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Cardinals make ACC debut

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MIAMI HURRICANES (0-0) at LOUISVILLE CARDINALS (0-0)
Sportsbook.ag Line and Total: Louisville -3, Total: 53.5

In a rematch of last year’s bowl game, Miami will visit a Louisville team playing its first game as a member of the ACC on Monday night.

Miami started out last year with an undefeated record through the first seven games, including winning their first three conference games before hitting a roadblock. The Hurricanes lost their confidence with a big 41-14 loss against Florida State while following that with two more lopsided defeats against Virginia Tech and Duke by a combined score of 90 to 54. After regrouping with two straight wins, they took on the Cardinals in the Russell Athletic Bowl, losing 36-9. With QB Stephen Morris graduating, true freshman Brad Kaaya will start under center and take over a Miami offense that ranked 33rd in the nation in passing (265.5 YPG). Miami also lost two offensive linemen to the NFL and that combined with a new quarterback could force some early season inconsistencies.

Louisville had its second straight double-digit-win season and fourth consecutive winning year under former head coach Charlie Strong (who is now at Texas) when they went 12-1 overall last year and 7-1 in the American Athletic Conference. A loss to UCF and a weak conference kept the team from being a National Championship contender. New head coach Bobby Petrino takes over a program that is losing star QB Teddy Bridgewater, the Cardinals' starter for three years, with averages of 3,844 yards and 29 TD over the past two seasons. Two of their top defenders (DB Calvin Pryor and DE Marcus Smith) were drafted in the first round and will be tough to replace in a defense that ranked second in the nation in scoring (12.1 PPG).

When these two teams met in the Russell Athletic Bowl last Dec. 28, Louisville was a 5.5-point favorite and proceeded to dominate the game with a 27-point victory where it outgained the ‘Canes 554-174. While the absence of Miami’s top back, HB Duke Johnson, certainly changed the game, but the Cardinals were just the better team.

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Including that meeting, the programs have met twice in the past decade with Miami winning 41-38 in 2004 and Louisville rolling to a 31-7 victory two years later. As far as trends are concerned, the Hurricanes are 6-1 ATS over the past three seasons when the line is +3 to -3, while the Cardinals are 3-1 ATS in the same situation. In injury news, Louisville top WR DeVante Parker (foot) will miss the next 6-to-8 weeks.

Last year the Hurricanes maintained a solid offensive team throughout the season with 33.8 PPG (33rd in nation) and were much better in the passing game than the rush attack (160.3 YPG, 73rd in FBS). Big plays were their calling card as they gained 6.8 yards per play, placing them 11th in the nation at that category. The injury to senior QB Ryan Williams has put Brad Kayaa in the driver’s seat of the offense and the true freshman looks the part, standing 6-foot-4 and weighing 209 pounds. All signs point to the staff allowing him to be the starter for the entire season.

As a youngster, Kayaa undoubtedly needs some help, and will lean heavily on returning HB Duke Johnson who missed the final five games of the 2013 campaign with a broken ankle. Before the injury, Johnson had posted 920 rushing yards (6.3 YPC) and 6 TD while having three games of 160+ yards.

The top receiver from last year, Allen Hurns, graduated and left the pass catching in very capable hands with sophomore WR Stacy Coley who had 591 yards (17.9 YPC) and a team-leading seven touchdown catches last season as a freshman. Also returning will be TE Clive Walford (454 yards, 2 TD in 2013) and WR Herb Waters (406 yards, 5 TD in 2013) to help in the passing game. Miami’s defense was suspect last year, giving up 426.4 YPG (90th in FBS), but DB Tracy Howard (35 tackles, 4 INT in 2013) hopes to lead a group of talented defensive backs to a better showing in 2014.

Losing Teddy Bridgewater will surely decrease the Cardinals output in the passing attack, a facet of their game that ranked 16th in the nation (314.0 YPG). While their ability to move the ball through the air was elite, running the ball gave them issues as they ran for a mere 146.8 YPG (87th in FBS) while scoring 35.2 PPG (25th in nation) against a weak schedule.

Following in Bridgewater’s footsteps will be QB Will Gardner who had a small taste of playing in games last year, going 8-of-12 for 112 yards (9.3 YPA) while throwing 2 TD in mop-up roles. He has a lot going for him with three returning offensive linemen who were name to the All-AAC team last year. Also, joining him in the backfield will be HB Dominique Brown who ran for 825 yards (5.1 YPC) and 8 TD in 2013. With top WR DeVante Parker out of the picture for this contest, WR Eli Rogers (536 rec. yards, 4 TD) and TE Gerald Christian (426 rec. yds, 4 TD) will be leaned on heavily in the passing game.

The defense for this team was the difference maker in 2013, allowing the fewest yards per game in the nation (251.5 YPG) while giving up only 80.7 rushing yards per game (best in FBS). This year, those defensive numbers are sure to rise for two reasons -- the Cardinals are moving to a much more difficult conference, and they lost three full-time starters from their front seven. Giving them hope for continued success will be DB Charles Gaines who had 21 tackles and five interceptions last year

  
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