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From the Upper Deck: Cavaliers host Miami

Virginia is 2-7 and out of the bowl picture. Can it upset Miami?

NCAA Football: Pittsburgh at Virginia Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

With Virginia eliminated from bowl consideration (don’t bring me that 5-7 bowl eligibility mess), we’ve reached a point in the season that could tell us the most about the progress of the “culture change” Bronco Mendenhall is trying to instill in the UVA program. Virginia’s opponent this weekend, the Miami Hurricanes, is another team trying to find itself after an offseason coaching change. The last three weeks have been a mixed bag for UVA: a near upset of Louisville sandwiched between deflating losses to UNC and Wake Forest. The Miami game gives Mendenhall’s team a chance to show that it’s still fighting to improve despite the lack of postseason possibilities. Here’s what we’ll be looking for...From the Upper Deck.

1. Improvement on third down – Neither Miami nor Virginia have had much success on third down this season. The Hurricanes and Cavaliers rank 12th and 14th in the ACC, respectively, while on offense. The picture isn’t any better on defense: Miami has allowed opponents to convert third downs 37.5% of the time, while Virginia has allowed opponents to convert third downs 44.4% of the time. It will be crucial for UVA to control the ball as Miami has decent big play ability. The Hoos probably won’t look to grind out the game, so drives will live and die by Virginia’s third down conversion rate. Ultimately though the game will come down to which team can be better than their season average.

2. Cover, cover, cover – Miami isn’t going to run the ball. Only Virginia and North Carolina have run the ball fewer times this season than the ‘Canes. Despite that, Miami still ranks in the top half of the ACC in most offensive categories. The Hurricanes will look to get yards in bunches opting more for big plays through the air. Therefore it will be imperative that UVA’s secondary is locked in. The key will be to keep Miami’s receivers in front of them. I think we’ll see Quin Blanding making lots of plays in coverage and in open field tackles. Finally, Virginia will have to pay special attention to...

3. Keep an eye on Richards – Ahmmon Richards is exactly the type of wide receiver who should be salivating at the chance to face the Cavaliers. Virginia has been susceptible to big plays through the air all season, and Richards is a big-play receiver. The talented freshman leads the Hurricanes in receiving yards with 632. But what is most impressive is that he has done that on 27 receptions for a whopping 20.4 yards per catch. He’s the type of player that gives UVA fans nightmares of a wide open go route streaking down the sideline towards the cheering visitors section in the southeast corner of Scott Stadium. While each of Miami’s receivers is equally dangerous, it’s Richards is that should be the one the Hoos look to contain.

Kickoff is at 2:00 P.M. from Scott Stadium. The game will be televised by RSN. Make sure you check back Sunday and see how we did.