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December 29, 2009
CHAMPS SPORTS BOWL: WHO GETS THE EDGE?
Miami rush offense vs. Wisconsin rush defense: Although the Hurricanes don't blow opponents away with their running game, they do have the ability for big plays with RBs Graig Cooper and Damien Berry, who have combined for 1,253 yards. Javarris James has added 491 yards. Wisconsin allows an average of 90.5 rushing yards per game to rank eight nationally against the run. Fresno State's Ryan Mathews, with 107 yards, is the only player to reach triple digits against the Badgers; Mathews is the nation's leading rusher. Wisconsin's linebackers aren't the most athletic guys, but they always seem to be around the ball. Freshman Chris Borland had a great first season, and senior Jaevery McFadden - who is from Pompano Beach, about 45 miles from UM's campus - is the Badgers' leading tackler.
Miami pass offense vs. Wisconsin pass defense: QB Jacory Harris has passed for 3,164 yards and 23 touchdowns this season, but he also has thrown 17 picks, which is tied for most in the nation. Harris has had five games where he has thrown at least two picks. He has an injured right hand and managed only 161 passing yards in a regular season-ending win over USF. He has a deep receiving corps to work with, though there is no established go-to receiver. TEs Dedrick Epps and Jimmy Graham have combined for eight TD receptions. Five times Wisconsin has been torched for more than 270 passing yards, but only once did that result in a loss. The Badgers have a strong pass rush and have 15 interceptions. S Chris Maragos has four of them.
Wisconsin rush offense vs. Miami rush defense: The Badgers average 206.7 yards per game and have 31 rushing touchdowns. Powerful sophomore John Clay leads the way with 1,396 yards and 16 TDs. Clay has rushed for at least 100 yards in eight games, including each of the past five. Backups Montee Ball and Zach Brown could see time as well. Wisconsin has to run effectively if it's going to win. Miami has been solid against the run all season. The Hurricanes allow 118.3 yards per game and have allowed just eight rushing touchdowns; LBs Darryl Sharpton and Colin McCarthy must play well.
Wisconsin pass offense vs. Miami pass defense: Badgers QB Scott Tolzien closed the regular season on a hot streak. In his past three games he completed 68.9 percent of his attempts for an average of 242.7 yards with six touchdowns and two interceptions. He has passed for more than 200 yards in seven games. Four receivers have at least 22 catches, led by WR Nick Toon with 52. Opponents average 202.9 passing yards against Miami, which did not allow more than one touchdown pass in any of the last four regular-season games. The Hurricanes have a so-so pass rush and have managed only eight interceptions, though sophomore CB Brandon Harris is a star on the rise.
Miami special teams vs. Wisconsin special teams: Thearon Collier and Cooper provide Miami with long-distance threats on kick returns. Matt Bosher is 14-of-16 on field goals, including hitting a 51-yarder. He also averages 42.7 yards on punts. But the Hurricanes need to do a better job in kick coverage. The same goes for Wisconsin, especially on kickoffs. The Badgers aren't as dangerous on returns, although David Gilreath certainly is capable of big plays. K Philip Welch has hit from 57 yards, but his accuracy is questionable. P Brad Nortman averages a solid 42.3 yards per kick.
Miami coaching staff vs. Wisconsin coaching staff: It has taken three seasons, but Miami's Randy Shannon finally had a solid year (nine wins). He's 21-16 in three seasons in charge in Coral Gables. Bret Bielema has posted at least nine wins in three of his four seasons as Wisconsin's coach and is 37-14 thus far. Both offensive coordinators - Miami's Mark Whipple and Wisconsin's Paul Chryst - did good work this season. Whipple energized the offense at UM, while Chryst overcame some talent deficiencies to forge a productive unit.
X-factor: The right (throwing) hand of Miami's Harris is so painful it might require offseason surgery; he has a problem taking snaps. It will be a significant setback for Miami if he cannot perform at least near his usual standards.
Miami will win if: Harris has to have a strong game. In the Hurricanes' three losses, he failed to throw a touchdown pass against Virginia Tech, threw three interceptions against Clemson and was picked off four times by North Carolina. Containing Wisconsin's Clay also is vital.
Wisconsin will win if: The Badgers can neutralize Miami's team speed if their pass rush can pressure Harris and force him to throw early. Avoiding turnovers is crucial for the Badgers, too. They had more turnovers than their opponent in all three of their losses. They also need a productive game from Clay.
Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.