The big 2013 Russell Athletic Bowl breakdown: Teddy, Steve, and the Mean Girls

Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

The offenses have the advantage in the Russell Athletic Bowl (Dec. 28, 6:45 p.m. ET, ESPN), but neither unit has been completely safe from itself of late. Do we have a shootout on our hands when Louisville meets Miami, or will only one offense be able to avoid glitches and lulls?

We are all Mean Girls sometimes. Do something cool? You're one of us! Here, let me take you around to all of the places the cool kids go. Did you see the way [Cool Kid of the Opposite Sex] was looking at you? And prom's right around the corner! That's so awesome for you!

The cool kid treatment is addictive. Just ask Louisville and Miami, both of whom beat Florida in a three-game span (Louisville 33, No. 4 Florida 23 in the Sugar Bowl and Miami 21, No. 12 Florida 16 on September 7). Louisville leaped from 22nd before the Sugar Bowl to ninth before the 2013 season began; Miami, meanwhile, went from unranked to 16th. Both teams got as high as seventh in the polls, and one of them (Louisville) was treated as a legitimate national title contender.

But it only takes one embarrassing moment for the Mean Girls to ditch you altogether. Louisville fell at home, via last-second comeback, to UCF on October 18; two weeks later, Miami got romped by Florida State. And that was basically it for both of them. Louisville fell 10 spots following the loss, then fell another two after beating USF by 31 points. Miami lost two more games (to Virginia Tech and Duke) following FSU and dropped from consciousness altogether.

The two forgotten souls meet in a forgotten bowl of sorts; the Russell Athletic Bowl was once the Champs Sports Bowl ... Tangerine ... MicronPC ... ... Carquest ... Blockbuster. But it houses two pretty damn good teams who went 20-2 outside of Those Two Games. Teddy Bridgewater could put on a show, and Miami's general volatility is always entertaining for one reason or another. This should be a fun one.

How they got here

Miami's season to date

I guess we already discussed it a bit above. Miami outscored opponents by an average of 40-18 through seven weeks, lost star running back Duke Johnson, lost three games in a row, then rallied with high-scoring wins over Virginia and Pittsburgh. A late fade against Duke cost the Hurricanes the ACC Coastal title, but they still have a chance at a 10th win in Orlando, and this has already been Miami's best season since 2009.

It's been a slow road back from sanctions- and NCAA-related mediocrity (the Hurricanes were 20-17 from 2010-12), but despite general instability and inconsistency, this has been a step forward.

Louisville's season to date

Louisville was dropped like a bad habit for less sin than Miami's (the Cardinals only lost once). A poor fourth quarter against UCF cost the Cardinals dearly, and the sudden lack of attention and motivation seemed to creep into the team's play.

The Cardinals beat their first six opponents by an average score of 41-7, then took down USF and UConn on the road by a combined 65-13 after the UCF loss. But down the stretch, against decent but less-than-amazing teams like Houston, Cincinnati, and Memphis, Louisville won by only a touchdown. The Cardinals did just enough but suffered from large lapses on cruise control. They were still a top-20 team according to F/+, but they spent a good portion of the season in or around the top 10. But the fact that they kept winning still kept them in line for a pretty good bowl.

Data dump

Team Record BCS F/+ Rk Line Off F/+ Rk Def F/+ Rk ST F/+ Rk
Miami-FL 9-3 NR 29 4 90 49
Louisville 11-1 18 16 -3 19 22 29
Std. Downs S&P+ Pass. Downs S&P+ Rushing S&P+ Passing S&P+ First Down Rate Explosive Drives Methodical Drives
Miami Offense 4 2 7 3 47 6 84
Louisville Defense 35 10 43 17 6 24 87
Adj. Line Yards Opportunity Rate Power Success Rate Stuff Rate Adj. Sack Rate Std. Downs Sack Rate Pass. Downs Sack Rate
Miami Offense 9 24 100 73 10 24 21
Louisville Defense 39 9 4 3 9 16 2
Std. Downs S&P+ Pass. Downs S&P+ Rushing S&P+ Passing S&P+ First Down Rate Explosive Drives Methodical Drives
Louisville Offense 21 34 31 19 8 16 17
Miami Defense 90 115 107 94 33 65 105
Adj. Line Yards Opportunity Rate Power Success Rate Stuff Rate Adj. Sack Rate Std. Downs Sack Rate Pass. Downs Sack Rate
Louisville Offense 21 21 41 90 66 91 44
Miami Defense 117 45 112 121 48 37 41
Field Position Adv. FG Efficiency Punt Efficiency Kickoff Efficiency Punt Return Efficiency Kick Return Efficiency
Miami Special Teams 24 67 42 22 33 117
Louisville Special Teams 21 80 4 106 41 31

Miami's biggest advantages:

Even without Duke Johnson, Miami's got serious offensive weapons. Senior Allen Hurns (99 targets, 60 catches, 1,138 yards) might be the most underrated wideout in the country, freshman Stacy Coley (45 targets, 30 catches, 559 yards) has caught on, running backs Dallas Crawford, Gus Edwards, and Eduardo Clements have shown reasonable promise in Johnson's absence, and quarterback Stephen Morris is, at times, quite strong. (Other times, he suffers some brain farts.)

