Miami is ranked 39th nationally in pass efficiency defense, but WSU has the nation's top passing offense. Thus, the battle of the Cougars' pass offense vs. Miami's pass defense will likely decide the outcome of the Hyundai Sun Bowl
EL PASO, Texas — Miami has given up an average of only 196.3 pass yards per game, boasts the nation’s 39th-ranked pass efficiency defense and has a future NFL cornerback in junior Artie Burns, who ranks eighth nationally with six interceptions on the season.
WSU (8-4 overall, 6-3 Pac-12) tops the country in passing offense, is averaging 397 pass yards per game and is led by sophomore quarterback Luke Falk, who also happens to be the nation’s leading passer. Falk has distributed the ball with aplomb all year long, and WSU is the only team in the country that has 10 players who have each caught at least 20 passes.
That diversity of talent on offense makes the Cougars tough to defend.
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“They spread the ball around so much,” said Miami defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio. “(Gabe) Marks has the amount of catches he has (99) but they play so many guys, it’s really hard to sit there and say you’re going to key on one guy and lock on.”
WSU is also the only Power Five football team that has two receivers who have posted double digits in touchdown receptions this season. Marks, a junior, has 14 receiving touchdowns, while senior Dom Williams has 11 and needs only two more to tie Jason Hill (32 TD, 2003-06) for WSU’s career receiving touchdowns record.
Thus, the battle of WSU’s pass offense against Miami’s pass defense will likely decide the outcome of the Hyundai Sun Bowl on Saturday.
The Hurricanes’ defensive backs seem excited by the challenge of facing a team that relies on the pass almost 72 percent of the time.
“I expect there to be a lot of plays since they pass the ball a lot. It should be fun. We have a great secondary and we’re ready for it,” said junior cornerback Corn Elder, who has started five of Miami’s last six games. “This is what DBs live for, to see all those passes. (That means) more chances to get interceptions and pass deflections.”
But Falk does not surrender interceptions easily.
Falk has completed 70.7 percent of his passes this season and thrown only eight interceptions to 36 touchdown passes. He’s so concerned with taking care of the football that he took some criticism earlier in the season for holding onto the ball too long and taking big hits for loss instead of throwing the ball away or forcing it into traffic.
At the pre-game press conference on Friday, Miami interim head coach Larry Scott termed Falk a “pure passer” and said he poses a “big challenge” for the Hurricanes.
“This guy can really pick you apart. He does a great job of getting the ball out and taking what the defense gives him,” Scott said. “He’s extremely accurate, a big, strong kid who throws the ball really well.
“The tempo and his accuracy and how fast he gets the ball out and what they do offensively speaks for itself.”
Miami (8-4 overall, 5-3 ACC) will be without backup safety Jamal Carter, who was sent home this week after an undisclosed violation of team rules, and starting defensive tackle Courtel Jenkins, who was also sent home after being ruled academically ineligible.
Carter was fourth on the defense with 48 total tackles, and he saw significant playing time in the safety rotation this season.
Jenkins started seven games for the ‘Canes this year and played in all 12. He had 29 tackles this season, including three for loss. Sophomore Anthony Moten will likely start in Jenkins’ place. Moten has started four games this year and played in 11.
“We’re going to have to be disciplined in our pass rush up front and we’re going to have to be disciplined on the back end as well with our DBs and make sure we are tied into the things we need to be tied into and match the energy and tempo they bring,” Scott said.