A 3-0 start in Atlantic Coast Conference play was well within reach for No. 20 Virginia when the Cavaliers took on the Miami Hurricanes Friday night in Miami Gardens. For the second straight game, however, the UVA offense failed to take advantage of a terrific effort from the defense and the Cavaliers ultimately fell to the Coastal Division rival Hurricanes, 17-9, in Hard Rock Stadium.
Quarterback Bryce Perkins and company limited the turnovers that cost the team in a 35-20 loss to Notre Dame on September 28. Against Miami, it was an inability to score touchdowns inside the Hurricane 25 yard line that doomed the Hoos, who were coming off a bye week.
Of its 10 possessions Friday night, Virginia was inside the Miami 25 six times. Of those six possessions the Cavaliers managed only nine points on three field goals. That wasn’t enough for the Cavaliers to surpass the Hurricanes. As a result, UVA falls to 4-2 overall and 2-1 in Atlantic Coast Conference play while Miami evens its overall record at 3-3 and is now 1-2 in the ACC.
“In most ACC games the difference comes down to one or two plays. I know traditionally three-to-five is where it fits in throughout my career,” Virginia head coach Bronco Mendenhall said. “Turning the ball over and missing a field goal ended up being the basic difference in this game. Those two opportunities that we didn’t capitalize on hurt our team.”
“The competition and the effort was strong by our team,” Mendenhall concluded. “The execution in a few critical moments was not as strong as needed and I think the statistics bear that out.”
Playing on a short week off a sloppy 42-35 home loss to Virginia Tech last Saturday, Miami was relaxed, poised and confident on the game’s opening drive. Sophomore quarterback N’Kosi Perry, filling in for banged up starter Darren Williams, completed 5-of-6 passes as the Hurricanes drove 78 yards on 11 plays. Perry capped off the drive with a 17-yard touchdown pass to DeeJay Dallas, who scored rather easily on a screen pass.
A Virginia defense ranked no. 10 in total defense coming in took over from there, forcing punts on Miami’s next six possessions. The Hurricanes managed only two first downs during that span. The visitors had a golden opportunity to take control of this game, but the Virginia offense was not up to the task.
Miami wouldn’t score again until a Turner Davidson 19-yard field goal at the 10:06 mark of the fourth quarter. Virginia had seven drives between Miami’s first two scores and were inside or near the red zone on five of those possessions. The output wasn’t pretty on those prime scoring opportunities.
No. 1 – Turnover on downs at the Miami 24 as sophomore running back Wayne Taulapapa was stopped for no gain on 4th-and-1.
No. 2 – Junior placekicker Brian Delaney’s 38-yard field goal was blocked. Delaney misfired with a low kick.
No. 3 – Delaney ends the first half with a successful 25-yard field goal. UVA, though, had 1st-and-goal at the Miami 8 with 17 seconds left.
No. 4 – Freshman running back Mike Hollins fumbles at the Miami 23. The Hurricanes recover what would be the game’s only turnover at the Miami 20. This was at the 6:28 mark of the third quarter.
No. 5 – Delaney gets a beneficial bounce off the upright to make a 21-yard field goal. UVA had a 1st-and-goal at the Miami 4 and 3rd-and-goal at the Miami 1 before settling for three with 14:28 remaining in the game.
“We had a rub or a leverage play to get a running back into the flat with Bryce having the chance to use his legs, and so yeah we thought we’d be able to run around ’em,” Mendenhall said of the 3rd-and-goal play call in which Perkins lost three yards. “Ultimately it backfired and we lost yardage, which, yeah that hurt us from the 1.”
Davidson’s field goal answered Delaney’s 21-yard make and boosted Miami’s lead to 10-6. Cavalier senior Joe Reed, who owns the Virginia school record for kickoff returns for touchdowns with four, almost took touchdown scoring matters into his own hands on the ensuing kickoff. Alas, Reed had to settle for a 72-yard kick return down to the Miami 27 as kicker Bubba Baxa held him up just enough for help to come.
The Cavalier offense once again failed to score a touchdown, ultimately settling for a 44-yard field goal from Delaney. Miami subsequently drove 75 yards on 10 plays, and Perry finished off the drive with a 3-yard touchdown run on 3rd-and-goal. Miami’s second third-down conversion of the game – the Canes were only 2-of-10 for the game on third down while UVA was 9-of-18 – was a big one.
Down 17-9 with 2:31 remaining, Virginia still had life, but the Hoos couldn’t muster much in the final drive of the night. The game ended when Perkins’ Hail Mary fell incomplete. Ten drives, no touchdowns for the Hoos, who now haven’t scored an offensive touchdown in their last six quarters.
Virginia edged Miami in total offense 318-265, first downs 21-14, and time of possession 34:19-25.41. However, Virginia lost the red zone touchdown battle (2-3 for Miami to 0-3 for Virginia), which ultimately proved to be the difference. Perkins, who was sacked five times, completed 24-of-41 passes for 241 yards and finished with 27 net yards rushing. The Hoos’ running game issues continued as Taulapapa, P.K. Kier, Lamont Atkins and Hollins combined for 47 yards rushing on 14 carries. Virginia’s wide receivers continue to shine though. Senior Hasise Dubois led the way with seven catches for 93 yards before leaving the game after a big hit – Amari Carter was flagged for targeting on the play – late in the third quarter. Per ESPN, Dubois was being checked for a possible shoulder injury.
Outside linebacker Charles Snowden and Noah Taylor combined for four of Virginia’s nine tackles for loss on the night. Taylor, a sophomore, had a career-high 2.5 tackles for loss and one of UVA’s three sacks. Miami played a turnover free game, however, and committed just four penalties after averaging 10 in their first five games.
After two straight losses on the road, Virginia returns home to Scott Stadium next Saturday to face another Coastal Division opponent in Duke. UVA has not lost to the Blue Devils in the Mendenhall era. The Cavaliers, who are now tied atop the ACC Coastal with UNC at 2-1, enjoy a favorable conference schedule the remainder of the season. Virginia’s final five opponents are a combined 13-13, and three of the Cavaliers final five games are at home. The two road games are Louisville (3-2, 1-1) and UNC (3-3, 2-1).
Virginia will in all likelihood have to accomplish their division title dreams without one of their stars and leaders in senior cornerback Bryce Hall, who was carted off the field with a lower left leg injury. Hall, who decided against entering the NFL in order to return to UVA for his final season, was a 2019 preseason All-American. Starting safety De’Vante Cross replaced Hall at corner for the remainder of the game.
“I’m not sure I can describe what the emotions were,” Mendenhall said when asked how he felt seeing Hall go down with an injury. “Gratitude and loss at the same time. Appreciation and sorrow. Conflicting emotions, and then in a real time application, how will that now affect how we play, not only in the future but also for this game. That played out as you could see with the defensive staff trying to address that.”
– Highlights (Courtesy of the ACC Digital Network)
– Bronco Mendenhall’s Postgame Press Conference (Courtesy of Virginia Sports TV)