Virginia Football ESPN Prime Time: Miami Preview

Sometimes, when a team suffers a demoralizing loss, the best thing is for them to get right back out there and play another game. This doesn't usually work so well in football, because there is usually a full week between games. This week, however, the Hoos face the Miami Hurricane on Thursday night in prime time on ESPN.

Is it a good thing for the Hoos to come right back out and play? I mean, clearly there are things they need to work on after last week. But, then again, they've probably spent the last few days hearing how bad they were, and would like to end all that talk.

Will they come out flat again? Will they come out fired up, looking to shut up the naysayers? Do they have enough to beat a talented Miami team, led by former UVA defensive coordinator Al Golden?

The last time we played down in Miami, we lost 52-17. The time before that, we won 48-0. Will this be another blowout like those? Let's find out.

Virginia on Offense

I wrote last week that the Hoos offense is pretty good. The Hoos decided to prove me wrong by gaining just 249 total yards. Still, the overall numbers are solid. In total offense, the Hoos rank 50th in the nation. Rushing offense is 34th and passing offense is 67th. In passing efficiency, however, the Hoos are 108th. That is what happens when you have 2 inexperienced QBs, and yet you insist on throwing dangerous passes. The Hoos are also 97th in the country in turnover margin, again a situation caused by the poor QB play.

Miami's defense is almost a direct opposite. They rank 61st in total defense, but 83rd in rushing defense and 31st in passing defense. They are 89th in passing efficiency defense. In other words, their running defense is bad enough that teams do not throw much. And because teams do not throw much, they tend to be successful when they do.

This plays to our strengths. Of course, the NCSt defense also played to our strengths, and they shut us down. Miami's defense is led by another familiar face, former UVA assistant coach Mark D'Onofrio.

Going into the season, Miami's starting DTs were junior Marcus Forston and senior Micanor Regis. Forston, however, is out for the season after a knee injury, and Regis was suspended for last week's game after punching UNC's Dwight Jones. Regis started the first 6 games of the season for the Canes, but he is listed as the backup for this week. The starters will be juniors Darius Smith and Adewale Ojomo. I would still expect Regis to get a lot of snaps at DT. Ojomo began the season as a DE, but moved inside when Forston went down. Ojomo, at 270 pounds, is a very good pass rusher, but can be moved around by run blockers. Smith (360 pounds) and Regis (305) are more traditional DTs. By the way, yes you read that right: Darius Smith is listed at 6'2" and 360 pounds.

The ends are senior Marcus Robinson and true freshman Anthony Chickillo. Chickillo became the starter only after Ojomo moved inside, and he has 3.5 sacks already. Robinson leads the team with 4 sacks. Ojomo will also see some time on the outside. All of the Miami DEs are better pass rushers than run stoppers.

Miami has also suffered injury problems at LB. Senior Ramon Buchanan was injured in the 3rd game of the season, and will miss the remainder of the season. That leaves fellow senior Sean Spence as the sole returning LB. Spence is a very good LB and will line up on the weak side. Spence leads the team in tackles, by a wide margin. Since Buchanon's injury, fellow senior Jordan Futch has taken over the strong side linebacker spot. Futch has a lot of speed, but hasn't really adapted that to the field. Sophomore James Gaines starts in the middle, and he has impressed thus far in his first extended game action. True freshman LB Denzel Perryman has played in all 7 games, and is actually the team's fourth leading tackler, despite not starting.  

Miami has been long known for their secondary play, specifically at safety. While there may not be an Ed Reed back there, they have 3 safeties who could likely start for most teams. The starters have been senior JoJo Nicolas and junior Vaughn Telemaque. That leaves senior Ray-Ray Armstrong as the odd man out. Armstrong has been in and out of the lineup due to suspension and injury, but he will still see plenty of snaps this week.

The Canes lost all their CBs last year to the NFL, so they have a pair of first time starters. Senior Mike Williams and junior Brandon McGee will start, but Miami figures to rotate several players at CB. Nicholas may see some time at CB also, now that Armstrong is healthy. One player to look out for is freshman Thomas Finnie. The Miami CBs have totaled all of 0 interceptions this season. The team has just 4, with Nicholas and Telemaque combining for 3 of them.

