Canes Set for Home Finale Against No. 9 Louisville

Canes Set for Home Finale Against No. 9 Louisville

by Christy Cabrera Chirinos

CORAL GABLES, Fla. – For the Miami Hurricanes, it will be a day to celebrate their seniors, to remember the legacy of a legendary coach and a chance to honor one of their former greats.

But Saturday’s home finale against Louisville at Hard Rock Stadium is something else, too.

An opportunity.

For the second time in as many weeks, the Hurricanes find themselves facing a top-10 team.

Last Saturday, they came up short in a showdown against fourth-ranked Florida State in Tallahassee. This week, Miami has a chance to bounce back by facing the ninth-ranked Cardinals, who come to South Florida with conference championship hopes.

Louisville (9-1, 6-1 ACC) can secure a berth in the ACC Championship Game with a win. Miami (6-4, 2-4) can throw a wrench in those plans – all while finishing its home slate off on a good note and giving its seniors a final home game to remember.

If the Hurricanes can do that, they’ll also bring home the newly minted Howard Schnellenberger Trophy, which will be awarded after Saturday’s game in honor of the coach who helped both Miami and Louisville reach national prominence during his storied career.

All of that is why the word “opportunity” has been used plenty this week in Coral Gables.

Cover 2: Josh Darrow and Christy Chirinos preview Miami's home finale against Louisville.

“We look at is taking advantage of this opportunity,” said Hurricanes quarterback Tyler Van Dyke, who will start Saturday’s game after fellow quarterback Emory Williams was injured in last week’s loss at Florida State. “We know what we’re capable of as a team. The defense is really good. The offensive line is good. Receivers have done a great, great job. The running backs have been good. At the end of the day, it’s on me and I have to do a better job of helping those guys out in these games.”

Said Hurricanes head coach Mario Cristobal, “A great opportunity this coming Saturday against a top-10 team in Louisville. Very explosive on offense, very destructive on defense … A very complete team, a lot of good football players and a great opportunity for us.”

The Cardinals, who enter Saturday’s matchup on a three-game win streak, are among the national leaders in more than a few statistical categories.

Louisville’s defense ranks 16th in total defense, 13th in scoring defense, sixth in third-down defense, 10th in rushing defense and third in red-zone defense.

Offensively, the Cardinals are led by senior quarterback Jack Plummer, who has completed 66 percent of his passes and thrown for 2,402 yards and 16 touchdowns. Running back Jawhar Jordan enters Saturday’s game on the cusp of a 1,000-yard season, needing just 24 yards to reach that mark and receiver Jamari Thrash has 49 catches for 734 yards with six touchdowns this season.

“Going into this week, we’re going to have to be prepared and ready to attack this game-plan we have, because we know they have talent,” said Hurricanes cornerback Damari Brown. “But we also have talent, too. It’s going to be a good game.”

The Hurricanes, meanwhile, will counter with an offense that is averaging 427.6 yards per game. Van Dyke, who started eight games this season, has completed 67 percent of his passes and thrown for 2,086 yards with 16 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.

Miami’s offense is averaging 172 yards rushing per game, with backs Mark Fletcher, Jr.., Donald Chaney, Jr. and Henry Parrish, Jr. all stepping up at various points in the year.

And like Louisville, the Hurricanes enter the game with a potent defense that has given more than a few opponents headaches.

Miami’s defense is allowing an average of just 312.5 yards per game – a number that ranks 19th nationally. On the ground, opponents are managing an average of just 86 rushing yards per game, a number that ranks seventh nationally.

For the Hurricanes, a win Saturday will not just send their seniors out on top and help them secure the Schnellenberger Trophy, but it will also give Miami a chance to go 5-1 in games at Hard Rock Stadium this season. It could also add even more of a celebratory note to a day that will also include the retirement of former Miami quarterback Gino Torretta’s No. 13 jersey.

All of those things, players and coaches say, have provided extra motivation to make the last home game of the season that much more memorable.

“We want to go into that game and obviously, we want to win. It definitely means a little more with it being our last home game for the seniors,” Van Dyke said. “We’re going to do our best that we can for them and give them that last great experience at Hard Rock.”

Added Brown, “They’ve been role models and paved the way for us all year. I know it’s going to mean a lot for them. It’s going to give me a little more boost to go out and put it all out on the line for them, too…the seniors, they can’t get this last one back.”