Miami Hurricanes win first bowl game since 2006, beat West Virginia in Russell Athletic Bowl

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

ORLANDO — They have dreams of hoisting a more hallowed trophy. Perhaps, one day, they will.

For now, the Hurricanes are happy with this one.

They earned their first bowl win in a decade — and some hardware — at Camping World Stadium, routing No. 16 West Virginia 31-14 in the Russell Athletic Bowl on Wednesday night.

Miami lost six bowl games between the 2006 MPC Computers Bowl and Wednesday, a dizzying stretch for a program that has produced five national titles and some of the greatest college football teams in history. In the past 10 years, the Hurricanes have made four coaching changes and are 80-60 overall.

They’re a long way from back. But under warm, 70-degree skies in a stadium 240 miles from campus, they earned the right to say they’re on the right track.

Under first-year coach Mark Richt, the 56-year-old former Miami quarterback, Florida State assistant and Georgia coach, UM finished 9-4 (5-3 ACC) and won its final five games. It will almost certainly be ranked when the season’s final polls are released.

“It’s fun to win,” Richt said, wearing wet clothing as his players shook the walls with their shouts from the locker room down the hall. “There’s nothing like it.”

The win came after quarterback Brad Kaaya caught fire, leading the Hurricanes to 28 unanswered points after falling behind early, and UM played its usual ferocious defense, keeping the Mountaineers (10-3) from winning 11 games for the sixth time in their 125-year history.

Kaaya, a junior who is expected to declare for the NFL draft, was named most valuable player. After an unimpressive start, he finished 24-of-34 for 282 yards and four touchdowns. He waved his arms to the heavy Miami contingent in the crowd, as UM players doused Richt with water in the final minute.

Afterward, fans chanted “one more year” at him.

Kaaya opened 5-of-13 for 29 yards, drawing heavy criticism from ESPN’s broadcast team and, as usual, social media. Miami gained 19 yards in the first quarter, 1.4 yards per carry, and started 0-for-6-on third down. The Hurricanes didn’t achieve a first down until 11:04 of the second, and that was on a penalty. They fell behind 7-0 after running back Kennedy McKoy scored from 6 yards out at 5:40 of the first.

Richt called it “sorry.”

Ahmmon Richards changed all that. The freshman All-American receiver from Wellington High, Richt said, pulled a hamstring 10 days before the game and hadn’t practiced much. But he took a short pass 51 yards to the end zone, slipping by star WVU cornerback Rasul Douglas, to tie the score with 6:30 left in the first half.

Kaaya – and the Hurricanes’ offense — looked quite comfortable from there. The Richards reception began a stretch in which Miami’s No. 15 completed 18 of 20 passes for 247 yards and four scores.

He floated a 3-yard TD pass to Malcolm Lewis with 2:11 left in the half and hit a wide-open Braxton Berrios for a 26-yard score with 27 seconds left.

“If you want to win a game like this, you’ve got to play well all four quarters,” WVU coach Dana Holgorsen said, who called UM’s defense the best it had seen all year. “We didn’t play well in the second quarter.”

Tight end David Njoku — a redshirt sophomore who declared for the NFL draft after the game– fought off a leg tackle attempt and high-stepped through the end zone to make it 28-7 at 11:04 of the third quarter.

“We [opened with] six drives with nothing,” Richt said. “Their down linemen whipped us in the run game.”

The Hurricanes lost a key defensive player when freshman linebacker Michael Pinckney was ejected for targeting at 10:55 of the third. Pinckney made clear helmet-to-helmet contact with WVU receiver Shelton Gibson, who was spinning to the ground as he was tackled by Corn Elder.

Quarterback Skyler Howard responded with a 26-yard completion, and scooted into the end zone from 4 yards out with 7:50 left in the third, making it 31-14.

But Miami turned to sophomore running back Mark Walton, the 1,000-yard rusher, who helped Miami put together a drive lasting 7 minutes, 41 seconds, sealing the victory.

Miami recorded nine tackles for losses and four sacks, holding the offensively gifted Mountaineers to 229 total yards, 95 on the ground. West Virginia failed to convert a pair of fourth-down chances and committed 11 penalties for 108 yards. Miami had eight for 89, and was 3-of-12 on third down.

According to the Associated Press, 109 FBS teams have won a bowl game since Miami last did. On that list: the other six FBS teams in the state of Florida and Old Dominion, which resurrected its football team in 2009. In Year One of Richt’s tenure, that inglorious streak is no more.

Miami beat its highest-ranked opponent since defeating No. 12 Florida in 2013, capping a promising season that included some big hits and a few razor-thin misses.

“We battled in every game,” Richt said. “We fought hard. We’ve just got to win the close ones.”

Russell Athletic Bowl 2016

[What’s at stake for both teams?]

[Tension flares between Miami, WVU at charity event]

[Miami DE Thomas has a little something for the ‘Eers]

[ESPN analyst talks UM-WVU; calls Walton ‘most underrated]

[WR recruit won’t flip from WVU to Miami]

[Miami believes offense has fixed its issues]

[Right goes in-depth on Kaaya, NFL draft decisions]

[Njoku should be big factor against Mountaineers]

[Holgorsen: Beating Miami would be ‘huge’ for WVU]

[Catching up with UM-to-WVU transfer Crawford]

Live blog: Miami vs. West Virginia, 2016 Russell Athletic Bowl

A view of Camping World Stadium before the Russell Athletic Bowl between Miami and West Virginia. (Matt Porter)
A view of Camping World Stadium before the Russell Athletic Bowl between Miami and West Virginia. (Matt Porter)

[What’s at stake for both teams?]