The Hoos struggled to open up rushing lanes last week, in large part because of NCSt defensive scheme. The Pack vowed to not get beaten to the outside, so they played to force everything back inside. The Hoos never countered with interior runs. This Miami team can be beaten to the perimeter, especially on the strong side. Surely, they know this, and will look to sure up that side of the defense. As usual, Miami's defense is fast, so the perimeter runs may struggle. I would like to see us run the ball up the middle, as we have All-ACC performers at OG and OC. Still, I suspect we will see a lot of the same type of runs we have seen.

As for passing, Miami's CBs are struggling this year, so they can be beaten. Darius Jennings may see a few looks his way, along with Tim Smith. I think the quick passing game can work this week, with slants and the WR screen being particular plays I would like to see. Anything over the middle is going to be dangerous with Miami's talented safeties. Deep balls off play action would be nice, but they should be to the outside, as far away from those safeties as possible.

We've been told that Michael Rocco is going to get a chance to play as long as he is playing well, which may help the team from a consistency standpoint. Against a defense like Miami's, Rocco's accuracy could be a big help, because short passes should be there. If we see David Watford in some packages, using his speed and athleticism, that may help keep the defense honest.

Virginia on Defense

Miami's offense has struggled almost as much as their defense. The offense is currently ranked 81st overall, with the rushing game ranking 62nd and the passing game ranking 80th. The passing efficiency, however, ranks 19th.

The offense is, of course, led by senior QB Jacory Harris. Harris was suspended for the season opener, and has been up and down since. He does have a 12:4 TD:INT ratio, and has completed 62% of his passes. Harris' problem has always been consistency, and he has a tendency to force things. His athletic ability is off the charts for a QB, and he has a very strong arm. He isn't always willing to take what the defense gives, so he will make mistakes. Harris is also obviously a threat to run from the QB position, although he is much more likely to use his legs to buy time, and hasn't really had many big plays running the football. Harris is a big

While the Hoos have split carries between 3 different backs, the Canes have had one guy take a majority of the snaps at HB. Sophomore Lamar Miller has started every game and has rushed for nearly 800 yards and 6 TDs. Junior Mike James, a much bigger back than Miller has been getting short yardage carries, and has 3 TDs and just under 200 yards. Miller is also a receiving threat out of the backfield, as is FB Maurice Hagens.

At WR, Miami has a bunch of talented players with speed and athleticism. Again, this is nothing new for Miami. The starters are Travis Benjamin and Tommy Streeter. Benjamin is the leading receiver, but he is more of a possession guy, while Streeter is the big play guy. Streeter averages over 20 yards per reception and has 5 TDs already. Sophomore Allen Hurns and freshman Phillip Dorsett are two other WRs will see snaps. Hurns, at 6'5", will be a big matchup problem for our CBs. Dorsett is a little speedster who has been getting more and more playing time as the season goes on. Dorsett may see some time returning punts, although Benjamin is the primary returner.

Miami also has some talented TEs. The most talented pass receiver is freshman Clive Walford. Chase Ford and Dyron Dye will also see time, but moreso as blockers. Walford will even split out wide at times.

The Miami OL is big and strong, although not really all that mobile. Junior LT Brandon Washington was All-ACC last year at OG. Opposite him is sophomore RT Seantrel Henderson, a 6'8" 350 pound behemoth. The LG is senior Harland Gunn, who is in his third year of starting. Also returning is senior center Tyler Horn. The RG is sophomore Bruce Linder. Henderson is actually down about 40 pounds from last year, which has made him more mobile. He is still a load, especially in the ground game.

Lamar Miller is the key to the Miami offense. If we can contain him, and force Harris to throw, we can have success. Harris will make mistakes, and our secondary is good enough to capitalize on them. We cannot give up big plays in the passing game though, so the DBs will have to time their chances just right.

Conclusion

Anytime you play in primetime on national TV, it is a big game. Both teams should be hyped, and everybody wants to make an impression. The Canes are probably a deeper, more talented team, and they have been playing well. The Hoos may come into this with a chip on their shoulder after last week's embarrassment.

Any time you face the Canes, you have to be wary of special teams. They have speed all over the place, and can beat you with both punt and kick returns, as well as with kick blocks. Our coverage teams have been pretty good this year, but we've had both FGs and a punt blocked this year. And our returners need to be sure with the football (that means you, Dominique Terrell).

I am really up in the air on this one. I haven't been great with my predictions, but I have a good feeling about this weeks' game, for some unknown reason.

Prediction: Hoos 31, Canes 28 (or we may get blown out)

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