Virginia Football Game Preview: Miami

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Center Jackson Matteo will be playing his final game in Scott Stadium on Saturday. ~ Kris Wright

Seeking its third win of the 2016 season, the Virginia Cavaliers welcome the Miami Hurricanes to Scott Stadium on November 12 at 2 p.m.

UVA surrendered fourth quarter leads in each of its last two games, falling to 2-7 overall and 1-4 in the ACC. Last week’s loss at Wake Forest cost the Cavaliers a chance to become bowl eligible, a feat Virginia has not reached since the 2011 season.

The Miami game will be UVA’s final home game of the 2016 season. Virginia is 1-4 in Scott Stadium in head coach Bronco Mendenhall’s first year, defeating Central Michigan while losing to Richmond, Pittsburgh, UNC, and Louisville. The Cavaliers close out the 2016 season with away games versus Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech.

Miami, in its first season under head coach Mark Richt, is 5-4 after defeating Pittsburgh 51-28 at home last week. Richt, who was reportedly under consideration for UVA’s vacant head coach position last offseason, guided the Canes to four straight wins to start 2016. Miami lost its next four before rebounding against the Panthers.

Breaking down this season into three stages, Mendenhall told reporters at his Monday press conference that this team has reached the “earned pressure” stage each of the past two weeks. That is, the team is playing well enough to be in a position to win in the fourth quarter. The Cavaliers fell short of victories against Louisville and Wake Forest but hope to produce a win against Miami on Senior Day. It’ll be a challenge to close against the Canes, who have outscored opponents 57-27 in the fourth quarter, but probably one the Wahoos must meet to get the win.

Virginia Football Essentials

Hoo Facts

  • As mentioned, Miami will be Virginia’s final home opponent in 2016. It is Senior Day as well as Military Appreciation Day.
  • UVA’s fourth and fifth-year players will be honored prior to the game.
  • The colors will be presented by a UVA ROTC Joint Color Guard consisting of cadets and midshipmen from the Air Force, Army and Navy ROTC units. Members of the UVA ROTC units will unfurl a large flag for the national anthem. There will be special veterans recognitions as well as military shoutout videos on Hoo Vision throughout the course of the game.
  • UVA has had four true freshmen start this season. Miami leads the league with five true freshmen that have started.
  • Senior tailback Taquan Mizzell is just 10 receiving yards shy of becoming the first player in ACC history to achieve 1,500 yards rushing and 1,500 yards receiving. He would be the ninth FBS-level player to accomplish this since 2000.
  • Senior punter Nicholas Conte continues to lead the ACC in punting average (45.5 yards per punt). His career average of 45.1 yards per punt is a school best.
  • Twenty-five of Conte’s punt have ended up inside the opponent’s 20-yard line. Eleven of those punts have finished inside the 10. Five punts have been downed at the opponent’s one-yard line.
  • This could be the final home game for junior safety Quin Blanding and redshirt junior linebacker Micah Kiser, who are both considered possible NFL Draft prospects. Neither player has made any sort of official declaration, although Kiser did indicate last month that he would try and persuade Blanding to return.
  • Kiser is averaging 10.4 tackles per game in 21 career starts. He ranks third in the nation this season in tackles per game (11.3), while Blanding ranks no. 12 in the nation in the same category (10).
  • Saturday will be the 14th meeting all-time between Miami and Virginia. Miami leads the series 7-6.
  • The Cavaliers have converted 80% of their red-zone chances into touchdowns, which is good for third in the nation in that category.

Hurricane Facts

  • Mark Richt is in his first season as Miami head coach. He spent the previous 15 seasons as head coach at Georgia, where he compiled a 145-51 record. Richt is a graduate of the University of Miami.
  • Miami suffered a 21-point loss at Virginia Tech. The Hurricanes’ three other losses were by a combined 11 points.
  • Miami has compiled a 3-2 record at home this season. The team is 2-2 on the road.
  • With a win over Virginia, Miami will become bowl eligible for the ninth straight season.
  • Junior QB Brad Kaaya is in Miami’s all-time top five in passing yards, passing touchdowns, completions, attempts, and total yards.
  • Kaaya leads all active ACC quarterbacks with 8,776 career passing yards. He has 2,340 yards passing so far this season, good for an average of 260 per game.
  • The Miami D has 13 more tackles for loss (81) than it amassed all of last season. It ranks second in the nation in tackles for loss this season, averaging 9.0 per game.
  • Miami and Virginia met for the first time ever in the 1996 Carquest Bowl. The Hurricanes defeated the Cavaliers, 31-21. The teams have split the next 12 games.
  • The Hurricanes lead the nation this season with five blocked kicks.