[Tension flares between Miami, WVU at charity event]

[Miami DE Thomas has a little something for the ‘Eers]

[ESPN analyst talks UM-WVU; calls Walton ‘most underrated]

ORLANDO — The Hurricanes are looking for their first bowl victory in a decade, and a nine-win season in Mark Richt‘s first year. The Mountaineers want the sixth 11-win season in the 125-year history of the program.

Oh, and by the way: there’s some heat between these teams.

We’ll see how tense things are between the teams during warmups, and of course, chronicle the live action in what should be a very competitive Russell Athletic Bowl between Miami (8-4) and No. 16 West Virginia (10-2).

FINAL: Miami 31, WVU 14

Miami gets a stop

With WVU going for it on fourth-and-5 at its 49, Skyler Howard threw high and out of Shelton Gibson’s reach.

Penalties

11 for 108. Miami has eight for 89.

WVU gets a stop

Miami, which punted on its first six drives and scored on its next five, punted for the first time since the 12:18 mark of the second quarter.

Holding penalty on Kc McDermott hurt matters. A declined holding call on Stacy Coley did not.

FG: Miami 31, West Virginia (4:26 3Q)

Brad Kaaya is on an 18-for-20, 247-yard run, but Miami settled for Michael Badgley’s 30-yard field goal after his protection broke down and he was sacked for the first time.

TD: Miami 28, West Virginia 14 (7:50, 3Q)

The Mountaineers are not dead.

Quarterback Skyler Howard scooted into the end zone from 4 yards out, slipping past a near-TFL by Chad Thomas. That was set up by a 26-yard completion, and the 15-yard Pinckney penalty.

Tough call 

Freshman linebacker Michael Pinckney was called for targeting at 10:55 of the third. Pinckney made clear helmet-to-helmet contact with WVU receiver Shelton Gibson, who was spinning to the ground as he was tackled by Corn Elder.

Pinckney was ejected. Darrion Owens took his place.

TD: Miami 28, West Virginia 7 (11:04 3Q)

David Njoku is a problem.

He high-stepped through the end zone after a 23-yard touchdown catch, on which he fought off a leg tackle by safety Jarrod Harper.

Bailing out Miami on the drive:

A huge pass interference call against WVU nullified an interception on a deep ball, and brought Miami out of danger area to its own 43. Not an advisable throw by Kaaya, but it worked out.

HALFTIME: Miami 21, West Virginia 7

As we said: Miami has it rolling.

Brad Kaaya hit Braxton Berrios for a 26-yard touchdown with 27 seconds remaining in the half.

The Hurricanes, after a 19-yard first quarter, wound up with 215 for the half. Though they haven’t run well (2.6 per carry) or converted third downs (0-for-6), they have three plays of 25-or-more yards, including a 51-yard touchdown catch-and-run by Ahmmon Richards that tied the game and got Miami’s offense out of its funk.

Miami held West Virginia to 105 yards in the first half, and has five tackles for loss and three sacks.

TD: Miami 14, West Virginia 7 (2:11 2Q) 

Miami seems to have figured out WVU’s defense.

Brad Kaaya floated a touchdown pass 3 yards to senior Malcolm Lewis, after finding a wide-open Stacy Coley for 30 yards on the drive. He also hit Ahmmon Richards on a perfectly placed slant pass. Mark Walton stiff-armed his way for 14 yards, too.

A loud TFL by Zach McCloud helped force a Mountaineers punt on the previous drive.

TD: Miami 7, West Virginia 7 (6:30 2Q)

Ahmmon Richards took it 51 yards to the house.

Tied.

Freshman All-American, and deserving of the honor. Richards beat WVU’s star cornerback, Rasul Douglas, and made a smart cut around the secondary. Good downfield blocking from his teammates, too.

Breaking: a first down

The Hurricanes achieved a first down for the first time with 11:04 left in the first half.

Brad Kaaya was hit as he threw, and his wobbly throw was intercepted at midfield by

More nice defense

A form tackle by Rayshawn Jenkins, a Zach McCloud pass break-up and another West Virginia punt.

They say defense travels. I say it stays sharp during bowl-season layoffs.

More ugly offense

Brad Kaaya lost a handoff to Mark Walton, picked up a fumble and gained three yards.

Miami punted for the fifth time in five drives.

End 1: West Virginia 7, Miami 0 

As the first quarter ends, Miami defensive tackle Courtel Jenkins is down and very much in pain. He’s holding his lower left leg. Jenkins has a sack in the early going. He limped off slowly.

Miami gained 19 yards and zero first downs, but has two sacks and a fumble, forced and recovered.

Defensive struggle

The pace of the Mountaineers’ offense means they get to third down quicker than most teams.

On third-and-10, West Virginia receiver Dakiel Shorts caught a 20-yard pass to get his team across midfield. However, WVU didn’t convert again on that drive. A low snap was trapped on the ground by Skyler Howard. Punt.

Another offensive line penalty

And another three-and-out.

