Washington State's chances in Sun Bowl depend on QB Luke Falk
A whirlwind of a season for the Miami Hurricanes ends in El Paso, Texas as interim head coach Larry Scott hopes to continue his team’s strong finish against Washington State’s Luke Falk and one of the best offenses in the country.
After a crushing 58-0 defeat at the hands of No. 1-ranked Clemson, then head coach Al Golden was fired and the ‘Canes have responded by winning four of their last five games with their only defeat against No. 10-ranked North Carolina. Miami had arguably the play of the year in a time-expiring kickoff returned for a touchdown that included eight laterals and two controversial no-calls.
Mike Leach brought his high-flying “air-raid” offensive attack from Texas Tech and its paying dividends in Pullman, WA as the combination of quarterbacks Luke Falk and Peyton Bender led the nation at 397 passing yards per game. The biggest question mark for the Cougars is whether Falk will be healthy after suffering head and neck injuries against Colorado on November 21st. In the five and a half quarters that Bender has played, the Cougars offense became stagnant scoring just 20 points.
Previewing the matchup
This will be the first ever matchup between the two schools as the ACC and the Pac-12 don’t regularly schedule each other out of conference. This game will showcase one of the best offensive lines in the Pac-12 against one of the best defensive lines in the ACC. With four starters on the Cougars OL grading at +16.5 or better and Miami’s top seven DL all grading positively, it will be a matchup of strength vs. strength. The other side of the coin isn’t as pretty as the Hurricanes’ OL doesn’t field a single positively graded OL and five of their top six grade very poorly at -11.9 or worse. The Cougars DL isn’t stout but does have three positively graded players, including two above +14.8.
Players to watch
WSU QB Luke Falk
Reports do show that Falk will return for this game, but he will be without top WR Gabe Marks, who suffered a gruesome injury in the regular season finale against in-state rival Washington Huskies. Falk exploded onto the scene last year throwing for 1793 yards in his first four starts and carried that into this season posting a +23.5 grade that ranked 2nd in the Pac-12. Falk isn’t just a system QB as he ranks in the top 20 in the nation in 3 major categories: 2nd in accuracy percentage at 79.4, 6th in accuracy under pressure at 67.9, and 20th in deep passing accuracy at 48.3.
WSU DT Destiny Vaeao
The Cougars best defensive starter, Vaeao moved to the defensive interior this year and it has done wonders for his performance. At -10.0 last year, Vaeao was inconsistent on the edge rushing the passer and stopping the run. This year he ranks 8th in the Pac-12 among defensive interior at +18.6. Coming off of the best game of his career against Washington, Vaeao recorded 7 run stops and a +6.5 run defense grade. Look for him to dominate a weak Miami OL.
MIA CB Corn Elder
Known for his game winning touchdown in the aforementioned play of the year, Elder has been much more than that for the Hurricanes’ in his first year as a starter. In limited playing time last year, Elder showed signs of a top tier CB as he allowed just 55.2 percent of targets to be caught. As a starter he has been better allowing a 53.1 catch rate, allowing just 1 touchdown to go along with his 2 interceptions and 6 pass defenses. At +10.0, Elder grades as the ACC’s 4th best CB while his 66.0 passer rating allowed when targeted is better than expected first rounder Jalen Ramsey.
MIA HB Joseph Yearby
Taking over for one of Miami’s most decorated HBs of all time in Duke Johnson, Yearby has not disappointed with a +18.3 grade. While he has top 100 yards just three times this season, he has forced 43 missed tackles on just 188 carries. He needs just 70 yards to top 1000 for the season, which is impressive considering the Hurricanes’ shortcomings on the offensive line.
While the Hurricanes’ have played inspired football under interim head coach Larry Scott, this game will be decided on whether or not Luke Falk is able to play. If he is, Miami won’t have many answers to the fire power the Cougars will bring even without Gabe Marks. The Cougars defense isn’t anything to write home about but is good enough to hold the Miami offense in check. Of course, if Falk can’t go, all bets are off and Miami will win. WSU 37, MIA 24.