Cheez-It Bowl Preview: Miami Battles Oklahoma State in Top-25 Showdown

by Daniel Siegel

Photo courtesy of Miami athletics

On Tuesday evening, the college football world will be treated to their first ACC vs. Big 12 match-up of the season in the Cheez-It Bowl in Orlando. Oklahoma State is the slight underdog, according to the College Football Playoff rankings, but Las Vegas slots the Cowboys as a 2.5-point favorite.

Miami is in need of a victory in this game to finally end the season on the right track. After an overall successful season, the Hurricanes were dominated at home in the de facto Orange Bowl play-in game by North Carolina, 62-26.

It is also notable that head coach Manny Diaz has been unsuccessful when given long periods of rest. Under Diaz, Miami is 2-4 after bye weeks, including a loss to Florida International. The Canes also were shut out in the Independence Bowl last year by Louisiana Tech, 14-0.

Oklahoma State has had a relatively solid season but aside from a premier victory over Iowa State, it has not defeated a ranked team. A win over Miami would cement a significant program-boosting season for head coach Mike Gundy.

What to know about Miami

Over the last several years, Miami has struggled to get consistent production from the quarterback position but D’Eriq King has changed the entire dynamic. King is an explosive runner, a great playmaker, and has improved drastically with his downfield accuracy throughout the season. He finished fourth in the ACC is passing yards (2,570), second in passing touchdowns (22), and first in yards on scrambles (293), all while throwing just five interceptions.

Miami also has some notable weapons. Running back Cam’Ron Harris has struggled as the season progressed but his production has been replaced by wide receiver Mike Harley, who leads the FBS in receiving yards in the second half of the season. Harley is a major deep threat with blazing speed.

Coordinator Rhett Lashlee’s offense also features Brevin Jordan at tight end. Jordan has dealt with injuries this season but has been very productive when healthy. His route running ability makes him one of the top tight end prospects in the NFL Draft.

Miami’s biggest strength on the defensive side of the ball this year has been its edge rushers, Quincy Roche and Jaelen Phillips. Both have opted out, which will be critical. However, Miami has plenty of depth on the defensive line.

The Hurricanes’ biggest weakness this year has been their secondary play. While cornerback Te’Cory Couch has had a breakout season and safety Bubba Bolden has been solid, this unit has struggled as a whole.

What to know about Oklahoma State

Over the last two years, the Oklahoma State offense has been run-first. This season however, running back Chubba Hubbard has not had nearly the production of his 2,000-yard season in 2019. Regardless, Hubbard will not play in the bowl game.

Instead, the lead back will be Dezmon Jackson, who averages 5.4 yards per attempt on 93 carries. The rushing game should still be a vital component of their offensive success, considering the Cowboys are second in the Big 12 in run blocking grade.

Another story for this year regarding Oklahoma State has been the progression of quarterback Spencer Sanders. Sanders has improved as a downfield passer, although he still makes occasional poor decisions. On throws of 10 or more yards, he averages 12 yards per attempt, but also has eight interceptions. It will be managing risk versus reward that will allow Sanders to take that next step as a signal caller.

The Big 12 has a reputation for poor defensive play, but Oklahoma State has been rather stout in that respect. Their defensive backfield has been stellar, featuring a corner duo in Rodarius Williams and Jarrick Bernard-Converse, and a star safety in Tre Starling.

Analysis

Miami may struggle to establish an offensive rhythm at times. But one thing Oklahoma State has occasionally struggled to do is rush the passer. King will benefit from an offensive line at relatively full strength. If he is able to work through his progressions and given space to maneuver, he will thrive.

As for Oklahoma State, expect a run-and-shoot style of offense. It will certainly hand the ball off but also utilize the play action to set up shots down the field. If Sanders plays a clean game, the Cowboys will certainly be successful on offense.

This game should definitely be on the higher scoring side. The over/under is set by Vegas at 58.5 but it may easily push well beyond that mark. Oklahoma State has the slight edge simply because it is more well-rounded on both sides of the ball.

The contest at Camping World Stadium begins at 5:30 p.m. ET on Tuesday. It will air nationally on ESPN.

Prediction: Oklahoma State 35, Miami 34

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