The penalty, a hold on Tyree St. Louis, was declined. The punt, by Justin Vogel, set up WVU at its own 40.

TD: West Virginia 7, Miami 0 (5:40 1Q)

Miami’s special-teams mistake helped the Moutaineers break the scoreless tie.

Given good field position, quarterback Skyler Howard faked an option handoff and ran 24 yards up the middle. On the next play, running back Kennedy McKoy scored from 6 yards out.

Well that was interesting

West Virginia punt returner Gary Jennings didn’t call for a fair catch, and Miami’s Travis Homer form-tackled him. The ball squirted into the WVU red zone, kicked ahead by Jaquan Johnson, and a pile of bodies fell on it. Before the recovery could be sorted out, Homer was called for interfering with a catchable ball.

Handed 15 yards from the spot of the foul, WVU started at Miami’s 39, with 6:42 left in the first quarter.

Right now, Miami is struggling on offense. It couldn’t protect Brad Kaaya on third-and-7 from the 11. Justin Vogel punted from his end zone.

Another false start — Danny Isidora, this time — had the Canes as far back as their 4-yard line.

Crowd analysis

Split fairly evenly, about 85 percent capacity. Stadium seats 70,000.

Defense came to play

Shaq Quarterman and Courtel Jenkins sacked Skyler Howard, back-to-back, for 22 yards in losses. A WVU false start knocked it back further. But a 57-yard, sky-high punt by Billy Kinney pinned Miami at its 8.

Three-and-out

Miami punted on its first offensive series.

A Kc McDermott false start made it third-and-17. Brad Kaaya found Stacy Coley on the sideline for a big gain, but he couldn’t keep his feet in bounds.

Big play

There’s the talking. Miami defensive players letting WVU know it just recovered a fumble.

Chad Thomas forced. Kendrick Norton recovered it at the West Virginia 40.

Kickoff

No demonstrated conflict between the captains at coin toss.

Miami won the toss and deferred.

The Hurricanes’ entrance:

5 p.m. 

Recap our Facebook Live stream, in which we show you what warmups were like, talk about the matchups, and put you live on the field. We got UM Athletics Director Blake James to join us for a few questions, too.

Check it out (and like our Facebook page, Post on Miami Hurricanes, if you have not already done so).

4:00 p.m. 

A few pregame notes:

– Miami moved from a 2.5-point to 3-point favorite on Wednesday, which is surely going over well in Morgantown.

– The Hurricanes will almost certainly be ranked if they win; it will be their fifth win in a row.

– It will also be their first win over a ranked opponent since last Oct. 31 at No. 22 Duke. The Mountaineers, ranked No. 14 in the Associated Press poll, would be the highest-ranked team Miami has beat since its 21-16 win over No. 12 Florida on Sept. 7, 2013.

– Since beating No. 8 Oklahoma 21-20 on Oct. 3, 2009, Miami has beat one AP top-15 team: the Gators, which finished 2013 a dismal 4-8. This, arguably, would be a higher-quality win.

– Players to watch include Miami quarterback Brad Kaaya and tight end David Njoku, who are widely expected to declare for the NFL draft at some point after the bowl. Third-string running back Joe Yearby has publicly alluded that he will declare. West Virginia’s top draft prospect is cornerback Rasul Douglas.

– Expect Njoku, a supreme athlete at 6-foot-4 and 245 pounds, to be a big part of tonight’s game plan. West Virginia hasn’t seen anyone like him. The Mountaineers’ matchup problem is junior wideout Shelton Gibson, who can fly.

– Hurricanes seniors playing in their final college game include cornerbacks Corn Elder and Adrian Colbert, safeties Rayshawn Jenkins and Jamal Carter, right guard Danny Isidora, wide receivers Stacy Coley and Malcolm Lewis, center Alex Gall, fullback Marquez Williams and punter Justin Vogel. It could be the last UM game for two juniors, running back Gus Edwards and defensive tackle Courtel Jenkins. They are exploring transferring, according to a source.

– Uniform watch: Miami is wearing orange jerseys, white pants and orange cleats. West Virginia is in all-white.

– Miami native Marcus Lemonis, host of CNBC’s “The Profit,” gave a $250,000 check to the UM athletics department before the game. Through a UM press release, Lemonis said he will match half of every donation made as part of a “Match Marcus” campaign, up to a $1 million gift to UM.

More Russell Athletic Bowl 2016

[WR recruit won’t flip from WVU to Miami]

[Miami believes offense has fixed its issues]

[Right goes in-depth on Kaaya, NFL draft decisions]

[Njoku should be big factor against Mountaineers]

[Holgorsen: Beating Miami would be ‘huge’ for WVU]

[Catching up with UM-to-WVU transfer Crawford]

[Watch Canes geek out during Best Buy shopping trip]

Miami, West Virginia look to finish strong with Russell Athletic Bowl win

(Matt Porter)
(Matt Porter)

ORLANDO — The Hurricanes are staying in an upscale resort just a few hours’ drive from campus, enjoying the warm Florida weather. Between practices, players have gone to theme parks, hung by the pool, and relaxed in their hotel.

The Russell Athletic Bowl, one of the ACC’s top-tier games, is a fine game. The host organization will present either Miami or West Virginia with a shiny trophy.

As bowl destinations go, Orlando is lovely.

But it is not where they wanted to be.