If you don't have enough athletes on your defense, Miami will find and exploit your weaknesses. And while Louisville's defense has absolutely improved since last year, it has also regressed since October. There are playmakers here, especially corner Charles Gaines and ends Marcus Smith and Lorenzo Mauldin. We'll find out pretty quickly if Louisville has enough of them.

Louisville's defense really needs to win on the line. And against Miami's line, that's no guarantee. With players like Smith, Mauldin, and tackle Roy Philon leading the way, the Cardinals have racked up 94 tackles for loss (and forced 15 fumbles), stifling both the run and pass in the process.

But there are opportunities to be found downfield if you can avoid the havoc at the line, and Miami's got an awfully good offensive line, at least in terms of protecting Morris and creating opportunities for the backs. There are some mistakes in the backfield at times; there can't be against Louisville.

Louisville's biggest advantages:

I couldn't find a defensive advantage for Miami. Technically the Hurricanes could find success in pass rush situations, where Teddy Bridgewater still takes some hits and ends like Anthony Chickillo, Shayon Green, and Ufomba Kamalu can get to the quarterback at times. But even that is a marginal advantage at best. The only thing stopping Louisville consistently will be Louisville, which has rather drastic advantages in most categories -- standard downs, passing downs, rushing, passing, and rushing line stats.

Louisville has suffered some injury issues at times on offense -- big-play receiver DeVante Parker missed a game and was limited in others, running backs Michael Dyer and Senorise Perry have been listed as questionable throughout December, and the right guard position has been shuffled all year because of injuries.

But it doesn't really seem to matter. Miami's defense has been an albatross all season, and if Louisville is protecting Bridgewater and getting anything out of the running game, the Cardinals will score into the 30s and, perhaps, beyond.

When Miami's offense fails, it fails quickly and drastically. For all of its explosiveness -- and make no mistake, Miami has a wonderfully explosive offense, even without Johnson -- the Hurricanes still have issues with three-and-outs (47th in First Down Rate) and turnovers (68th with 21 of them). If Louisville is able to stop Miami for some losses early in a set of downs, a flip of field position, either in the form of a quick punt or interception, could soon follow.

Overreactions for 2014

We tend to overreact to particularly positive or negative bowl results when it comes to projecting forward for the next season. How might we overreact to this game?

It appears Miami will have a bit of a "strength gets weaker, weakness gets stronger" situation in 2014. Morris,Hurns, all-conference guard Brandon Linder, and former blue-chip tackle Seantrel Henderson are all seniors. Granted, only Hurns could be an enormous loss, but that puts a lot of pressure on Johnson to be healthy and on Coley, Herb Waters, and the rest of a young receiving corps to continue improving quickly.

Meanwhile, a defense that was shaky (to put it politely) for most of the year will return eight of its projected bowl starters and about two-thirds of its overall two-deep. If the defense has success against Bridgewater and company (good luck with that) and Coley or one of the young backs has a nice game, one could see that having an impact on preseason perceptions.

As for Louisville ... well, that kind of depends on Teddy. The junior quarterback is predicted to easily go at or near the top of the 2014 NFL Draft, but he has been dropping hints that he hasn't completely decided whether or not to go pro. (He should.) If he comes back, then almost nothing else matters -- Louisville will probably be a top-15 team again to start 2014.

If (when) he doesn't, Louisville will probably not be ranked at all even though the offensive line is young, the skill position units will be full of seniors, and the defense will return almost all of its back seven. What happens in this game hardly matters.


F/+ Projection: Louisville 39, Miami 33
Win Probability: Louisville 69%

When you're getting billed as the Schnellenbowl, expectations for fun and crazy football are high. And as you see from the score projection, this could be a game in which both offenses find lots of advantages to exploit. If Louisville can fight the lulls, if Miami can avoid sudden losses (of either yards or the ball), then the defenses will struggle to keep up.

Still, neither of these units consistently did either one of these things over the last month of the season. Miami's offense struggled to figure things out without Johnson for a while, and Louisville's offense would just fall asleep for a few possessions at a time.

With respective A-games, this is a shootout, but I think the odds are pretty good that only one of two teams avoids what it needs to avoid. To me, that means the odds are good that this is a double-digit win, one way or the other. And the odds are certainly on Louisville's side.

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