The Hoos season is nearing its end. At 4-6, these are desperate times. Two wins means a bowl game, and might save Mike London's job. Any other result means no bowl game, and Mike London's departure from Charlottesville.
Luckily for London, this weekend is Miami, the lone ACC team that London has beaten more than once.
This is also senior day for a number of Hoos. Darius Jennings, Henry Coley, and DaQuan Romero are among the seniors who will be honored before the game. Demetrious Nicholson and Dominique Terrell will likely be honored as well, although both should be back next year. While they haven't had much success on the field, all of these guys have given their all to the Hoos and should be celebrated.
Players to Watch
#15 QB Brad Kaaya - One of the top pro-style QBs in the country coming out of HS last year. He's big, strong and has a great arm and great touch. If he has a weakness, it is a lack of athleticism. Can struggle when flushed out of the pocket, but only sacked 15 times in 10 games. Started every game for a 6-4 team. Has completed just under 60% of his passes for 2403 yards and 22 TDs versus 10 INTs.
#8 RB Duke Johnson - One of the top RBs and overall recruits in the nation in 2012. A bit on the small side coming out of HS, but has worked hard to put on enough weight to be an every down RB. Always fast and elusive, but now also big enough to run between the tackles. One of the most dangerous runners the Hoos will have faced all year. Needs 101 yards to become all-time rushing leader at Miami. Currently 9th in the nation in rushing, with 1343 yards this year, averaging over 7 yards per carry. Also a good receiver out of the backfield, and is 2nd on the team with 25 receptions for 310 yards.
#2 RB Joe Yearby - Another top recruit, Yearby was one of the most coveted RBs in the nation last year. Has elite quickness and acceleration, but not the fastest RB around. Probably not as fast at top speed as Johnson, but may get to top speed faster. A bit undersized, but well built and can certainly add some bulk. Uses his small size to fit through holes that another RB may not fit through. Tough to bring down in the open field. Also a decent receiver out of the backfield, but still working on the nuances of pass blocking and route running. Has garnered more action as the season has gone on, and has 75 carries for 455 yards and a TD.
#4 WR Phillip Dorsett - Small, but extremely quick WR. Very athletic, can make people miss in the open field, but can also win a footrace on a deep ball. Big play guy who can line up on the outside or in the slot. Has averaged nearly 18 yards per reception over his 4 years. Has nearly 2000 yards receiving, despite missing time last season and playing sparingly as a freshman. Dorsett is the only Miami WR to start every game this year, and leads the WRs with 23 receptions. He leads the team with 662 yards and is tied with Walford for the team lead with 7 TDs. He also returns kicks now and then. His future, in the NFL.
#6 WR Herb Waters - Another quick, elusive WR, similar to Dorsett. Bigger than Dorsett, but not as fast or as athletic. Came out of HS as a dual-threat QB, and is still learning how to play WR. Struggles to get open against more physical corners. Dangerous with the ball in his hands. Has 57 catches in 3 years, averaging over 15 yards per reception, with 8 TDs. Struggling a bit this year, largely due to lack of opportunity. Only 19 catches for 257 yards and 1 TD.
#46 TE Clive Walford - Unlike the above players, Walford was not a highly recruited prep player. His offer list was impressive, and his backup to Miami was FIU. Well, in 4 years he's racked up 110 catches for 1599 yard and 14 TDs. Those are good numbers for a WR, and outstanding numbers for a TE. He's put on enough weight that he's no longer undersized for a TE. He's fast enough that a LB can't cover him. He's strong enough that a safety can't stop him. He's still not much of a blocker, but he's an outstanding receiving threat for a TE.
Miami's offense relies on Duke Johnson. Everything goes from there. This is similar to what the Hoos saw from Pittsburgh and James Connor. The main difference is that Miami's passing game is more potent than Pitt's. Although, Miami doesn't have anybody as dynamic as Tyler Boyd. What they do have is a very good receiving TE who generates matchup problems, and a fast, deep corps of WRs.
They also have a big, strong, solid OL. This group is led by OC Shane McDermott, a 3 year starter who was 3rd team All-ACC last year. With the stable of RBs they have, they don't need to be great, but they have been, and they are a big part of why the Canes have rushed for 5.5 yards per carry as a team. They've also allowed just 15 sacks.
As a team, the Canes are 36th nationally in rushing, at nearly 200 yards per game. They are 56th nationally in passing, at nearly 250 yards per game. That totals to 42nd nationally in offense. They are 19th in passing efficiency. They are, however, just 46th in scoring offense. This is largely a result of being 108th in 3rd down conversion rate. This is really not all that surprising for a team with a true freshman QB.