“I wanted to be undefeated,” freshman linebacker Shaq Quarterman said, adding that he won’t be happy until he and his teammates hoist a “natty” – a national championship trophy.

That will have to wait. Miami (8-4) can’t achieve those goals before snapping their present streak, a most inglorious one. Whether in Orlando or El Paso, Shreveport or San Francisco, they haven’t finished the season with a bowl-game victory in a decade. Beating 16th-ranked West Virginia (10-2) on Wednesday is the only way to quench that thirst.

“It would help out tremendously,” said junior left tackle Kc McDermott. “It would give everybody a confidence boost, it would give everybody a sense that Miami is coming back, it would definitely help out recruiting-wise and it would also send off the seniors the way that they are supposed to be sent off.”

The last Hurricanes seniors to win a bowl – the 2006 class, which beat Nevada in the MPC Computers Bowl in Boise, Idaho – are now in their early 30s. McDermott, 20, watched his older brother Shane’s teams lose to Wisconsin in Orlando in 2009 and get crushed by Notre Dame in El Paso in 2010. They took self-imposed bowl bans the next two years, and got smoked by Louisville in Orlando in 2013, in Shane’s senior season.

McDermott, from Palm Beach Central High, lost in Shreveport in 2014 and El Paso last year.

That should be motivation enough, but there’s more at stake for Miami.

First, it will be the last college game for 14 seniors, including cornerback Corn Elder, receiver Stacy Coley, right guard Danny Isidora, safeties Rayshawn Jenkins and Jamal Carter – all NFL draft prospects. It could be the last game for junior quarterback Brad Kaaya, redshirt sophomore tight end David Njoku and junior running back Joe Yearby, all of whom are likely to turn pro afterward. Kaaya, who became UM’s career passing leader in the season-finale against Duke, needs 314 yards to become the third ACC quarterback to reach 10,000.

A win would be their fifth in a row. It would be their ninth of the season, UM’s most since 2013 and its third nine-win season since 2005. Given the Mountaineers’ place in the polls – they are 14th in the Associated Press top 25 – a victorious Miami would almost certainly go from unranked to ranked, given its strong finish to the season.

A loss would be bitter, and not just because of the verbal jousting between the teams in the days leading up to the game. It would giving Miami its third consecutive eight-win finish.  A win would lend a much different flavor. The Hurricanes, with a freshman-heavy roster and a lack of depth, lost one game by more than a touchdown. A win would lend more credence to the argument that Miami, in Mark Richt’s first season, is on the way up.

“I know what everybody wants and I want it too,” Richt said. “I think I have hired the right kind of men. I think we are getting the kind of support we need from our administration. I know our fans are rabid and excited. So if we do things right, I truly believe that we will get back to the point where, you know, Miami is going to be talked about even at a higher level than it is today.”

West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen, who went 10-3 in 2011 and set an Orange Bowl record for points scored (70), was 4-8 three years ago.  His team climbed to 7-6, to 8-5, and now has a chance to win 11 games for the sixth time in the Mountaineers’ 125-year history.

“That is pretty special,” he said. “I think that says a lot about where the program is at and where it is headed.”

Wednesday, one team will make the final statement. The other won’t be able to say much of anything.

Russell Athletic Bowl 2016

[Tension flares between Miami, WVU at charity event]

[Miami DE Thomas has a little something for the ‘Eers]

[ESPN analyst talks UM-WVU; calls Walton ‘most underrated]

[WR recruit won’t flip from WVU to Miami]

[Miami believes offense has fixed its issues]

[Right goes in-depth on Kaaya, NFL draft decisions]

[Njoku should be big factor against Mountaineers]

[Holgorsen: Beating Miami would be ‘huge’ for WVU]

[Catching up with UM-to-WVU transfer Crawford]

[Watch Canes geek out during Best Buy shopping trip]

Recruiting: WR Mike Harley won’t flip to Miami, staying with West Virginia

Mike Harley (247Sports)
Mike Harley (247Sports)

ORLANDO — Mike Harley said whomever won the Russell Athletic Bowl — the “Harley Bowl,” as he playfully called it on Twitter — would win his signature on a letter of intent. He later reportedly said he was being facetious.

Harley was clear about his intentions Tuesday, tweeting that he was no longer considering a flip to Miami. He will sign with West Virginia.

A speedy three-star prospect from Fort Lauderdale-St. Thomas Aquinas, Harley (5-10, 160) became a priority for the Hurricanes at wide receiver after UM lost out on five-star Alabama commit Jerry Jeudy.

UM has one wideout committed (three-star Evidence Njoku) and hopes to sign at least two more, to help offset the loss of the graduating Stacy Coley and Malcolm Lewis. 

