In the final home game at Scott Stadium this season, the Virginia football team hoped to run away with a Senior Day celebration. Instead, Miami did almost all the running. The Hurricanes piled up yards on the ground and yards after the catch to capture a 34-14 victory.
Miami improved to 6-4 on the season and secured bowl eligibility in Mark Richt’s first season, while UVA fell to 2-8 with only one home victory in Bronco Mendenhall’s debut.
“Miami was more physical than what I expected on both sides,” Mendenhall said. “Their fronts controlled the game, so they were able to get some pressure on our quarterback and it doesn’t necessarily need to be blitz, but they were able to run the ball with big sets. They had the fullback that’s 280 plus their big guys in there. Certainly you have to be aware of their receiving threats, and we saw two big plays in that regard. … It kind of turned into a guessing game and when I guessed right we could hold them for three yards a run and if we were playing coverage they were able to sustain drives on the ground and get about four or five yards per carry and sustain drives and control the game. I think we battled well, but we still have lots and lots and lots and lots of work to do in terms of defensive execution.”
The Hurricanes blew away the Hoos’ hopes of winning in the trenches. Offensively, Miami cranked out 222 rushing yards with Mark Walton, Gus Edwards, and Joe Yearby each going at least 5.9 yards per carry. Walton posted 111 yards and 1 touchdown, while Edwards added 68 yards. Yearby rounded it out with 53 yards and one score too.
UVA managed to hang around despite those numbers and trailed just 20-14 late in the third quarter. The game quickly changed with a big play, though. Cane QB Brad Kaaya connected with Ahmmon Richards, but when Juan Thornhill missed the tackle, the simple sideline pass became a race to the end zone. Richards scored from 77 yards away and the Cavaliers never got back into it from there.
Kaaya threw for 228 yards and 2 touchdowns. Micah Kiser and Quin Blanding led the Wahoos in tackles again on the other side of the ledger. Kiser tallied 12 stops and Blanding added 10 more.
“They have a solid crew back there,” Blanding said. “They’ve got three strong running backs that can come in and run the ball and that played a factor today. We’ve just got to execute.”
“We were in it, playing them tough,” Kiser said. “The long touchdown broke us a little bit. If we had just wrapped them up, kept driving the ball, then there would have been a different outcome, but that was a big play. I tip my hat to that guy who made the big play.”
Miami probably had similar feelings about a big play from Kiser early in the first quarter. On the Hurricanes’ first offensive play of the game, Kaaya tossed a pass near the seams but before the receiver controlled the catch, Kiser simply ripped it out of his hands and sprinted to the end zone. The officials ruled Kiser stepped out of bounds at the 18-yard line, but that interception set up the Cavaliers’ first score of the day.
Taquan Mizzell finished off the short-field drive with a 2-yard scamper around the end. Mizzell finished with 89 yards rushing and 27 yards receiving. Mizzell’s final reception of the day, which came from senior Matt Johns in relief of Kurt Benkert, put the senior running back in the record books. Mizzell became the first player in ACC history with 1,500 career rushing and 1,500 career receiving yards (1,831 rushing yards, 1,517 receiving yards). Johns passed Dan Ellis for 10th all-time in career passing yards during his short stint despite several dropped passes. He completed 3 of 7 passes for 64 yards.
Still, the Hoos simply didn’t have enough firepower on offense to get to the winner’s circle. Outside of Mizell’s production, only Olamide Zaccheaus with 6 catches for 50 yards and Doni Dowling with 4 catches for 77 yards found much success. Benkert, meanwhile, completed 16 of 27 passes for 143 yards and a touchdown. The scoring throw accounted for David Eldridge’s only catch for 13 yards at the end of a 14-play drive that covered 73 yards.
Otherwise, the offense floundered. Miami recorded 5 sacks and 9 total tackles for loss. The visitors also recovered 4 fumbles. Two of those fumbles came from Benkert, while Mizzell fumbled on his history-making catch and punter Nicholas Conte fumbled on a bobbled snap too.
Throw in 10 penalties for 110 yards and the chase for consistency and production remained a work in progress.
“I have not yet, and it’s a direct reflection of me, and the team plays as they are prepared, and I haven’t yet been able to get through deep enough to have the play be clean enough and disciplined enough and execution sound enough and turnover free enough for us to have a chance to go all the way to the end, which I was anticipating and really hopeful this game would do,” Mendenhall said. “Nothing in the first half said anything different to me. I love feeling like we take a step forward, I love seeing areas of improvement, I love seeing the kids try hard and we didn’t play nearly cleanly enough nor mistake free enough nor just simple execution, so my task is to charge my coaches to get through deeper and more effectively with our team to give them their best chance to play good football all the way to the end of the game. I’m looking forward to that. I’m invigorated by that chance and really wish our seniors could have had a better experience in their last [home] game.”