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Miami Hurricanes Game Preview: Virginia Cavaliers

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Miami begins a two-game conference road trip with a trip to Virginia on Saturday to take on the Cavaliers.

NCAA Football: Virginia at Miami
Nov 18, 2017; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Miami Hurricanes defensive back Jaquan Johnson (4) intercepts a pass for a touchdown during the second half against Virginia Cavaliers at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The Hurricanes are now sitting at 5-1 following an emotional come-from-behind victory against rival Florida State, 28-27. Now, Miami shifts their attention to their first road ACC battle, as they visit Bronco Mendenhall’s Virginia Cavaliers on Saturday evening.

Virginia is coming off a bye-week, but their record sits a 3-2, with their latest game being a 35-21 defeat against NC State. Their wins have come against Richmond, Ohio and Louisville.

Miami has currently beat Virginia the last three matchups, with last year the Hurricanes having to come-from-behind twice to down the Cavaliers 44-28, highlighted by Jaquan Johnson’s interception return for a touchdown.

FSU HANGOVER?

One of the biggest keys to victory (I’ll mention it again at the end) for Miami is not letting the emotional comeback victory against FSU drain them for this game. Last season, against Virginia in fact, the Hurricanes had to post a comeback in order to win that game.

The following week, still undefeated and riding high, the Canes were upset by Pitt. So for Miami, coming out fast and putting points on the board in the first quarter will be monumental.

WINNING ON THE ROAD

Anyone who’s been around this program the last 15 years knows the dangers of trap games on the road. Saturday at Virginia is the definition of that. The Cavaliers will be Miami’s first road conference game, against a team that is always a dark-horse in contending for the ACC Coastal, and have always played the Canes tough.

In his 2 12 years at Miami, coach Mark Richt and his team have lost on the road four times, two of them to unranked teams. Winning at Virginia, and winning in a statement way would be huge for the Canes, with another road game at Boston College looming next Friday.

Also, and not to frighten you guys, but Miami has lost three of their last four games at Virginia.

N’KOSI PERRY STARTING HIS FIRST ROAD GAME

Now at 2-0 as a starter, redshirt quarterback N’Kosi Perry will face a big test on Saturday at Virginia, which will be his first start on the road. Perry is coming off a four-touchdown performance against FSU, though accuracy still is an issue. In 2018, Perry is completing just 56.6% of his passes, though that percentage would’ve gone up if Lawrence Cager didn’t have several drops.

Against the pass, the Cavaliers have been solid at times, and then not so solid. They've only allowed one 300-yard passer all year, but quarterbacks have been able to find the open receiver, allowing Ohio to complete an amazing 83% of their passes against the Cavs secondary.

This will be yet another test as we continue to see Perry progress in his first year.

GETTING THE GROUND GAME BACK ON TRACK

This seems to be a never-ending struggle for the Hurricanes, being consistent with the ground game. After four straight weeks of rushing for over 200 yards collectively, Miami put up just 102 yards on the ground against Florida State.

With both Travis Homer and Deejay Dallas both having 100-yard plus performances this season individually, its not a matter of talent, its there. When the Hurricanes rush for over 200 yards in 2018, they’ve averaged 51 points a game.

Especially with Perry still learning, this Saturday will be that much more important for Homer and Dallas to bring it.

MIAMI’S DEFENSE CONTINUING TO DOMINATE

The Hurricanes defense is absolutely filthy right now, ranking second in the country in total defense. Against FSU, it was the fumble recovery that started the comeback, followed by an interception by Michael Pinckney which led to another Miami touchdown.

Against Virginia, the Turnover Chain will need to make an appearance, as will containment of Virginia’s dual-threat quarterback. Miami also already has 20 sacks this season in just six games, as well as leading the country in tackles for loss.

With no real injuries, and playing the best they have in years, I’d expect another dominating performance by the Miami defense.

GETTING TO KNOW VIRGINIA (OFFENSE)

This is the first time the Cavaliers will be hosting a primetime game at home since 2014, and its also their homecoming weekend, so expect a rowdy crowd in Charlottesville.

Virginia comes into the game not having the same pass happy offense as they did last season, in fact they enter Saturday ranking just 75th in the country in passing, averaging just around 226 passing yards a game.

However, that hasn't stopped the Cavs from letting loose their dual-threat quarterback, Bryce Perkins. Perkins, a transfer from Arizona State, has thrown for 11 touchdowns and four interceptions so far in 2018, as well as 341 yards on the ground, and we know how well Miami does against running quarterbacks. Perkins is also completing 63% of his passes.

Last year, the Miami defense was torched by then Virginia quarterback Kurt Benkert for over 350 yards. The Cavaliers offense enters Saturday with a more profficient offense than they did in 2017, averaging nearly 420 yards of total offense a game.

GETTING TO KNOW VIRGINIA (DEFENSE)

The Cavaliers on defense, much like their offense, has been shaky at times. Still, they’re giving up only 20.4 points a game, and also allowing under 200 yards passing a game, and not even 130 yards rushing a game.

In their only game against a team that was the closest to Miami in terms of talent, NC State, Virginia gave up 35 points. In fact, in their two losses this season, Indiana rushed for over 200 yards, while the Wolfpack racked up 176 on the ground. Since LSU, the Hurricanes offense has averaged 46.4 points in five games.

The defense has also been able to log eight turnovers so far in five games, including five interceptions. Virginia’s secondary will also get a boost if Miami receiver Jeff Thomas is limited due to a knee injury suffered against FSU.

KEY PLAYERS FOR MIAMI

  1. Lawrence Cager. 18 caught two touchdowns against FSU, also had several drops. Cager will get more targets Saturday if Jeff Thomas is limited.
  2. N’Kosi Perry. First road start, enough said.
  3. Bubba Baxa. Yes, you’re reading this right, a kicker is a key player. Baxa, a freshman, missed a kick against FSU, and we’re going to need to him drill kicks as we get deeper into conference play. Saturday will be more preparation, and he’s either going to rise or fall.

KEYS TO VICTORY FOR MIAMI

  1. Contain Virginia’s dangerous dual-threat quarterback, Bryce Perkins.
  2. Move on from FSU.
  3. Put Virginia away early, quiet the crowd. Give us 20 first half points, and it’ll be over.
  4. Big plays. Virginia has allowed only 18 20+ yard plays on the season. Jeff Thomas is averaging 24.75 yards a catch.

Final Words:

This is the kind of game that I grew up watching, that Miami would end up losing, an Al Golden era staple. I won't lie, I'm very nervous for this game. However, like I said in an article earlier this week, this Canes team is different. Look for Virginia to come out swinging, but the Hurricanes will score early, and hold the lead in the second half. 6-1 here we come.

GO CANES!