Miami’s returning cast includes freshman All-American Ahmmon Richards, rehabbing redshirt sophomore Lawrence Cager and senior-to-be Braxton Berrios.

https://twitter.com/harleyxvi/status/813809291274633217

Russell Athletic Bowl 2016

[Tension flares between Miami, WVU at charity event]

[Miami DE has boastful rap for West Virginia]

[ESPN analyst talks UM-WVU; calls Walton ‘most underrated]

[Miami believes offense has fixed its issues]

[Right goes in-depth on Kaaya, NFL draft decisions]

[Njoku should be big factor against Mountaineers]

[Holgorsen: Beating Miami would be ‘huge’ for WVU]

[Catching up with UM-to-WVU transfer Crawford]

[Watch Canes geek out during Best Buy shopping trip]

Video: Miami Hurricanes Chad Thomas raps a message to West Virginia

Chad Thomas performs a song for West Virginia. (Matt Porter)
Chad Thomas performs a song for West Virginia. (Matt Porter)

ORLANDO —

“We got Brad, we got Stacy too 
Y’all watch film, I know you seen that boy 82″

That’s part of Chad Thomas‘ rap to West Virginia players, after he took the stage at the Russell Athletic Bowl pregame luncheon Tuesday. The event, held for paying customers, together the teams for a town-hall chat with the coaches and a brief talent show. When Miami was here in 2013, linebacker Jimmy Gaines sang a rendition of “Stand By Me.”

This was not that.

Watch as Thomas did nothing to cool the newfound heat between the two sides, rapping about how there “ain’t no stopping” the Hurricanes.

Can’t see the video? Click here to view on Facebook

After the luncheon let out, the sides exited through separate ballroom doors and into a large hallway. West Virginia players got loud and rowdy, and chanted “two shots.” A few players threw up Miami’s familiar ‘U’ hand sign, and turned it down, as Miami players watched from down the hall.

In a press conference earlier Tuesday, West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen was asked about the words exchanged at the charity event Monday.

“That is football,” he said. “It happens. So, we had a great time yesterday. It was a special place. Any time you get two football teams together, there are going to be some things. So it is going to get chippy, that is just the way it is.

“Pregame is going to get chippy. I am going to guarantee you that. I think both teams understand that and are going to behave themselves and not do anything illegal. But trash talk, that pretty much happens every single game, so it is not surprising to me.”

Mark Richt said he’s not big into trash talk, but said he wants his players with energy — as long as they don’t cost the team with penalties.

Wednesday should be fun.

Russell Athletic Bowl 2016

[Tension flares between Miami, WVU at charity event]

[ESPN analyst talks UM-WVU; calls Walton ‘most underrated]

[Miami believes offense has fixed its issues]

[Right goes in-depth on Kaaya, NFL draft decisions]

[Njoku should be big factor against Mountaineers]

[Holgorsen: Beating Miami would be ‘huge’ for WVU]

[Catching up with UM-to-WVU transfer Crawford]

[Watch Canes geek out during Best Buy shopping trip]

ESPN analyst talks Miami-WVU, calls Mark Walton ‘the most underrated player in the country’

Mark Walton runs free against Florida State. (Getty Images)
Mark Walton runs free against Florida State. (Getty Images)

[Tension flares between Miami, WVU at charity event]

[Miami believes offense has fixed its issues]

[Right goes in-depth on Kaaya, NFL draft decisions]

[Njoku should be big factor against Mountaineers]

[Holgorsen: Beating Miami would be ‘huge’ for WVU]

[Catching up with UM-to-WVU transfer Crawford]

[Watch Canes geek out during Best Buy shopping trip]

ORLANDO — If you detect any excitement in Greg McElroy‘s voice as he calls Miami-West Virginia, it will be genuine.

“When we got the assignment, we were fired up,” he said in a phone conversation Monday. “It’s a really good matchup.”

McElroy, the former Alabama quarterback, will provide color commentary for ESPN during Wednesday’s Russell Athletic Bowl (5:30 p.m.), alongside play-by-play man Dave Pasch.

Both teams, in his view, were “really close to having pretty special seasons.”

Miami, which lost to Florida State by an extra point, North Carolina by a touchdown, and Notre Dame by a field goal, fell apart against eventual ACC Coastal champion Virginia Tech. That 21-point loss recalled West Virginia’s outings against Oklahoma State (lost by 17) and Oklahoma (28). Those were the Mountaineers’ only defeats.

Though West Virginia has the better record (10-2) and is ranked 14th by the Associated Press (and 16th by the College Football Playoff committee), McElroy isn’t surprised unranked Miami (8-4) is a slight favorite (2.5 points, as of Monday).

“As average as Miami’s been, their talent is still among the elite,” he said. “If you look at their bodies, guys along the defensive line, their quarterback is a marginal first-round pick, possibly — from a talent standpoint, they’re pretty outstanding. That doesn’t surprise me, given the perception of the Big 12 nationally, and how strong Miami has been when they’ve played their best ball.”

The Mountaineers, who have won four games by four points or fewer, are “solid” in McElroy’s view. But he said the 56-28 loss to Oklahoma — “one of their biggest opportunities they’ve had in years” — had people making up their minds about the ‘Eers.

“They had a chance to win the Big 12 and they got beat pretty badly,” he said of the Nov. 9 game.  “It was 34-0 before anyone knew what was going on. The perception after that game was that they really weren’t for real. But that’s one game. Most of the time, in crunch time, they make big plays and they have a lot of veteran guys.”

When WVU’s offense is clicking, McElroy said, the Mountaineers tire out defenses with tempo and hit downfield shots. Senior quarterback Skyler Howard isn’t an imposing figure — he’s listed at 6-feet and 208 pounds — but knows what is expected of him in coach Dana Holgorsen‘s Air Raid-style offense.

“They don’t really have a lot of guys that look like first-round picks,” McElroy said, “But they play really well within the scheme. … They have some NFL players, but in a beauty contest, I don’t know if they will look like Miami.”

