Braxton Berrios

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Miami captures first bowl win in a decade thanks to victory over West Virginia in the Russell Athletic Bowl

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Mark Richt returned to his alma mater this year to win national championships but his first task in the postseason was to end Miami’s decade-long drought of frustration when it came to bowl games.

After Wednesday’s 31-14 Russell Athletic Bowl triumph over West Virginia, you can cross that one off the list for the head coach in his first season in Coral Gables.

Quarterback Brad Kaaya bounced back from a slow start to light the Mountaineers vaunted secondary on fire (282 yards, four touchdowns) and the Hurricanes used a nice second quarter surge to leave any doubt about the final outcome in this one for their first win in the postseason since 2006.

Keying that run was terrific young wideout Ahmmon Richards, who turned a short pass into a 51 yard catch-and-run for the team’s first touchdown. That would be the first of five straight scoring drives for Miami that included big plays from David Njoku and Braxton Berrios to find the end zone among others. The rushing attack wasn’t much to write about for the team (82 total yards) but with so much success through the air it’s no surprise to see them trend away from it until needing to kill the clock late in the fourth quarter.

Things didn’t start out all that bad for West Virginia, which had a swarming defense early in the game that didn’t allow a first down in the entire first quarter. Things quickly went down hill after allowing the first score however and the team never could get on track offensively as quarterback Skyler Howard proved ineffective. Even the normally productive running game for the Mountaineers failed to get much going on the night as their signal-caller led them in most statistical categories on the ground.

As a result, Miami was able to move on and capture their ninth win to close out a very good debut year with the school for Richt and his new coaching staff. While the Hurricanes will suffer some key losses to graduation and the NFL Draft, the team likely returns their quarterback and a host of playmakers on both sides of the ball and should enter the top 20 of next year’s preseason polls with plenty of momentum.

WVU does pick up their third loss of the season in the process for what was otherwise a very impressive bounce-back campaign for the team — the bowl performance notwithstanding after getting beat up down in Orlando.

Late offensive surge helps Miami take halftime lead in Russell Athletic Bowl

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This postseason has seen several bowl droughts end in impressive fashion but if Miami wants to break their decade-long streak of losses, they better pick things up against West Virginia in the second half of the Russell Athletic Bowl.

The Hurricanes showed flashes of that with a late offensive surge to take a 21-7 lead into halftime against a  Mountaineers squad that played very solid defensively but were hurt by a few missed tackles and broken plays.

It took until several minutes into the second quarter for the Hurricanes to even pickup a first down (and that came thanks to a pass interference flag), but quarterback Brad Kaaya shook off a rough start to finish 14-of-22 for 186 yards and three touchdowns to completely flip momentum in the game during the final minutes of the half. That was a performance made all the more impressive considering how much the offensive line struggled early in the contest and the fact that the team had virtually no running game to lean on with tailback Joseph Yearby not seeing any carries for an unknown reason.

Speedster Ahmmon Richards jump-started Miami by taking a short pass 51 yards to the house for a nifty catch-and-run that tied the game up late in the second quarter. That seemed to inject some life into the team, which followed that up with a six play, 59 yard drive on the next series that was capped off with a Malcolm Lewis touchdown in the back of the end zone. Braxton Berrios added another score on a wide-open 26 yard catch.

Head coach Dana Holgorsen expressed his frustrations at the Mountaineers offensively countless times in the half too. They averaged just 2.8 yards per play, turned the ball over on a fumble and managed just four third down conversions.

When it was announced, the Russell Athletic Bowl was expected to be one of the better games this postseason but that isn’t exactly how things have turned out after a rather lackluster two quarters in Orlando. Luckily for both teams, there’s still plenty of time left in this one for things to get interesting.

Washington State outshines Miami in snowy Sun Bowl

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The Hyundai Sun Bowl didn’t live up to its titular name, but Washington State and Miami provided the back-and-forth thriller we thought we’d see. As snow pelted the El Paso turf throughout Saturday afternoon — played simultaneously as the balmy Heart of Dallas Bowl across state and the comfortable Pinstripe Bowl in New York City — that the Bizarro Sun Bowl would be decided by Washington State’s 93rd-ranked defense.

Clinging to a 20-14 lead with 5:14 remaining, Washington State briefly saw Miami take the lead as Brad Kaaya tossed a go-ahead touchdown screen pass. But Hurricanes wideout Herb Waters was called for an illegal block, wiping the points off the scoreboard, and two plays later Miami running back Mark Walton fumbled and Wazzu defender Marcellus Pippins hopped on the snowy pigskin to end the threat. The Cougars took over at their own 4 and punted three plays later, which Braxton Berrios returned 20 yards to the Washington State 28 with a practical eternity (two minutes, 58 seconds) with which to work.

But again the Washington State defense stiffened.

Running back Joseph Yearby‘s halfback pass was intercepted on Miami’s next snap, and the Cougars consumed the final 148 seconds to secure a 20-14 victory.

Luke Falk led the Washington State attack with 29 completions on 53 attempts for 295 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. His 31-yarder to Jamal Marrow opened the scoring at the 12:41 mark of the first quarter, and his 25-yard strike to Gabe Marks gave the Cougars a 17-7 lead with 1:10 to play in the first half. A 25-yard Erik Powell field goal as time expired in the first half pushed the lead to 20-7 and provided Wazzu’s final points of the day.

Only Walton’s five-yard run with 13:10 left in the fourth quarter dented the scoreboard in the second half, played entirely under ever-increasing snow flurries.

Brad Kaaya threw for 219 yards with a touchdown and an interception, and Berrios led the all rushers with 72 yards on three carries. Yearby added 14 rushes for 63 yards.

Jamal Morrow led Washington State’s ground efforts with 10 carries for 71 yards, and Marks concluded a stellar junior season by snaring five receptions for 67 yards and a touchdown.

The win was Washington State’s (9-4) first post-season victory since knocking off No. 5 Texas in the 2003 Holiday Bowl. Miami (8-5) closes the book on a lost 2015 season and rests knowing sunnier days are ahead — both in the arrival of new head coach Mark Richt and, you know, in the literal sense.