If you’ve watched the Hurricanes play this season, then this game looked awfully familiar to you. An avalanche of penalties, drops, head-scratching decisions and more penalties buried Miami, not the heavy snow. The Hurricanes lost their sixth consecutive bowl game on Saturday afternoon, this time falling 20-14 to the Washington State Cougars in the Hyundai Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas.
The Canes have not won a bowl game since a 21-20 victory over Nevada in 2006 in the MPC Computers Bowl. Miami also lost in the Sun Bowl five years ago 33-17 to Notre Dame.
Miami had a chance to take the lead on Washington State’s 28-yard line with 3:13 remaining after a three-and-out by the Cougars, but in typical fashion, a mistake crushed the Canes. On an exceedingly questionable call, sophomore running back Joseph Yearby dropped back to pass and threw an interception. Washington State ran out the final 2:58 for the win.
Miami came into this matchup leading the country in average penalty yards per game at 82.4 and penalties called at 9.3. The Canes had nine penalties for 98 yards after racking up six penalties for 63 yards in the first half.
The typically reliable redshirt senior receiver Rashawn Scott dropped a flurry of balls thrown his way, none more costly than the one in the end zone in the second quarter that turned into a turnover.
The offensive line ushered defenders right into sophomore quarterback Brad Kaaya, who rarely had adequate time to throw and took multiple big hits.
Washington State (9-4) lived up to its famed “Air Raid” pass attack right away, going 75 yards in six plays to take an early 7-0 lead on the first possession. Redshirt sophomore quarterback Luke Falk completed all six of his passes on the drive, capping it off with a 31-yard touchdown to redshirt sophomore running back Jamal Morrow.
Miami answered right back with a 15-play, 69-yard drive as snow started to fall to tie the game. Kaaya completed passes on third-and-five, fourth-and-three and then finally fourth-and-goal from the four-yard line on the team’s first possession. Junior receiver Stacy Coley caught the four-yard touchdown to make it 7-7 with 5:45 left in the first.
After a quick drive by the Cougars, the Canes looked to take the lead early in the second quarter. A promising drive ended in a turnover, however, when redshirt sophomore linebacker Peyton Pelluer came away with the interception after Scott couldn’t hang on to the ball in the end zone.
The Canes (8-5) got the ball right back as redshirt freshman linebacker Mike Smith forced a fumble, which senior safety Deon Bush picked up at Washington State’s 30-yard line. Miami wasted the strong field position with a turnover-on-downs after only gaining a single yard in four plays. The Cougars took a 10-7 lead on a 30-yard field goal by redshirt sophomore Erik Powell on the ensuing drive.
New Head Coach Mark Richt joined the CBS telecast by phone during the Cougars’ possession. Richt didn’t make the trip to El Paso, but he said on air that his coaching staff is “close to being finished.” Richt was officially announced as Miami’s new head coach on Dec. 4.
The same mistakes that plagued Miami all season came back to hurt the Canes when they got the ball back. Poor offensive line play led to a punt, and penalties on defense gifted Washington State two first downs on third down throws. The Cougars capitalized with an easy 25-yard touchdown pass to redshirt junior receiver Gabe Marks with 1:10 left in the half.
Pressure by Washington State’s defensive line forced a quick three-and-out on the next drive, and the Cougars took over at Miami’s 42-yard line after a short punt by junior Justin Vogel, his second of the game.
Junior cornerback Artie Burns had a chance to redeem himself for a costly penalty on the previous drive, but he dropped an interception on Falk’s first pass. The Cougars moved inside the red zone with an 11-yard pass to Marks and a personal foul on Miami. Redshirt junior safety Rayshawn Jenkins was ejected from the game on the next play for targeting Marks in the end zone. The Canes were already down junior safety Jamal Carter, who was suspended for the game due to a violation of team rules. Washington State took a 20-7 lead into halftime with a 25-yard field goal by Powell.
The defense dominated the third quarter. Miami punted three times on offense and forced Washington State to turn the ball over on downs twice to go with a punt on defense. Once again, self-inflicted wounds cost the offense. Penalties by the offensive line and drops by Scott destroyed multiple possessions. Kaaya took blow after blow as the Cougars rushed right past the offensive line. The only positive in the quarter came on a two-yard run with 27 seconds left, which put sophomore running back Joseph Yearby at 1,000 rushing yards for the season.
The steady stream of snow turned into a full-blown snowstorm in the fourth. With the passing attack struggling and the heavy snow falling, offensive coordinator James Coley called a trick play on the ground. Sophomore receiver Braxton Berrios broke an inside handoff 60 yards – Miami’s longest run of the season – down the right sideline to set the Canes up at the five-yard line. Freshman running back Mark Walton rocketed through the middle on the next play for the score, his ninth rushing touchdown of the season.
The pass-dominant Cougars struggled mightily to move the ball. Falk’s throws regularly sailed over his receivers, but the Canes couldn’t convert one of the many errant passes into an interception. The Canes took over at their own 22 with 8:16 left on the clock.
Just when the team needed him most, Scott hauled in three catches for 59 yards to set Miami up at the five-yard line. The Canes thought they evened the score with a touchdown to Coley, but it was waived off for an illegal block in the back on senior receiver Herb Waters. Instead of tying the game and having an extra point for the lead, Walton fumbled inside the five and Washington State recovered.
Washington State outgained Miami 382 to 333 and finished with 23 first downs to Miami’s 13.
Richt takes over for Interim Head Coach Larry Scott tomorrow. He has his work cut out for him to turn this talented but mistake-prone group into an ACC contender with likes of Clemson and Florida State.