While McElroy believes the Hurricanes’ offensive talent is superior, the Mountaineers’ aggression and confidence on defense has made it tough on teams all season.

“They know they don’t have NFL defensive linemen, so they blitz the house,” McElroy said. “They can do it on every snap. They don’t care. It’s really fun to watch. If they give up a score, they have so much confidence in their offense they know they can get it back.”

McElroy is excited to watch Hurricanes running back Mark Walton, whom he called “the most underrated player in the country. I really believe that. He’s really good.” McElroy was impressed that Miami has been able to keep Walton’s workload down; he averages 16 carries a game.

Incidentally, Walton’s season-high (24) came in a game McElroy worked (North Carolina-Miami on Oct. 15). McElroy also manned the mic for Miami’s game at Appalachian State on Sept. 17 and West Virginia’s 34-10 win over TCU on Oct. 22.

More McElroy on Miami:

“I think Walton is fantastic,” he said. “I think David Njoku is fantastic. I think he’s as good a tight end as you’ll find in college football, when it comes to putting stress on a defense in the passing game. I really like Brad Kaaya, but he’s inconsistent. His best is as good as anybody, but his worst is below where he should be. He’s not as consistent as I’d like; he’ll get that sorted out if he comes back, which I’d recommend.

“If he plays like he did at Pitt and Duke, no doubt he’s a first-round pick. If he plays like he did earlier in the year when he was inconsistent, he looks very average.”

West Virginia CB Antonio Crawford faces his former Miami Hurricanes teammates

Antonio Crawford poses for a photo at Give Kids the World Village in Kissimmee, during a pre-Russell Athletic Bowl outing. (Matt Porter)
Antonio Crawford poses for a photo at Give Kids the World Village in Kissimmee, during a pre-Russell Athletic Bowl outing. (Matt Porter)

[Miami believes offense is miles — not inches — ahead of October]

[Right goes in-depth on Kaaya, NFL draft decisions]

[Njoku should be big factor against Mountaineers]

[Richt sends a message, suspends 7 Hurricanes]

[Holgorsen: Beating Miami would be ‘huge’ for WVU]

[Watch Canes geek out during Best Buy shopping trip]

KISSIMMEE — Antonio Crawford enjoys doing charity work, but he never expected to make the same trip twice wearing two different jerseys.

“It’s kind of weird, but it’s good to be here again and give back to the kids,” he said.

Crawford, a redshirt senior cornerback, wore the navy blue No. 1 of West Virginia on Monday at Give Kids the World Village, a charity trip organized by the Russell Athletic Bowl.

Three years ago, he was in a white No. 21 jersey, representing Miami. He transferred in April 2015, hoping for a better opportunity after finding himself stuck behind Artie Burns, Tracy Howard and Corn Elder on Miami’s depth chart. He left after voicing his displeasure on social media, calling himself “a piece of gold that gets treated like a piece of silver.”

He was referring to UM’s former coaching staff. Monday, he was happy to see former teammates, including Elder, with whom he spent several minutes catching up.

“That’s my boy,” Crawford said.

“I talked to a lot of them before this. As soon as we found out about the game, I was texting them and talking to them on the phone. All good things. It’s a brotherhood, still.”

He stayed quiet as the Hurricanes and Mountaineers yapped at each other during the event.

Crawford, who has been hampered by a shoulder injury in his lone season in Morgantown, has played in seven games and started four for WVU. The Tampa-Plant High graduate has 21 tackles, 19 solo, two for loss and four pass break-ups. In his WVU debut, against Missouri, he made a team-high eight stops, all solo.

In his UM career (2012-14), he played in all 38 of Miami’s games, recording 58 tackles, eight pass break-ups and one interception. He started at the nickel position his final two seasons. In the 2013 Russell Athletic Bowl, he made two tackles off the bench.

He didn’t want to discuss his role for Wednesday’s game — “that’s in house,” he said — but stated one particular goal.

“Last time I was on the losing team,” he said. “I want to be on the winning team.”

* The current Hurricanes who played in that 2013 Russell Athletic Bowl: safeties Rayshawn Jenkins (two tackles) and Jamal Carter (one), receiver Stacy Coley (three catches, 32 yards; 172 yards on seven kickoff returns), running back Gus Edwards (12 carries, 38 yards, touchdown), offensive lineman Alex Gall and receiver Malcolm Lewis.

Dancing Gingerbread Man will make your day or haunt your dreams

A wild gingerbread man appears. (Matt Porter)
A wild gingerbread man appears. (Matt Porter

[Miami believes offense is miles — not inches — ahead of October]

[Right goes in-depth on Kaaya, NFL draft decisions]

[Njoku should be big factor against Mountaineers]

[Richt sends a message, suspends 7 Hurricanes]

[Holgorsen: Beating Miami would be ‘huge’ for WVU]

[Watch Canes geek out during Best Buy shopping trip]

KISSIMMEE — As the headline says … there’s really no in-between.

Miami and West Virginia players engaged in a little verbal jousting at a charity event on Monday, but found plenty of time to dance.

Several Hurricanes were in a circle, encouraging a small Mountaineers fan as he did his thing.

And then, a gingerbread man came to get down.

Bowl games can be weird sometimes.

