December 26, 2008

Backup QBs lead Miami, California into bowl matchup

MORE: Bowl schedule and coverage

A bowl game usually doesn't match backup quarterbacks, but that will be the case in Saturday night's Emerald Bowl clash between California and Miami.

Hurricanes starter Robert Marve has been suspended for missing classes, and true freshman Jacory Harris gets the start. Cal starter Kevin Riley, a sophomore, has been benched in favor of senior Nate Longshore.

Marve also was suspended for the season opener, and Harris started then, too.


California (8-4)
vs. Miami (7-5)

WHEN: 8 p.m. Dec. 27.
WHERE: AT&T Park, San Francisco.
TV: ESPN (Joe Tessitore will do play-by-play, with Rod Gilmore as the analyst).
THE LINE: California by 8.5.
RECORDS VS. BOWL TEAMS: California 3-4, Miami 2-5.
NCAA SCHEDULE STRENGTH: California T-65th, Miami T-36th.
BCS RANKINGS: N/A for either team.
COACHES: California − Jeff Tedford (4-1 in bowls); Miami − Randy Shannon (first bowl).
WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH: On paper, this is an intriguing ACC/Pac-10 matchup. Miami gave up 79 points in its final two regular-season games both losses and could use a win to propel itself into the offseason. Cal won its last two regular-season games, scoring 85 points in the process.
KEY STATS: Cal has forced 32 turnovers and has a turnover margin of plus-14. Miami has forced just 14 turnovers and has a turnover margin of minus-9.
KEEP AN EYE ON: California sophomore TB Jahvid Best led the Pac-10 in rushing. He not only has great speed but also is adept at running between the tackles. His battles with Miami's linebackers, especially speedy freshman Sean Spence, should make for a nice game-within-the-game.
Riley was 6-3 as Cal's starter this season but struggled down the stretch. Coach Jeff Tedford said that while Riley was making the right read on most of the plays, he simply was making bad throws.

Cal comes in on a two-game winning streak. Miami lost its final two regular-season games to fall out of the running for a "better" bowl. The Hurricanes ended up across the country, playing in a game in Cal's backyard. Cal's campus in Berkeley is across San Francisco Bay from AT&T Park, where the Emerald Bowl will be played. AT&T Park is home of the San Francisco Giants.

Who has the edge?

Cal run offense vs. Miami run defense
Sophomore TB Jahvid Best heads a strong Cal rushing attack. Center Alex Mack might be the best in the nation at his position, and Cal is equally proficient at running up the middle and running wide. TB Shane Vereen is an able backup. Miami is young but fast on defense. UM's linebackers are aggressive and can run sideline to sideline. Unless Cal proves it can have success right up the gut, it's going to be hard for the Golden Bears to run wide.
Edge: Cal.

Cal pass offense vs. Miami pass defense
Cal has a very average group of receivers. TE Cameron Morrah has eight TD catches, but there is no real deep threat. Best and Vereen are dangerous out of the backfield. Cal has thrown for 200 yards in just four games and did so just once in the final six regular-season games. Miami's secondary can be exploited by teams with good passing attacks. Cal doesn't qualify. If Cal does have success throwing the ball, that bodes extremely ill for the Hurricanes.
Edge: Miami.

Miami run offense vs. Cal run defense
Miami was inconsistent on the ground, running for just 130.1 yards per game. There is a good stable of backs, headed by sophomore Graig Cooper, but the line just isn't that good. The Hurricanes ran for more than 150 yards just twice in their final nine regular-season games, and five of their 17 rushing touchdowns came in the opener against Charleston Southern. Cal has an active, experienced group of linebackers. The Golden Bears allowed more than 150 rushing yards just four times during the regular season and held seven foes to 125 yards or less. However, it is worth noting that the teams who beat the Bears did so by running right at them.
Edge: Cal.

Miami pass offense vs. Cal pass defense
Miami starting QB Robert Marve has been suspended, meaning this is true freshman Jacory Harris' game. While he isn't as mobile as Marve, Harris is the better passer. But as with Cal, UM has no receivers who scare anybody at least not yet. There is some deep speed, and you wonder if UM offensive coordinator Patrick Nix will let Harris air it out. Cooper is a good safety-valve receiver. CB Syd'Quan Thompson is Cal's best player in the secondary; he has four picks and 12 pass breakups. Cal had 23 interceptions and allowed just 10 TD passes. Six of the TD passes came in Cal losses.
Edge: Cal.

Cal special teams vs. Miami special teams
Giorgio Tavecchio didn't become Cal's kicker until midway through the season, and he finished 8-for-11 on field-goal attempts. Punter Bryan Anger is one of the best in the nation, though Cal's punt-coverage unit has been bad. Thompson is a good punt returner, but Cal's kickoff returners are mediocre, as is Cal's kick-coverage unit. Miami's kick coverage has been excellent, and its punt coverage has been adequate. Freshman Travis Benjamin has been a solid return man, especially on punts. Matt Bosher does double duty as the punter and kicker. While he's not quite the punter that Anger is, he's 17-of-19 on field-goal attempts and gives UM a big advantage if this one comes down to a field goal.
Edge: Miami.

Cal coaches vs. Miami coaches
Jeff Tedford has lost a bit of luster in the past few seasons because Cal annually seems to underachieve. One thing his teams do well is run the ball, though, and in Best, Tedford has a burgeoning star. This is the second season for Randy Shannon, whose team didn't go to a bowl last season. UM is a young team, and while the defense has a lot of promise, the jury remains out on the offense and on Nix.
Edge: Cal.

X-factor: Turnovers obviously are important in every game, but keep a close eye on that category in this one. Cal thrives on forcing turnovers, and UM has had trouble holding on to the ball. If Cal can get to Harris early and force him into some mistakes, it will be a long night for UM. Also worth mentioning: This basically is a home game for Cal, which is playing across San Francisco Bay from its campus in Berkeley.

Cal will win if: Priority one for the Golden Bears has to be to run the ball. They average 183.7 rushing yards, but in their four losses the Golden Bears averaged just 65. If Best and Vereen are bottled up, Cal is in trouble.

Miami will win if: Harris needs to take care of the ball and get some help from his tailbacks. Defensively, if UM can at least stymie Cal's running game, this should be close into the fourth quarter.

The pick
Mike Huguenin: California 28, Miami 17.

Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for He can be reached at

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