Miami Hurricanes continue slide, fall to Louisiana Tech in Independence Bowl

UM drops its third straight under first-year coach Manny Diaz and has its second losing season in 12 years.
Louisiana Tech coach Skip Holtz (white cap) is doused by his players after winning the Independence Bowl against Miami on Thursday, Dec. 26, 2019, in Shreveport, La.
Louisiana Tech coach Skip Holtz (white cap) is doused by his players after winning the Independence Bowl against Miami on Thursday, Dec. 26, 2019, in Shreveport, La. [ HENRIETTA WILDSMITH | AP ]
Published Dec. 27, 2019

SHREVEPORT, La. — J’Mar Smith threw a touchdown pass and had a late scoring run to help Louisiana Tech beat Miami 14-0 Thursday in the only shutout in the Independence Bowl’s 44-game history.

Louisiana Tech (10-3) reached double-digit victories for the first time since 1984 and ran its postseason winning streak to six — the longest current streak in the country.

“To have the 10-win season and to beat a Power Five team in a bowl game, I can’t put into words my feelings and my emotions for what these players have accomplished,” said coach Skip Holtz, the former USF coach (2010-12).

Miami (6-7) completed its second losing season in 12 years. The Hurricanes have lost nine of 10 bowl games.

According to Stats Inc., the Bulldogs became the first Group of Five program to shut out a Power Five school in a bowl game since the beginning of the BCS/College Football Playoff era in 1998.

“I can’t fault the efforts of our players. I’m certainly proud of the way we played defensively — they had their backs against the wall all night,” first-year Hurricanes coach Manny Diaz said. “Our inability to sustain drives on offense gave us no chance to win this football game.”

Smith connected with Israel Tucker on a 26-yard touchdown strike on a screen pass in the second quarter, capping a 13-play, 91-yard drive. Smith added an 8-yard scoring run with 1:15 left.

Bulldogs running back Justin Henderson was selected the game’s most outstanding offensive player after rushing for 95 yards on 22 carries. Smith completed 13 of 28 for 163 yards with one interception.

Miami entered with the nation’s worst third-down conversion percentage, and going 5-for-14 Thursday didn’t help. The Hurricanes finished the season with three straight losses, averaging only 25.7 points per game. It raises more questions about the future of offensive coordinator Dan Enos.

The teams set the game record for punts at 18, with both tying the single-club record of nine.

The Bulldogs won 70 miles west of their campus in Ruston.

“I’m really proud of the experience to have that many fans here when we ran out of the tunnel — to see all the red and blue in the stands was awesome,” Holtz said.

The season will forever be tainted by “what if” for the Bulldogs. After a season-opening loss at Texas, Louisiana Tech rattled off eight straight wins before Smith was suspended two games for violating an undisclosed program policy. The Bulldogs lost those two games and won the regular-season finale when Smith returned.

Going, going …

The Enos era in Miami will last just one season, according to a report.

Miami’s offensive coordinator and the team were expected to part ways after the game, the Associated Press reported in a tweet two hours before kickoff.

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When approached, Miami did not offer comment.

Enos came to Miami after being Alabama’s quarterbacks coach last season. Under his direction, the Hurricanes’ finished the regular season last out of 130 Division I-A teams in offensive third-down success rate and gave up the fourth-most sacks. The Hurricanes also were No. 120 in both rushing offense and red-zone offense.

Three QBs or none?

Diaz vowed against playing three quarterbacks. However, that’s what happened when Miami couldn’t muster any offense. Jarren Williams, Tate Martell, N’Kosi Perry all played with little success. Not one threw for 100 yards. The Hurricanes combined to go 15-of-34 for 153 yards and two interceptions. “We were trying to make explosive plays,” Diaz said. “I thought we were going to throw the ball a lot better than we did.”

End of an era

This marked the final year of the bowl’s contracts with the ACC and the SEC. Beginning in 2020, the game will feature a rotation with the Pac-12, Conference USA, American Athletic Conference and major independents, such as Army and BYU.

Ten again

It was Holtz’s second 10-win season, and first at the Division I-A level. He led Connecticut to a 10-win season when the Huskies played in I-AA in 1998.