 

Tension flares between Miami, West Virginia players at Russell Athletic Bowl event

 

West Virginia linebacker Xavier Preston waves and talks to Miami receiver Stacy Coley (far left) as Miami players leave a charity event in Kissimmee before the Russell Athletic Bowl. (Matt Porter)
West Virginia linebacker Xavier Preston waves and talks to Miami receiver Stacy Coley (far left) as Miami players leave a charity event in Kissimmee before the Russell Athletic Bowl. (Matt Porter)

[Miami believes offense is miles — not inches — ahead of October]

[Right goes in-depth on Kaaya, NFL draft decisions]

[Njoku should be big factor against Mountaineers]

[Richt sends a message, suspends 7 Hurricanes]

[Holgorsen: Beating Miami would be ‘huge’ for WVU]

[Watch Canes geek out during Best Buy shopping trip]

KISSIMMEE — They were there for a charity function, so it’s good the verbal jabs between Miami and West Virginia players Monday didn’t escalate to a physical level.

Several Mountaineers, wearing their navy blue game jerseys, and a few orange-clad Hurricanes had to be separated on at least two occasions as they mouthed off to one another in Kissimmee on Monday, two days before the Russell Athletic Bowl in Orlando.

The smack talk was mostly between Florida-bred players. They made no physical contact, but made plenty of promises to settle the beef at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at Camping World Stadium (ESPN).

They were donating their time to the Give Kids the World Village, a 79-acre retreat where children with life-threatening illnesses and their families enjoy a free getaway with “whimsical accommodations” and playgrounds, pools and rides, according to the resort.

Groups of players took pictures with kids and played games. That part of the day went well.

“You want to put a smile on their faces and try to get them to forget about everything that’s going on and be happy, just enjoy life,” senior cornerback Corn Elder said. “A lot of these kids look at us as superstars or role models. It’s great to be able to come do this.”

West Virginia offensive lineman Kyle Bosch said it “was very hard not to tear up” during an informational video they watched. “The kids that have come through here and had this experience, it can change their entire outlook on their life.”

Even though players knew they were there for that purpose, some couldn’t resist jawing at one another.

As the teams stood idly near each other in a courtyard with a DJ playing club music, several young kids danced, and players joined them. It seemed a dance-off between the teams might happen.

It did not.

One player, West Virginia star receiver Shelton Gibson Jr., was heard above the song “Cha Cha Slide” saying toward Miami’s defensive backs, including Elder and senior safety Jamal Carter, “You ain’t met me.”

West Virginia defensive end Adam Shuler, a wide-eyed Longwood native whose numerous tattoos include the “407” zip code and the “100” emoji, was among the loudest. He seemed to irritate Miami safety Rayshawn Jenkins by asking him loudly and incredulously, “You play?”

The irony there: Jenkins, a senior from Tampa, has played in 48 games, has nine career interceptions and was an honorable mention All-ACC pick. Shuler, a redshirt freshman, is listed as a backup. He has one sack in 12 games this year.

Two West Virginia players, Stuart native Xavier Preston, a linebacker, and safety Dravon Askew-Henry, stood next to and mimicked the poses of Miami players as the Hurricanes took a photo with a family.

For about five minutes, players on both sides stared at each other and kept talking. Teammates and staffers stepped in, helped draw the groups apart, and the tension fizzled.

It flared up again after the announcement was made that Miami’s buses were ready.

“Bye Felicia!” Shuler shouted as the Canes walked by a group of Mountaineers, toward the exit. “Hey, why you talking while you leaving?” a teammate called out. “Why you walking and talking?”

A few Hurricanes stopped and turned.

“Stacy!” Preston shouted to Stacy Coley. “You ain’t wanna tell me nothing.”

Miami staffers corralled Coley, and a few others who had stopped, and kept them moving. For several minutes after the Hurricanes departed, the Mountaineers were bubbling with bravado.

“We’re gonna make No. 29 drop out the draft,” an unidentified Mountaineer said in reference to Elder, Miami’s top defensive player. “Don’t even let him be a free agent.”

A cool-headed teammate advised him to save his energy for the game.

It wasn’t all heat. Several of the 14 Mountaineers from Florida renewed acquaintances with the Hurricanes. Miami sophomore running back Mark Walton and WVU freshman receiver Jovon Durante, two Miami natives, hugged each other. Walton chatted with WVU running backs coach JaJuan Seider, a Belle Glade native who recruited Walton hard. Elder spent time with West Virginia cornerback Antonio Crawford, who transferred from Miami in 2015. Both will play in their final college games.

“That’s my boy,” Crawford said of Elder.

Players and staffers from both sides were wondering why the teams were at the event at the same time. Good question, although it’s worth noting that Miami and Louisville players got along just fine in 2013, when they attended the same function. And there wound up being plenty of tension in that game.

Incidentally, coach Mark Richt commented Saturday — after UM announced the suspension of seven players — that in his experience, “18-to-22-year-old guys … tend to do first and think later.”

Though it occurred in the wrong setting, a little back-and-forth between the teams will certainly add a little spice to a clash of the 14th-ranked Mountaineers (10-2) and Hurricanes (8-4), the former Big East rivals.

Miami freshman linebacker Shaq Quarterman, who didn’t participate in the shenanigans, said he “had a blast” riding a carousel with kids.