Kaaya is still developing as a QB. His progress just over this season is noticeable on the field. He can still be fooled by complex coverages, and he isn't great when outside of the pocket, but he's a deadly passer in the pocket and he's learning with every snap he takes. He is already a good QB. He is going to be a very, very good QB in a couple of years.
Players to Watch
#17 DE Tyriq McCord - A bit of a tweener, could have ended up at OLB or DE. Has put on enough weight to hold his own as a DE. Quick off the snap, good pass rush skills. Can still struggle at the point of attack. Spent last year as a pass-rush specialist, but has become an every down player now. Leads the DLs in tackles (33) and TFLs (4.5).
#52 MLB Denzel Perryman - Very good ILB with good speed, vision and size. Doesn't possess elite speed, but makes up for any lack of speed with good instincts and vision. Moves well in space. Sure tackler. Also very good in zone coverages, as well as being solid on the blitz. Leads the team in tackles by a wide margin (81 - 49). Second on team in TFLs, with 6. Also tied for 2nd in pass breakups. Probably 1st or 2nd round draft pick this year.
#34 OLB Thurston Armbrister - Originally a safety recruit, and there were concerns that he was too small to play safety. Has put on a lot of weight since arriving at Miami to be able to play OLB. Still possesses very good speed for an OLB. Not much of a threat in pass coverage, despite his experience at S. Very aggressive, attacking OLB. Plays in the opponent's backfield. Leads the team in sacks and TFLs. Fourth in tackles.
#5 OLB Jermaine Grace - Undersized LB with outstanding speed. Good coverage skills, both man and zone. Good pass rusher as well. Still learning to play LB consistently. Not a starter, but 2nd on the team in tackles. Third in TFLs and sacks. Plays mostly in passing situations.
#37 CB Ladarius Gunter - Big, tough CB with size and speed. Good in zone coverages, can play man support on bigger receivers, but struggles against quicker guys. Has very strong top-end speed, but not the best lateral quickness. Has just 18 tackles in 10 games. First on team in passes defensed and tied for 1st in INTs.
#2 S Deon Bush - One of the top safeties in the country in 2012. Fast, rangy safety who is still a bit undersized. Very good in coverage, whether two-deep zone or man to man against TEs and RBs. Willing in run support, but lack of brute strength causes problems. Could play CB in a pinch. Third on team with 48 tackles. First on team with 5 forced fumbles. Also has 3 TFLs and 2 sacks.
The Canes play a fairly standard 4-3 defense. They'll bring in an extra pass rusher for certain situations, but they don't even use 5 DBs all that often. Certainly not as often as the Hoos do. The Canes are 31st in total defense. They are 15th in rushing defense and 68th passing defense. They are 52nd in scoring defense.
What Miami does best is swarm to the ball. Their defenses have always been fast and this unit is no different. The DLs run like LBs, the LBs run like DBs and the DBs run like...well they're fast. They aren't small either, as this unit is bigger, as a unit, than the Hoos.
The rush defense is so good because of Perryman. He's been in the middle of this defense seemingly forever, and now he's a senior and one of the best LBs in the nation. He's all over the field, and it seems like he makes every tackle. Because teams can't run, they've been forced to pass. They've been reasonable successful, as the Canes are 55th in passing efficiency defense, which is above average (but barely). The Canes weakness against the pass is a lack of pass rush. In order to generate pressure, they have to blitz, and that has allowed for some easy completions.
While the offense, statistically, looks better than the defense, the Canes losses have all been games where the offense couldn't get it done. Last week, for example, the Canes put up almost 500 yards against FSU, and led late. But in the 2nd half, they couldn't generate any offense and they allowed FSU to come back from a 16 poin deficit. A missed FG and blocked XP didn't help either, especially in a game ultimately decided by 4 points.
That FSU game also shows another problem with the Canes this year. A team long known for outstanding special teams, they are 115th in punt returns and 105th in punting. That's a bad combination for field position. (They are 5th in kickoff returns, however.)
This may not be a big deal against the Hoos, who continue to have terrible special teams. The Hoos offense is not a great matchup for the Canes, because teams generally don't run the ball against Miami, and the Hoos won't win if they can't run.
On the other side the ball, the Canes offense isn't a great matchup for the Hoos either. Generally, teams can't run against the Hoos either. I mentioned the Pitt matchup being similar, and the Hoos shut down James Connor en route to a win. A similar defensive effort this week would go a long way towards another win.
Miami is a better team. That almost goes without saying. They are favored by 6. Still, I'm feeling reasonably confident about this game. I don't know why. It makes no sense. And I'm a sensible guy. So I'm picking the Canes.
Prediction: Miami 24, Hoos 17