After a blistering start in which West Virginia's defense forced Miami into five straight three-and-outs, the Mountaineers allowed the Hurricanes to put together five straight scoring drives on the next five possessions. At times it looked like Tony Gibson and his highly-ranked Big 12 defense appeared downright shocked at the way the script had flipped, and rightfully so. So what changed after such a dominating start? Freshman David Long had trouble putting his thumb on it but said he felt the Hurricanes started playing relaxed and flipped on the switch.
"I'm not sure, I can't really call it," Long admitted. "They got relaxed and started making plays and we didn't respond. They have good players and we knew that coming in but we had to play the next play and that's something we didn't do."
And according to Long, it wasn't anything the Hurricanes were doing schematically, as the Mountaineers had already seen much of what Miami was running offensively. But the Hurricanes were able to execute the basics, finding a way to protect quarterback Brad Kaaya and then, as a result, unleashing their athleticism on the perimeter with combinations of deep and short routes, along with a mix of tight end David Njoku - who just hours after the game announced his intention to enter the NFL Draft.
Once Miami hit on the quick routes, it caused West Virginia to back off pressure, which allowed the longer plays to develop. The combination proved lethal, as Miami scored 31 straight points to lead 31-7 in a game that truly wasn't close after the first quarter. The Hurricanes never found a way to grind the ball in the running game - Gibson said the teams could have been there "until Monday" and UM wouldn't have been able to run - but it never mattered in the grand scheme as the Mountaineers wilted in the face of the passing onslaught from what figures to be another solid pro player in Kaaya.
"The RPO (Run Pass Option) was kind of getting us but its not something we have never seen," Long said. "We have seen that all year, I can't call (what happened) tonight (surprising). We have went against tempo all year and I don't see how that affected us, but it did."
There is no doubt the loss is disappointing for fans, coaches and players alike, especially for the 21 seniors who will never put on the pads and compete for West Virginia again. The loss removed some of the shine from the 10-win season, as West Virginia fell to every team which figures to finish in th final top 25 polls. But Long has three more seasons and should be a big time contributor for years to come on this Mountaineer defense. After trying to process what had just taken place minutes before in the bowl game, the freshman took time to reflect on his first collegiate season and discuss preparations for the 2017 season.
"We had a good year and I would have loved to see us finish better but we have a long off-season ahead of us and we just have to get back to the film room," Long said. "I learned a lot this whole season from the seniors and I wish them the best of luck."