WATCH PREVIEW: West Virginia Mountaineers, Miami Hurricanes Set To Kickoff Russell Athletic Bowl In Orlando
By Alan Zlotorzynski, Assistant Editor // December 28, 2016
ABOVE VIDEO: Alan Zlotorzynski, Assistant Editor for Space Coast Daily and host of the nightly sports talk show, Space Coast Daily Sports Shorts, previews the Russell Athletic Bowl taking place later this afternoon at Camping World Stadium in Orlando. Zlotorzynski will be providing live reports from Camping World Stadium.
ORLANDO, FLORIDA – Originally titled the Blockbuster Bowl, the Russell Athletic Bowl was born in Miami, Florida, in 1990 and thrived in its first year with a marquee matchup between Penn State and Florida State which drew more than 74,000 fans.
Over the next 11 years, however, the game’s attendance dwindled, and it became apparent that the game would not survive in south Florida.
Sensing a unique opportunity to bring a second bowl game to Orlando, then Florida Citrus Sports (FCSports) Executive Director Chuck Rohe and the Board of Directors initiated a process of obtaining the bowl’s certification.
The first game was called the Tangerine Bowl, a tribute to the name of Orlando’s original bowl game (now the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl).
With each successive year in Orlando, the bowl has continued to make strides, at one point posting eight consecutive years of attendance increases (a standing record among bowl games). That growth reached a crescendo in 2011, the last game under the Champs Sports Bowl name, when Florida State and Notre Dame played before a sold-out crowd of 68,305.
Over the past five years, the bowl has averaged just shy of 55,000 fans per game and tonight an old Big East rivalry looks to continue the tradition of great attendance as the West Virginia Mountaineers from the Big 12 Conference take on the University of Miami Hurricanes from the ACC.
WVA finished the season with 10 wins, including wins over Iowa State and Baylor in its final regular season games. A win in this game would match the Mountaineers record for single-season wins which they’ve accomplished just five times previously.
West Virginia features a balanced effort with quarterback Skyler Howard leading an attack that ranks 12th nationally in total offense and a defense that has held opponents to 21 points or less in nine of their 12 games.
Skyler Howard is 19-8 and the WVA starter and ranks among the nation’s leaders in rushing touchdowns (nine) and yards per completion (13.9). He’s not just a runner who occasionally throws. Howard averages 266 yards passing per game and has completed 61 percent of his attempts in 2016.
Part of Howard’s success is that the Mountaineers move the ball around very well, keeping defenses guessing about who his favorite target will be on a particular day. Shelton Gibson, Ka’Raun White and Daikiel Shorts Jr. combined for 18 touchdown catches in the regular season, all averaging between 53 and 77 receiving yards per game.
Plus, the Mountaineers have six players with at least one catch that went for 48 yards or more.
The Mountaineers are led by head coach Dana Holgorsen who is 46-30 in six seasons as West Virginia’s head coach. Coach Holgorsen is 2-2 in Bowl games.
ABOVE VIDEO: Dana Holgorsen’s preview West Virginia Mountaineers vs Miami Hurricanes
Miami, led by head coach Mark Richt, returns to Orlando with a team playing its best football of the season having finished on a four-game win streak. The former Canes QB returned to his alma mater after leading the University of Georgia football program for the past 15 years, compiling a 145-51 overall record and an 85-40 mark in Southeastern Conference play.
Richt’s teams won two SEC championships, six SEC East titles and nine bowl games. The Bulldogs finished the season in the Associated Press Top 10 rankings seven times. The Canes are taking take part in its 40th bowl game in program history and Richt his 15th.
The Hurricanes eight wins are the fourth-most under a first year head coach in program history and the most since Larry Coker went 12-0 in 2001 in his first season at the helm.
The Canes are led by junior quarterback Brad Kaaya who became the program’s career passing yards leader, passing Ken Dorsey against Duke in their regular season finale.
A big part of Kaaya’s success is due in part to to the emergence of explosive freshman wide receiver Ahmmon Richards (46 receptions, 866 yards, 18.8 yards per reception) and the improved play of tight end David Njoku (38, 654, 17.2), who caught seven TD passes.
ABOVE VIDEO: The Miami Hurricanes defining moment of Miami’s 2016 season.
Richards broke Michael Irvin’s 31-year-old single season freshman receiving yards record this year.
Miami and West Virginia meet for the first time since both were members of the Big East Conference in 2003 and the 20th time overall.
The two teams have met 19 times all-time. The Hurricanes lead the series 16-3. The two head coaches have never faced each other before.
Say tuned to Space Coast Daily TV for live reports from Camping World Stadium, as Alan Zlotorzynski from Space Coast Daily Sports Shorts will be on hand.
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