3 Hoos To Watch

    • Quarterback Kurt Benkert.

We’ve seen some good and some bad from Benkert this season. Establishing consistency with accuracy, poise in the pocket, and decision making are keys heading into the final 3-game stretch but also looking towards next year.

    • The offensive line.

UVA needs a plus effort from this group. Creating running room for Taquan Mizzell and Albert Reid will be essential to maintain a balanced attack against a tough Miami defense. Protecting Benkert, who has shown he can get nervous in the pocket, is a high priority against a Miami team that is averaging 2.67 sacks per game, good for tied for 28th in the nation.

    • Cornerback Bryce Hall and cornerback Kareem Gibson.

Virginia will need quality play from whichever one of these two sees the most action opposite of Juan Thornhill. Miami features senior receiver Stacey Coley, who is Kaaya’s top target, and explosive true freshman receiver Ahmmon Richards. Look for Kaaya to go after Hall or Gibson consistently.

3 Hurricanes To Watch

    • Running back Mark Walton.

Walton and the Miami running game will need to be effective to open things up for quarterback Brad Kaaya. The sophomore was excellent in last week’s win over Pitt, rushing for 125 yards including a 55-yard touchdown. Walton has the speed to break a long touchdown at any time, so the Hoos will need to keep him in check. Virginia will have to keep tabs on him in the passing game as well.

    • Linebacker Shaquille Quarterman.

The true freshman linebacker has started in all nine games and is tied with cornerback Corn Elder for the team lead in tackles with 56. Quarterman, who has 7.5 tackles for loss, is fast and he has a good feel for the game.

    • Cornerback Corn Elder.

Elder is tied for the lead in total tackles with Quarterman, leads the team in solo tackles with 42, has 9 pass breakups, 3.5 tackles for loss, two sacks, and one interception. Elder is simply a good football player and one of the experienced leaders on a young Miami D.

3 Things To Watch

    • Special teams.

Not only is Miami tied for first in the nation in blocked kicks (5), the Hurricanes are also tied for first among FBS schools in blocked punts (3). The blocked kicks number is more concerning given the fact that Virginia junior placekicker Sam Hayward has kicked some low field goals/extra points. This game features two of the top punters in the nation in Virginia’s Nicholas Conte and Miami’s Preseason All-ACC selection Justin Vogel. Conte and Vogel are first and second in the conference in punting average per game. Miami has an advantage at placekicker with junior Michael Badgley, who has connected on 12-of-15 field goals this season.

    • Eliminating big plays.

Virginia’s defense has been susceptible to the big play all season long. Miami’s skill position speed is always a concern and this year is no different. Walton has broken an 80-yarder for a score. While Kaaya is not a significant threat to run, he has receivers who will test Virginia’s secondary. Coley has a 55-yard touchdown and eight touchdown receptions on the year. Richards is averaging 20.4 yards per catch. The Cavaliers better not sleep on Miami’s tight ends either, as David Njoku and Christopher Herndon IV have combined for eight touchdowns.

    • Third downs.

Virginia’s 33% third down conversion rate ranks no. 115 among FBS schools. Miami, which ranks no. 17 in scoring defense and no. 28 in total defense, boasts a young but stingy defense. Big plays could be hard to come by against the Hurricanes, so Benkert and company will have to put together sustained drives like they did against Louisville. Converting a third down is key in doing just that. Conversely, Miami’s offense is also one of the worst in the nation at third down conversions (37.3%, No. 91 in the nation). If the Virginia D can prevent big plays and force the Canes to put together sustained drives, the Cavaliers could be in good position.

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