard score.

West Virginia could draw no closer as, outside of that drive, the Hurricane defense held the Mountaineers to just 47 yards.

Howard finished the day just 17-26 for 134 yards passing, while rushing the ball 21 times for only 63 yards. His 21 runs are the most in his career.

Howard, who played in his final game as a Mountaineer, finishes in the top five in WVU history in touchdown passes (60) total offense (8,407 yds), passing yards (7,302), completions (524), and QB rushing yards (1,105).

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