Miami coach Randy Shannon doesn’t believe in the notion that players from the South have speed and players from the Midwest have size. In fact, he called it a myth.
Whether or not Miami is faster than Wisconsin at the skill positions will be determined on the field in the Champs Sports Bowl, but as far as size goes, they're are almost identical up front. Wisconsin averages 6-foot-5, 313.4 pounds on the offensive line. Miami averages 6-foot-5, 313.8. On the defensive line, Wisconsin averages 6-foot-3, 282 pounds. Miami averages 6-foot-2, 280.5. Those numbers are both based on the starting lineups from the last depth charts available for each team.
“Everybody recruits speed,” Shannon said. “It’s not going to be a situation where we’re going to be faster than those guys or they’re going to be faster than us. We have a big offensive line, they have a big offensive line. They have big guys on defense, we have big guys on defense. It’s going to work itself out. It’s just a myth that if you’re down south you run faster.”
These teams do play a different style of football, though, and bruising Wisconsin running back John Clay -- at 6-foot-1, 248 pounds -- is heftier than Miami’s Graig Cooper, who is 6-foot, 205 pounds. Clay is “a big guy who runs angry,” according to Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema, and he’s obviously the Badgers' first option. Clay has rushed for 1,396 yards and 16 touchdowns this year. Wisconsin has run the ball 539 times this year compared to Miami’s 440.
“They can run the football,” Shannon said. “They are a big, hard-nosed team that believes in establishing the run and they’re not going to bend in the run game. They are not going to sit up and go, “OK, if we can’t run the ball in the first 20 plays then we’ll start throwing it.’ They’re going to come out and still establish the run.”
Miami believes in that philosophy, too, but Cooper is just one of three running backs who has at least 450 rushing yards this year. Miami also has six receivers with at least 200 yards each. Seventeen different players have caught a pass for Miami this year, and 10 of those 17 have double-digit catches. Miami is taller than Wisconsin at receiver, where the Canes have four players at 6-foot-3 or taller.
Bielema said he is good friends with Miami offensive coordinator Mark Whipple and called it a “unique matchup.”
“I think the matchup in itself will be neat because everyone is going to talk about the Florida speed versus the Midwest size of Wisconsin," Bielema said, "and we have big people, but I think a couple of our guys can run as well.”