Sometimes you’re the windshield, sometimes you’re the bug. That old adage is stuck in my head as the Virginia football team heads to Miami on Saturday.
I don’t expect UVA to merely roll over and be non-competitive against the Hurricanes on the road. It is certainly possible that Miami could have a little bit of an execution letdown in a noon game following strong back-to-back prime time performances against Virginia Tech and Notre Dame. Even so, this doesn’t look like a promising opportunity for win No. 7 this season.
The Hurricanes have a lot of things that trouble the Cavaliers. A ballhawking secondary. A disruptive defensive line. A mobile quarterback. A deep receiving threat. A tight end that can produce big numbers. Explosive potential on special teams. Speed, speed, speed. And more speed.
Any of those things in isolation could be challenging for the Hoos, but the Canes could put together a game where every single one of those elements performs well. Even if they miss on a couple, however, they still could be able to run away from the Cavaliers.
So what’s the best hope for an upset? Virginia likely needs to figure out a way to win the turnover battle and then take advantage of any points that may produce. That won’t be easy. Miami has forced four turnovers in four straight games so winning the turnover margin category will require a big effort on both sides of the ball.
Otherwise, it’s probably best to avoid the highway and any high speed Miami windshields.
Kris’ Keys To Winning
1. Find the reserve fuel tank. Watching the game last week at Louisville, I didn’t see any sort of bowl eligible hangover. For the first two and a half quarters, the Hoos hung in there. When they couldn’t create an early second half rally like the week before against Georgia Tech, however, it looked like the gas tank was running on empty over the final 20 minutes or so. UVA has two games in the next seven days to cap a stretch of four games in 21 days this month. With the program’s depth concerns, it’s going to take a big effort emotionally and mentally to find some more fight and better execution in these next two games.
2. Keep Miami’s defense off balance. The Hurricanes rank eighth nationally in yards per play allowed (4.4), second nationally in team tackles for loss per game (8.8) and team sacks per game (3.67), fourth nationally in pass efficiency defense (97.22), fifth nationally in turnovers gained (24), and 10th nationally in scoring defense (16.6 points per game). If UVA merely drops back to pass the ball all day and doesn’t change any tendencies within the offense, that likely will be a recipe for disaster. Mix up the looks, stick with the run, throw in a wrinkle or two to slow down the pass rush, and see if that helps keep up on the scoreboard.
3. Stop the run. Much of Virginia’s offseason focus defensively was on stopping the run and that work showed out of the gates. The Hoos allowed 129.4 yards rushing per game in the first five outings as part of a 5-1 start to the season. In the five games since, that’s ballooned to 228 yards rushing per game by opponents and the record is now 6-4. Miami enters this game ranked 51st nationally in rushing offense at 179.89 yards per game, but the Hurricanes have put up 210 and 237 yards the past two weeks against Virginia Tech and Notre Dame the past two weeks.
Sabre Editor Kris Wright: Virginia has had trouble with Boston College, Pittsburgh, and Louisville in recent weeks. Miami has the ability to do what all of those teams did to make life tough for Virginia, only it can do those things better. Skill players in space, a running game with play action possibilities to the tight end and others, pressure on the pocket, creating turnovers … yeah the Hurricanes can do all of that. Oh, and they have speed. Lots and lots of speed. At least it will be a beautiful day in Miami. MIAMI 45, VIRGINIA 13. Season to date: 6-4.
Sabre Associate Editor Chris Horne: I see Virginia bouncing back from last week’s performance with a strong effort, on the defensive end at least. Miami’s defense is just too good, though, and given the offensive line’s struggles in four of the past five games, this won’t be a pretty week for Kurt Benkert and company. I think this will be closer than some expect because of Virginia’s defense and because I see Miami having a slight letdown off of back-to-back big wins over Virginia Tech and Notre Dame, but the Hurricanes are just too good. MIAMI 27, VIRGINIA 10. Season to date: 4-6.