“It’s really eye-opening,” Quarterman said. “I see it as a tremendous blessing, for them to get to make my day. They see it as us making their day. I’m just happy to do something for the community.”

 

Mark Richt goes in-depth on Brad Kaaya, NFL draft decision-making

Brad Kaaya (Getty Images)
Brad Kaaya (Getty Images)

[Miami believes offense is miles — not inches — ahead of October]

[Njoku should be big factor against Mountaineers]

[Richt sends a message, suspends 7 Hurricanes]

[Holgorsen: Beating Miami would be ‘huge’ for WVU]

[Watch Canes geek out during Best Buy shopping trip]

ORLANDO — Mark Richt didn’t let Brad Kaaya speak to reporters this week, in the days leading up to Miami’s bowl game. That is an unusual decision for a head coach to make regarding his starting quarterback. Especially when said quarterback is a junior who, by Richt’s assessment, is essentially the face of the university.

The reason?

“Because he really has wanted to focus on the game, and I think everybody wants to ask him about other things,” Richt said. “He doesn’t really want to talk about it right now. That’s the main reason.”

Aside from the Hurricanes’ date with West Virginia in Wednesday’s Russell Athletic Bowl (5:30 p.m., ESPN), Kaaya would likely have faced questions about his future. He has said he hasn’t thought about whether he will turn pro after the season. Many at UM expect him to.

Richt didn’t want to expose Kaaya (who spoke about his decision with reporters in Coral Gables last week) to a fresh round of questioning in a different media market. Tight end David Njoku was not made available, either.

In the absence of the player himself, Richt (after wishing reporters in attendance a Merry Christmas and/or Happy Hanukkah) spoke Sunday about Kaaya’s decision, the process in general, and what his quarterback has meant to the Hurricanes.

A few questions with Richt:

You’re no stranger to having players with decisions to make about their future during bowl games. I think when you were here with Georgia in ’08, Matthew Stafford had a similar decision to make as Brad. Philosophically, how do you advise these guys? 

“My goal is always to give them as much NFL information as possible, either through the committee that does the evaluating, or I’ve made a lot of contacts over the years in the NFL. There’s a lot of guys I’ve coached who are scouts. There’s a lot of guys that I’ve maybe coached with who are part of the scouting or GMs and all that kind of thing. You meet head coaches over the years, they come and try out your players. After a while you get to know a lot of those guys. You can ask them to give you a good feel for what they think of these guys.

“That’s the information I want them to have. I don’t want them to make a decision based on emotion, based on what somebody in the media said they were going to be selected as, an agent who says, ‘If you come with me, I can do this for you,’ or even coming from me, saying, ‘Here’s some of the benefits of staying.’ My goal is to educate them the best I can and allow them to think it through, pray it through and do what’s in their best interest.”

If they come back with a grade that’s third-round or lower, would you advise them, “Third round, I’m not sure, you might benefit by coming back?”

“There’s slots. There’s historical data that says if you’re slotted mid-third [round] compared to mid-second, here’s the difference. If you’re slotted mid-second to mid-first, here’s the difference. Mid-second to mid-first could be a difference of $10 million in guaranteed money – that’s significant. If you’re right around in that general area, second-, third-round pick, and you have a chance to improve and move up into the first round the next season, that might be worthy of consideration.

“But there’s other things, like getting your degree before you leave, trying to a win a championship, maybe just mature more as a guy, as a man.

“There’s been a couple of guys over the years where I say, ‘You, in my opinion, are ready enough to make a team and play in the NFL. But I’m not sure you’re mature enough to handle the money and the fame and all that. I think you need to grow up.’ I’ll tell them that if I think that.

“When I spoke to [Matt] Stafford, I said, ‘Matt, there’s not one thing you can do to improve your draft status. You’re going to be the first pick in the draft, probably.’ ‘A.J. Green, most people say you’re going to be the first receiver taken in the draft.’ ‘Knowshon Moreno, Todd Gurley, everybody tells me you’re going to be the first pick in the draft at your position. If you stay it’s because you might want to win the Heisman or might want to try to win a national championship or get your degree before you leave. There’s no business decision here where you could improve your status.’

“We’ll talk real frank about all that stuff.”

What is unique about Brad Kaaya? 

“For me, just coaching quarterbacks, he has the best peripheral vision I’ve been around and an ability to recall what happened. I can ask him what he saw and to me, it’s amazing what he’ll see and why he did what he did.

“There’s been times where I thought I saw this and I thought he really was going the wrong spot – that’s why I ask guys, ‘What did you see and why you did what you did?’ rather than, ‘You should have done this or should have done that.’ Because he has rules. He has reads and progressions and reasons why he goes on this side of the field or that side of the field. He’ll see some things that I didn’t notice, maybe, as it was happening. Then you’ll turn on the tape and say, ‘OK, I see why you did that.’

“He’s not always right, but he can tell you what he saw and what he sees is more than just this little tunnel vision. It’s very broad. His vision, I think, is really special.”

What has Brad meant to the program? 

“To this point, Brad has been nothing but the starting quarterback since the day he walked on campus. There’s a big responsibility. He has been a tremendous leader and face of this program. His picture is all over everything that you can put a guy’s picture on or his image on, and it’s mainly because of how well he plays on the field but how he represents the university. He’s a good kid.”