Saturday evening’s primetime ACC coastal showdown between the University of Miami and Virginia features a team with carrying momentum and another that has been resilient against all challengers in the first half of the season. The Hurricanes have surpassed the halfway mark of the regular season, with six games in their back pocket. Mark Richt’s men look to head into the bye week on a five-game win streak. The Cavaliers are coming off of their bye week, having last played NC State in a valiant battle where they failed by a score of 35–21. Bronco Mendenhall has had UVA playing hard-nosed football through most of the early portion of the season and they haven’t revolted on him — yet.
Iron Sharpens Iron (One vs One)
RB Olamide Zaccheaus vs CB Trajan Bandy
The 5’8”, 190 pounder is listed as a running back, yet leads the Cavaliers with 33 receptions, 501 receiving yards and six receiving touchdowns. Considering that the “RB” has only carried the rock five times all season, it’s safe to say that the senior’s value lies in the passing game. Zaccheaus does, on rare occasion, actually line up in the backfield. It’s a case of whatever the Hoos can do to get the ball in the hands of their talented playmaker.
As we’ve hinted, Zaccheaus lines up at at many positions. Look for number four to take snaps out wide as the X receiver, slot receiver and running back. Heck, don’t be shocked if the guy takes the snap out of the wildcat formation. For the Cavs to have a legitimate shot at pulling off the upset, they’ll need their little spark plug to get the engine going.
Whether Trajan Bandy sees Virginia’s playmaker for a majority of Saturday remains in question, but there is the likelihood that he will spend a decent amount of time chasing him down in coverage. Michael Jackson could also accomplish the task, yet the expectation is for Mendenhall to put his best player on one of the other matchups this week. Bandy has stepped up to the challenge of working as a boundary corner or out in space in slot. Muddy’s versatility will be integral to Miami’s success in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Positional Matchup of the Week
Miami’s Linebackers vs Virginia’s Run Game
One of the few redeeming qualities of his Cavalier offense is their options in the running game. Quarterback Bryce Perkins, RB Jordan Ellis and the aforementioned enigma that is Olamide Zaccheaus, are unique threats to break off a long gain. UVA has 10 runs that have gone for 20+ yards or more through five games. Perkins has a tendency to take off on the scramble when there are no options on the field. The Cavaliers’ offense tends to use plenty of pre-snap motion to have the defense declare their coverage and get the front-seven moving in the wrong direction. With a sprinkling of the QB option, it will be up to Miami’s defensive front, particularly the linebackers, to stick to their assignments and keys to bottle up the Cavs this time around.
Caneseye Players to Watch
QB Bryce Perkins
In 2017, UVA QB Kurt Benkert looked like a Heisman contender in the first half against Miami’s defense. Benkert’s final stat line read for 17 completions on 34 passes for 384 passing yards with four touchdowns and one interception. Miami beared down and managed to avoid the upset that week, but the Cavaliers served notice.
Benkert is now in the NFL. In his place is junior transfer QB Bryce Perkins. A dual-threat passer, Perkins is patient enough to stay in the pocket to let routes develop as opposed to taking off at the first sign of trouble. The QB is second on the team with 341 rushing yards and three trips into the endzone. Perkins has passed for 1,125 yards and has 11 touchdowns to just four interceptions — all with a 63.5 completion percentage. UM’s defense has suffered lapses in assignment regarding responsibility on quarterback runs. The running ability of the Cavaliers’ signal-caller will pose another test for the Hurricanes in run defense.
WR Lawrence Cager
Big catches and scoring touchdowns — that’s all Lawrence Cager does. Miami employs their big body receiver when they’re near the red zone or looking to score points. The playcallers recognize that the 6’5”, 218 pound receiver should be a go-to option when points need to be had. Cager leads all Hurricane receivers with six touchdowns entering Saturday. Working against a defensive secondary that has allowed seven touchdowns through the air, Cager is poised to pad his lead in the scoring column in this ACC coastal showdown.
RB Jordan Ellis
The senior back out of Suwanee, Georgia, may not get the acclaim of the other backs Miami has gone to battle against, but Jordan Ellis is a respectable foil to the Hurricanes’ defense this weekend. UVA’s leading rusher in 2017, Ellis runs under his pads well, leaning forward to pick up as much yardage as possible. What stands out about Ellis’ running style is that his legs never stop churning forward, constantly moving them to make the task of the defender more difficult. With two receptions on the season, you can hardly call the RB a threat out of the backfield, yet he is capable of leaking out for a halfback screen should the opportunity present itself.
LB Chris Peace
Against the Canes, the edge rushing linebacker has 10 tackles and two tackles-for-loss with one counting for a sack. Peace is UVA’s best defender when it comes to applying pressure on the quarterback, utilizing his speed and employing a spin move to slip by blockers in the backfield. Peace is not near the caliber of what the Hurricanes had to deal with last week, but he should not be taken for granted since he’s a capable pass-rush specialist in his own right.
DE Jonathan Garvin
I hope you didn’t sell off that Garvin stock, because the price continues to climb. The sophomore defensive end has been overshadowed by his upperclassmen teammates along the defensive line, yet his 11.5 tackles-for-loss is only slightly behind DT Gerald Willis for the team lead. Similar to Joe Jackson a couple of weeks ago, Garvin has a touchdown to his statline this season as well. Working against a Cavaliers’ offensive line that has given up 12 sacks and 33 TFL through three games, this should be the opportunity for Garvin to continue to shine in primetime.
CB Bryce Hall
This Hoo has the team lead in pass breakups through five games with nine. A 6’1” cornerback, Hall is one of the bright spots on the Cavs’ defense, acting as a plus defender backpedalling in coverage as well as working as a pass rusher. Hall’s 23 tackles, 2.5 tackles-for-loss and a sack are productive numbers on what can be described at best as a middling defense.
One Last Thing
UVA has 0.0 in the turnover margin, having allowed eight turnovers and given up the same amount in return. Call them equal opportunists. According to Phil Steele of ESPN, the Hurricanes are 17-4 in the game after Florida State, 2-3 in the last five years.
Olamide Zaccheaus is the only active player in the country with 2000+ receiving yards and 450 rushing yards.
The Cavaliers may be able to move the ball, but, like JR Smith, they tend to come up short in crucial moments. Virginia ranks dead last in the ACC in red zone scoring percentage, scoring on 70% of their trips inside their opponents’ 20-yard line. For transparency, the Hurricanes have a red zone scoring percentage of 86, fourth behind Virginia Tech, Clemson and Syracuse in the conference.
IT’S ALWAYS ABOUT THE U!