When Miami throws the ball
The Hurricanes will be without starting right tackle Sunny Odogwu, and right guard Danny Isidora (undisclosed injury) is on the mend. That makes protecting quarterback Brad Kaaya a little tougher than normal (Miami has allowed only 15 sacks all season) against a decent Cougars pass rush (27 sacks total). Washington State’s secondary gives up plenty of completions (64.1 percent) and yards (249.2 vs. FBS winning programs) but is good at preventing big plays (only 27 plays of 20 yards or more, ninth fewest) and has 11 interceptions. The key for Kaaya — as has been all season — is to stay out of third-and-long (UM is 14 of 60, 23.3 percent on third-and-7 or more). Outside of Kaaya, the Cougars have only faced two other quarterbacks with as many yards per game as Kaaya: Cal’s Jared Goff and UCLA’s Josh Rosen. They lost to Goff and barely beat Rosen. Edge: Miami.
When Miami runs the ball
Joe Yearby and Mark Walton don’t hit the home run quite like Duke Johnson did (UM has only 11 runs of 20 yards or more this season, 113th among FBS schools), but the Cougars don’t stop the run very well (4.98 yards per carry, 103rd). UM has fumbled only four times all season (tied for third fewest among FBS schools). If Yearby and Walton can protect the ball and convert on third-and-short (UM was 13 of 27 on third-and-3 or less when it ran, 48.1 percent) the Hurricanes can keep Washington’s State’s high-powered passing attack of the field. If not, it could end up being a long day. Edge: Miami.
When Washington State throws the ball
The Hurricanes had only three opponents throw the ball against them more than 40 times in a game — Nebraska (45), Duke (52) and Virginia (42) — and Miami won all three of those games. Cougars sophomore quarterback Luke Falk (30th in QB rating, 148.75) will surely throw more than 40 times in this game. The leader of Washington State’s Air Raid pass attack has a 70.7 percent completion percentage (second among FBS passers) and has thrown 4,266 yards (fifth), 36 TDs (fourth) and eight interceptions on the season. He has thrown more than 60 passes four times this season and threw a season-high 74 times in a 45-38 win at then 15th-ranked Oregon. The key for Miami’s secondary, which comes in 29th in pass defense (196.3) and 22nd in interceptions (15), is completion percentage. UM had six opponents complete better than 60 percent of their passes. UM went 2-4 in those games with the wins over Virginia and Virginia Tech. Edge: Washington State.
When Washington State runs the ball
The Hurricanes will be without sophomore defensive tackle Courtel Jenkins, who started seven games this season and was sent home from bowl practices because he was academically ineligible. But his loss on run defense doesn’t figure to mean much because the Cougars rank last in rushing (79.92 yards per game) and rush attempts (22.42 per game). Sophomore Gerard Wicks (6-0, 224) will get to carry it every now and then and does have a 5.87-yards-per-carry average. If Cougars coach Mike Leach decides to run it more, he should have success again Miami. The Hurricanes gave up 249.3 yards rushing per game this season against FBS winning programs (111th). Edge: Even.
Michael Badgley (25 of 30 on field goals) has a stronger, more consistent leg than Washington State’s Erik Powell, who is 18 of 24 on field goals but only 5 of 10 from 40 yards or more. Badgley is 8 of 11 on kicks of 40 yards or more and has a season long of 57 yards. The Cougars have also had two kick returns and two punt returns for touchdowns against them this season while the Hurricanes only had one punt taken back against them. Edge: Miami.
Prediction: Miami 37, Washington State 34.