University of Miami

University of Miami, South Carolina share goal of trying to salvage football season with bowl-game victory

University of Miami running back Duke Johnson reacts to a reporter's question during a news conference in Shreveport, La. on Dec. 26, 2014. The Hurricanes face South Carolina in the Independence Bowl NCAA college football game on Saturday.
University of Miami running back Duke Johnson reacts to a reporter's question during a news conference in Shreveport, La. on Dec. 26, 2014. The Hurricanes face South Carolina in the Independence Bowl NCAA college football game on Saturday. AP

The perception of an entire season will be sealed Saturday afternoon in an 89-year-old stadium tucked between Arkansas and Texas in the Northwest corner of Louisiana.

The Duck Commander Independence Bowl at Independence Stadium might not be the sexiest of postseason college football games, but to the Miami Hurricanes and South Carolina Gamecocks, it’s the difference between going out losers and winners.

Both teams have endured sub-par 6-6 seasons with 3-5 league records. Both teams have frustrated, disappointed fan bases. And both teams need victories to spring into the offseason with a fresh perspective — and hope.

“One game can make a lot of difference,’’ said UM junior running back Duke Johnson, the Hurricanes’ all-time rusher who is expected to announce Sunday that he is forgoing his senior season to enter the NFL Draft. “It can start big things.

“All it takes is one game to not only show the world, but show each other what we are capable of doing and what we can do from this point forward.’’

Added senior left guard Jon Feliciano: “Being 6-6 — it [stinks]. But if you can manage a bowl win out of this, then you feel like we’re on the up and up.’’

The Hurricanes, 19-18 all-time in the postseason and 8-5-2 against South Carolina, have not won a bowl game since defeating Nevada in the 2006 MPC Computers Bowl.

Miami coach Al Golden is 28-21 at Miami since taking over in 2011, and trying to keep a grip on a program that has slipped below expectations and is in jeopardy of its first losing season since 2007.

Golden is 0-2 in bowl games, the first with Temple in 2009.

“I can’t speak for Coach [Steve] Spurrier or South Carolina,’’ Golden said Friday, “but we came here with a mission. These guys have done an incredible job of practicing and keeping everything in perspective — relaxing when it’s time to relax, focusing when it’s time to focus.

“We’ve got to bring it to the game.’’

Spurrier, 225-85-2 (.724) all-time as a college coach, has not had a losing season since his first year with Duke in 1987.

“Both teams would rather have a winning season than a losing season,’’ Spurrier said. “We all understand that. Obviously, one team will be happy and one will not.”

The Hurricanes fell apart this season after losing in the final minutes to defending national champion Florida State on Nov.15. They played poorly in losses to underdogs Virginia and Pittsburgh in the final two regular-season games, lacking any intensity or grit.

The Gamecocks won two of their past three games to ensure a bowl.

Both teams are similar in complexion: stronger offenses with talented quarterbacks and running backs, weaker defenses that have not shown success in rushing the passer.

South Carolina senior quarterback Dylan Thompson passed for a school-record 3,280 yards with 24 touchdowns to 11 interceptions. He ranks first in the Southeastern Conference and 16th in the nation in passing yards per game (273.3).

Gamecocks junior running back Mike Davis, who announced Thursday that he will enter the NFL Draft, rushed for 927 yards and nine touchdowns in 2014.

“He has speed and he’s very powerful,’’ said Hurricanes linebacker Denzel Perryman. “As far as trying to get him down, it’s not going to take one person. We pretty much have to gang tackle him.’’

Miami quarterback Brad Kaaya, the ACC’s Rookie of the Year, finished the regular season with a UM freshman-record 2,962 passing yards with 25 touchdowns to 11 interceptions.

He will go against a Carolina defense ranked 91st overall (433.6 yards per game allowed) of 125 teams, 91st in scoring defense (31.2 points allowed per game) and 118th in sacks.

“It’s a challenging team,’’ Kaaya said nonetheless, “a formidable opponent. Steve Spurrier is an iconic coach. I watched him when I was younger. It’s crazy that now I’m playing against him.”

Kaaya also could be playing against the elements. The weather forecast calls for an 80 percent chance of rain, with temperatures starting in the low 60s at kickoff and decreasing to the low 50s.

“You hope your equipment guys, your ball boys, keep the balls as dry as possible,’’ Spurrier said. “Footing wise, you have to cut off the correct foot [or] you’re going to fall on your fanny.’’

The Hurricanes just hope they don’t fall on the scoreboard.

“The road to success is always under construction,’’ said UM safety Nantambu-Akil Fentress, one of several seniors playing in their last college game. “There are always going to be detours, always going to be obstacles you have to embrace.

“We have to concentrate on getting this win, because we haven’t won a bowl game in a minute. Everyone is up for it. We’re going to do our best to end the season with a W.’’

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