From the moment they were ripped to shreds by Teddy Bridgewater in the 2013 Russell Athletic Bowl, the Miami Hurricanes became automatic underdogs for the 2014 season opener/rematch against new ACC rival Louisville.
It didn’t help that projected starter Ryan Williams tore his ACL in April, forcing Miami to put a true freshman under center (a talented true freshman, mind you—but he didn’t arrive on campus until May) and that Louisville replaced departed coach Charlie Strong with Bobby Petrino, who won 41 games with the Cardinals from 2003-2006.
Even with Bridgewater gone, UL was the immediate favorite for the way the defense handled Miami’s offensive line, and how easy it was for the offense to take chunks from the Hurricanes’ back seven. This is why Louisville was given a modest 3.5-point cushion by Vegas Insider—and I would go as far to say that might have been a little low.
However, Vegas is going to lose some money, because Miami is going to win by a foot. Literally.
Louisville senior wide receiver DeVante Parker broke the fifth metatarsal bone in his left foot during last Friday’s practice and will require surgery, taking him out of playing consideration for 6-8 weeks.
“He’s a tremendous player,” Petrino told The Courier-Journal. “We’re fortunate with the situation we’re in that we have a lot of experienced players (to fill in). They’re all going to have to contribute. You’re never going to replace a guy like DeVante with just one guy.”
Parker’s absence means a lot of things for the Louisville offense, but most importantly it hinders the development of first-year starter Will Gardner.
“Gardner could have used a consistent and steady receiver, and Parker was that,” SI.com columnist Martin Rickman wrote on Monday. “Now he’ll have to jump into the fray hoping someone like sophomore James Quick (whose marijuana charge was dismissed last week) is able to step up and take on that No. 1 receiver role.”
Parker finished his junior season with 55 receptions for 885 yards and a school-record 12 touchdowns, but arguably his best performance came against Miami in the Russell Athletic Bowl when he dominated with nine catches, 142 yards and a momentum-building second-quarter score.
“It’s tough when you lose a guy like DeVante — he’s a great athlete and a heck of a person overall,” Gardner said, “but with the guys we have at receiver … I know those guys are going to step up and have a great game against Miami.”
Parker was a major catalyst for the Louisville offense in 2013 and Bridgewater’s favorite scoring option, as the 6-foot-3, 210-pound hometown product contributed to 21.7 percent of the team’s total receiving yards and 36.4 percent of the teams total receiving touchdowns. Damian Copeload was the next most productive wideout, but he’s now with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Seniors Eli Rogers and Kai De La Cruz are expected to be given more responsibilities when it comes to the passing game, but neither have the combination of size and speed that made Parker such a dangerous asset—especially when it comes to big-play ability.
Considered college football’s “most freakish athlete” of the 2014 season by Mike Huguenin, Parker’s injury more than likely means the difference of 3.5 points, giving Miami the advantage on Monday night at Papa John’s Stadium.
It also means an arduous learning curve for Gardner, who will have to figure out how to fine-tune his offense before Parker returns to the field around mid-October—just in time for showdowns against Clemson and Florida State.