Virginia and Miami.
A tale of two teams at a crossroads.
Based solely on how the 2019 season ended, one would quickly assume the Cavaliers would be the team on the rise, while the Hurricanes would be heading in a strongly different direction. Yet, it is the team from Virginia that must rediscover its identity, as team leader and the ACCs most productive quarterback over two years, Bryce Perkins, has left for the NFL. Meanwhile, the Hurricanes, once again, are the talk of the ACC offseason, as they overhauled their offensive staff, bringing in Rhett Lashlee to lead the offense. Along with Lashlee is the injection of dynamic playmaker, Quarterback D’Eriq King, to drive the Canes offense with Lashlee.
While The country is waiting to see what Manny Diaz can do in year two with his new weapons, Bronco Mendenhall has proven that change will not keep him from fielding a disciplined and scrappy bunch. Each year under Mendenhall the Cavaliers have shown improvement, from 2-10 his first season to 9-5 last season, claiming the ACC Coastal and nearly defeating the Florida Gators in the 2019 Capital One Orange Bowl.
In order to continue that trend Virginia will have to compete with a scheduling change, due to Covid-19, that will have them playing away versus the Canes in back to back seasons. Last year, the Canes bested Perkins and crew 17-9.
Over the course of the Cavaliers and Hurricanes head to head history, the Hurricanes are a healthy 10-7 versus Virginia, including wins in 5 of the last 7 matchups. The home game mentioned earlier for the Canes will loom large, as they have secured 7 of the 10 wins in Miami. The last time Virginia defeated the Hurricanes in Miami, in 2012, it was in a 41-40 stunner, in a game totaling 900 total yards between the two teams.
In a season that really had few highlights, the Hurricanes provided a momentary spark during the 2019 season with a 17-9 win in a defensive stand off. The Hurricanes were coming off a come from behind loss to rival Virginia Tech that saw the offense come alive under replacement QB N’Kosi Perry, after starter Jarren Williams was forced out by injury. Similarly the Cavaliers lost the week prior to Notre Dame, 20-35, despite a strong effort by QB Perkins.
In a revenge game following Perry’s bench inducing loss in 2018 to Virginia, Perry did his part to stake the Canes an early 7-0 in the first on a 17 yard screen pass to Deejay Dallas. The defense sank its teeth in for much of the first half, terrorizing the Virginia offensive line and keeping Bryce Perkins off kilter. The defense would come up big on a 4th and 1, stuffing the attempt in their territory on a big tackle for loss by All American Greg Rousseau.
The early touchdown for the Canes would prove to be for much of the game for the pair of defensive squads, as the two would combine on 9 punts throughout the game. It wasn’t until a late run by Perry with 3 minutes left in the game that another touchdown would be scored. The Cavaliers would try to mount a late drive with a minute to go, but would fall short, ending the game on a pair of hail marys heaves into the endzone.
Though the departure of Perkins as a large deduction has been highlighted, so too should the departures of leading receiver Hasise Dubois and Joe Reed. The receiving core for the Cavaliers will be a battle to watch in the fall, especially as the team was not able to hold spring practices at all due to the Coronavirus shut down. At quarterback it will be Brennan Armstrong taking the reigns at signal caller. The former 3 star recruit from Shelby, Oh is a dual threat, but lacks the same dynamic playmaking abilities of Perkins. What may help the new qb is the stability of the offensive line. Not only will they return 7 experienced players they add grad transfer Alex Gellerstedt from Penn State. The running back room should be busier this year without Perkins, and that responsibility will fall on Willy Taulapapa who led the team in rushing touchdowns with 12.
The Cavaliers will once again lean heavily on it’s defense, and with 15 returning starters should have an improved group that was 62nd in the country in points scored against. The linebackers are a strength and active, hitting for the majority of the sacks on a team that totaled 46,which was 9th in the nation. 6.5 of those sacks come from star Noah Taylor. Another 3.5 come from behind the linebacking core, from leading tackler and defensive leader Joe Blount. The senior looks to lead a secondary with very experienced talent into ACC play. All this will be necessary as the defensive line is very young and inexperienced, highlighted by the departure of Eli Hanback.
Virginia offense vs. Miami defense
Brennan Armstrong will be leading his team against a nasty Hurricanes defense that loves to live in the backfield. As most coaches have done in the past versus’ Diaz’s defenses, the Cavaliers will try to get Armstrong motioned out to his strong side and away from the rush to allow his vision to be better downfield and add larger run lanes. Additionally, with Bronco Mendenall describing the QB as “Taysom Hill-like,” the Cavaliers will have plenty of designed runs with multiple tight ends and pass read options for the new starter. Manny’s defense will be able to counter with an unusual blend of big and fast defenders that can keep the sophomore caged for most of the game. If the Canes can hit him in the mouth early and often to show Armstrong that his size won’t matter, it may be a long game for the young man.
Virginia defense vs. Miami offense
As mentioned earlier the Cavs defense likes to rush the pocket early and often, but unlike what the Hurricanes were able to do on offense, converting more rushers to take points off the board, the Cavs will leave themselves open to big plays. At first glance an experienced back 7 should allow that methodology to fly, but a second glance shows an inexperience front 4 that will allow too much time and too little coverage if the rush doesn’t arrive on time. With Lashlee’s penchant to pass quick and advance to the next play even quicker, the defense will be under pressure all game to keep pace. Rushing your defenders will lead to missed lanes and assignments, where Miami should pounce on the aggressive but under prepared Cavaliers.
Ultimately this is a tale, once again of two teams heading in two different directions. The Hurricanes maturity at nearly every position will give them an edge in execution. The talent level on top of that will make this one get ugly quick. Look for the King and the tight ends to eat in this game with a big first half. The defense should have little to no problem corralling the young Armstrong and keeping on the turf for most of the day. A five touchdown first half and a big display by the Canes front 4 turn this one into a laugher.