Despite an 8-4 record and no bowl wins since 2006, Miami won't be a pushover for 10-win West Virginia. The Mountaineers are hungry for a signature win this season, missing out on that opportunity with a blowout loss to Oklahoma, and road defeat at Oklahoma State this season. A Russell Athletic bowl victory would bring the Mountaineers an elusive 11th win on the season season, something only five teams in school history have accomplished.
Safety Jarrod Harper, who played his 50th career game in the Dec. 3 win over Baylor, is one of 21 seniors that plan on ending their career with a bowl victory.
"This team loves to play, loves to compete," Harper said. "I don't think it's going to change for us. When we get out on the field Dec. 28, it's go time for us. We'll be ready to rock and roll. We are excited for it. Right now, our motivation is to get to 11. We want to be one of the few teams to get to 11 wins in West Virginia history."
The Hurricanes boast a strong running game, with lead back Mark Walton finishing the regular season with 1,065 yards and 14 touchdowns on 192 carries, while reserve Joseph Yearby totaled 99 carries for 592 yards and seven touchdowns. "They’ve got good backs, " Harper said. "They run hard. They’re not real big but they are stocky and thick backs, so we just have to gang tackle and make sure we wrap up and bring our arms when we tackle them."
With its solid running game, Miami also possesses a team with stout passing ability, as quarterback Brad Kaaya threw 23 touchdowns to only seven interceptions, ending with a 147.8 passer rating. Despite this, Harper is optimistic that the Mountaineer defense can match-up to both the alignments and talent level.
"They are big. They have big tight ends and speed on the outside," Harper said. "They run good routes and their quarterback makes good decisions. We gotta play our brand of defense, and everything will fall into place."
With his 66 tackles and the Mountaineer defense's 14 interceptions, Harper knows what they need to do in order to disrupt Miami's talented offense. "I’m sure we’ll get some pressure on them, like we always do." Harper said. "We’re not going to change what we do just because of who we are playing. We need to get pressure on them, make them move around in the pocket we can force them into some bad decisions."
As the team had a few weeks of rest between games, Harper is optimistic about WVU's improved health for the bowl. "Having a week off, a couple weeks off, it allowed everyone to get their body back." Harper said. "Everyone was living in the training room trying to get back up. Right now I’d say we’re almost back to 100% as a whole team."
The potential for 11 wins - and even 10 already secured - is an aspect many pundits felt would have been absurd if predicted this at the start of the season. Despite the early pessimism, the Mountaineers surpassed expectations, losing only twice while sweeping the nonconference portion of the schedule and securing third place in the Big 12. It is WVU's highest finish in five seasons in the league, and Harper plans to continue to defy conventional wisdom in the postseason, West Virginia being listed as an underdog to Miami.
"That’s definitely been our goal all year - we want to get to 11 wins," Harper said. "Our goal is to get double-digit wins. We’ve accomplished that, but to be one of the best teams to come through West Virginia and have an 11-win season, that means a lot to us and we want to send the seniors out on top. That’s our goal and the 28th after the game, our goal is to be 11-2 and to sing country roads one last time and be remembered as one of the best teams to come through West Virginia. It means a lot and that's what our coaches have been preaching. We want to be remembered as one of the best teams.