Miami coach Manny Diaz’s message leading up to the Independence Bowl has been simple: Winning streaks and winning traditions start somewhere.
He should know.
He was at Louisiana Tech in 2014 when the Bulldogs beat Illinois in the Heart of Dallas Bowl. No one knew at the time, of course, how that victory would start what has become a five-year stretch of bowl wins for the Bulldogs — a run that ties Wisconsin as the nation’s longest active postseason streak.
And now Diaz finds himself hoping that Miami can start embarking on such a run Thursday, when the Hurricanes (6-6) play what will basically amount to a road game in Shreveport, Louisiana by taking on Louisiana Tech (9-3).
“It has to start somewhere,” Diaz said. “That’s what this week is all about.”
It’s about more than that.
Louisiana Tech is seeking its first 10-win season at the FBS level, not to mention a sixth bowl win in as many years. Bulldogs coach Skip Holtz is trying for his second 10-win season as a head coach; the first was in 1998 at Connecticut, which then played at what was called the Division I-AA level.
It’s a renewal of the Holtz-Miami rivalry, after Skip’s father Lou Holtz was at the epicenter of the Notre Dame-Miami matchups that galvanized the sport a generation ago. And for Miami, it’s a last chance to salvage something from a season that has been dismal in so many ways.
“Tech has not won double digits since 1984,” said Holtz, whose team plays in Ruston, Louisiana — about an hour from Shreveport. “They want to leave their mark and having the opportunity to go out as one of the winningest classes speaks volumes to what these guys have accomplished during their stay here.”
Diaz was the defensive coordinator for Holtz and the Bulldogs in that 2014 season. Diaz went there after being let go by Texas the year before, so Holtz gave Diaz’s career a boost when one was needed.
Holtz isn’t planning to offer more help now, of course.
And Diaz hasn’t had the best of luck going against his former bosses this season, his first as Miami’s coach. Miami opened with a loss to Florida (Gators coach Dan Mullen had Diaz on his staff at Mississippi State) and followed that up with a loss to North Carolina (Tar Heels coach Mack Brown had Diaz on his staff at Texas).
The Hurricanes need a win to avoid their first 6-7 season since 2014 — ironically, which was also their most recent time in the Independence Bowl.
“What we’ve talked about this game being is a bridge to the 2020 season,” Diaz said. “We’ve got some outstanding senior leadership, but we bring a ton of guys back to the team next year. Trying to set the expectation of how to prepare for a bowl game, how to win a bowl game, how to win a trophy. That’s a learned behavior.”
Some other things to know going into this matchup:
Miami is 4-0 all-time against Louisiana Tech, with the most recent of those meetings being a 48-0 win in 2004.
There is only one common opponent between Miami and Louisiana Tech in 2019 — and it seems to suggest the Bulldogs have the edge. They beat FIU 43-31 in September, while Miami lost 30-24 to FIU last month in one of the more humbling losses in program history.
Diaz wouldn’t say who the Hurricanes will start at quarterback in the bowl game. Jarren Williams held the starting job most of the year, N’Kosi Perry had it about half the time in 2018, and Ohio State transfer Tate Martell returned to bowl practice after an excused late-season absence for personal reasons.
NO QB ISSUES
Unlike Miami, Louisiana Tech doesn’t have any mystery at quarterback. Senior J’Mar Smith was picked as Conference USA’s offensive player of the year in 2019. Smith has thrown for 9,360 yards in his career and 50 touchdowns.
Louisiana Tech offensive lineman Ethan Reed is expected to make the 53rd consecutive start of his college career. Miami linebacker Shaquille Quarterman is expected to make his 52nd straight — extending his school record. Quarterman said “being able to finish this chapter of my career as a Miami Hurricane is very important to me.” He decided to play while at least four Hurricanes are opting to skip the game to prepare for the NFL draft, including linebacker Michael Pinckney, defensive linemen Pat Garvin and Trevon Hill, and wide receiver Jeff Thomas.