MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - Two old Big East rivals will meet in this year’s Russell Athletic Bowl when 14th-ranked West Virginia takes on Miami at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Florida, on Wednesday, December 28.
The game will kick off at 5:30 p.m. and will be televised nationally on ESPN.
“I think the matchup is great,” West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said. “From a recruiting perspective it’s no secret we love recruiting Florida. We love recruiting South Florida and going against Miami all the time. We get into Orlando as well. We’ve got some pretty good players out of there - Karl Joseph and KJ Dillon the most recent few that we’ve had at West Virginia.”
West Virginia was chosen for this year’s game after producing a 10-2 regular season in which the Mountaineers won all of their out-of-conference games against Missouri, Youngstown State and BYU while managing a 7-2 mark in Big 12 play.
WVU’s only losses were to Oklahoma, who faces Auburn in this year’s Allstate Sugar Bowl, and to Oklahoma State, which is playing Colorado in the Valero Alamo Bowl.
It’s just the ninth time in school history the Mountaineers have won 10 or more games in a season, and the second time Holgorsen has done it.
His first season at West Virginia in 2011 saw WVU win 10 games and defeat Clemson, 70-33, in the Discover Orange Bowl.
Last year, Holgorsen’s Mountaineers defeated Arizona State, 43-42, in the 2016 Motel 6 Cactus Bowl.
It will be West Virginia’s 35th bowl appearance and the fifth under Holgorsen, now 46-30 in his sixth season with the Mountaineers.
“I know there is a lot of history with West Virginia and Miami just going back to the Big East days but that’s way before my time,” Holgorsen said. “I’m going to have to get educated on the former matchups and all that but obviously, Miami has got great tradition and Coach (Mark) Richt does a phenomenal job. He’s always been a guy that I’ve looked up to in this profession.”
Miami (8-4, 5-3 ACC) recently completed a successful first season under veteran coach Richt, who returned to his alma mater after lengthy tenure at Georgia where he directed one of the top grid programs in the country.
The Hurricanes won their first four games of the season, then dropped four in a row to Florida State, North Carolina, Virginia Tech and Notre Dame and ended the year with four consecutive wins in ACC play against Pitt, Virginia, NC State and Duke.
Junior quarterback Brad Kaaya passed for 396 yards in Miami’s 40-21 win over Duke a week ago to become Miami’s leading all-time passer. His 9,686 yards surpassed former Hurricane star quarterback Ken Dorsey.
Kaaya has completed 61.2 percent of his pass attempts for 3,250 yards and 23 touchdowns this year, 58 of those going to Stacy Coley for 703 yards and nine touchdowns.
Sophomore running back Mark Walton reached 1,000 yards for the season against Duke and now shows 1,065 yards heading into the Russell Athletic Bowl. He has scored 25 touchdowns in 25 career games with the Hurricanes.
Miami’s defense has gotten progressively better this year, limiting Virginia to just 14 points and NC State to 13 points in recent wins and holding seven opponents this year to 20 points or less.
Freshman linebacker Shaquille Quarterman and senior safety Jamal Carter Sr. lead the Hurricanes in tackles with 79 each. Quarterman has 2 ½ sacks, a pass breakup and a fumble recovery while Carter has broken up three passes.
True freshman defensive lineman Joe Jackson had two sacks in the Duke win and leads the team with 7 ½ sacks.
“I know our fan base is going to be excited about it,” Holgorsen said. “I know our players are already excited about it. It’s a phenomenal matchup in college football and I can’t wait for us to get there - excited about what is in front of us.”
Holgorsen’s balanced West Virginia offense produced 6,083 yards in 12 games - 3,209 of those coming through the air and 2,874 on the ground.
Against Baylor, the ground game was the Mountaineers’ preferred method of moving the football. Junior Justin Crawford
rushed for 209 yards against the Bears to become only the third player in school history to rush for more than 200 yards twice in the same season. Quarterback Pat White and running back Steve Slaton turned the trick in 2006.
Crawford ran for 331 yards in West Virginia’s 56-28 loss to Oklahoma, one week before true freshman Martell Pettaway
ran for 181 yards in his college debut against Iowa State.
True freshman Kennedy McKoy
and senior Rushel Shell III
have also rushed for more than 100 yards in games this season. It's the ninth time in school history at least four Mountaineer backs have topped the century mark in a season and first time since 1975.
Crawford leads West Virginia with 1,168 yards and an impressive 7.4-yards-per-carry average.
Senior quarterback Skyler Howard
has completed 60.8 percent of his passes for 3,194 yards and 26 touchdowns this year. In 29 career games, Howard now ranks third in school history in career passing behind Geno Smith and Marc Bulger with 7,168 career yards and 60 touchdowns.
Daikiel Shorts Jr.
is the team’s leading receiver with 58 catches for 833 yards and five touchdowns. Junior Shelton Gibson
is tops in receiving yardage (927), touchdown catches (eight) and yards per catch average (23.2).
WVU’s defense ranked No. 1 in the Big 12, giving up just 23.4 points per game.
Senior linebacker Justin Arndt
leads WVU’s 3-3 stack defense with 80 tackles, seven tackles for losses and three sacks. Junior middle linebacker Al-Rasheed Benton
shows 70 tackles, an interception and a fumble recovery while senior corner Rasul Douglas
is tied for the national lead in interceptions with eight picks.
Eleven different players have recorded sacks, led by senior Noble Nwachukwu
’s four. He shows 15 ½ sacks and 29 ½ tackles for losses for his career.
This year’s Russell Athletic Bowl will mark the 20th all-time meeting between the two schools and the first since 2003 - Miami’s last season playing in the Big East.
“I’m expecting there to be a ton of people there. I know the matchup is going to be an exciting one. I’ve already had tons of calls from our fan base and we’ll be down there in droves, I can assure you of that,” Holgorsen said. “If (the old Big East rivalry) hasn’t rekindled, it will rekindle pretty quick. I know it’s going to be fantastic for the bowl game and that’s what bowl games are all about, to be able to have matchups like this where everybody can get excited.”
West Virginia has made one prior trip to the Russell Athletic Bowl, that coming in 2010 during the late Bill Stewart’s final season coaching the Mountaineers. WVU lost to Russell Wilson-led NC State 23-7.