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Behind Enemy Lines: Q&A with State of the U

We chatted with our friends from South Beach before Saturday night’s big matchup.

NCAA Football: Florida State at Miami Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Virginia Football welcomes the Miami Hurricanes to Charlottesville on Saturday night for a game under the lights at Scott Stadium. The game is huge in deciding standings in the ACC’s Coastal Division and we caught up with Cam Underwood (@UnderwoodSports) from our friends at State of the U to discuss the matchup.

You can check out my answers to Cam’s questions here.

Streaking the Lawn: Woooweee. A win is a win, but things got a little stressful last week against Florida State. What were Miami’s issues in that game, and what is your confidence level with the Canes at this point in the season?

State of the U: Miami’s issues against FSU were multiple. First, FSU always tries harder against Miami than other teams. Players and coaches from both sides have said as much relative to the effort given in this rivalry game, so that increased FSU’s performance in the game....for a time. Next, the early game script for FSU worked flawlessly. They schemed around their terrible OL and took advantage of all opportunities to score. Next, the Noles got some timely turnovers and penalties by Miami to either give them the ball, or extend their drives.

Conversely, Miami came out flat on offense, and could not block FSU’s DL. Because of this, the run game wasn’t able to maintain their previous performance (200+ yards in 4 consecutive games entering last week), and QB N’Kosi Perry was routinely facing pressure, one such play ending in a strip sack. And, because of the early script being different than what FSU had put on film and effective, the defense, Miami’s calling card unit, was a bit slow to get things under control.

Even with all the things that went wrong early against FSU, my confidence level in Miami moving forward the rest of the season is high. Miami righted the ship against the Noles and had a big 20 point comeback win, are on a 5 game winning streak, have one of the best defenses in America, dynamic playmakers all over the field, and more talent on their roster than any team they will face the rest of the way. And, if times get hard, as they sometimes do, Miami’s coaches have shown the ability to make game-changing adjustments during games to help turn the tide in Miami’s favor. It took a supremely talented team such as FSU to challenge Miami. I don’t think anybody else on the schedule this regular season will be able to match that performance.

STL: N’Kosi Perry has been the guy for a few weeks now. How would you evaluate his performance so far? What’s the key to slowing him down?

SOTU: N’Kosi Perry is the guy at QB, and that makes me so happy. He has the kind of talent a Miami QB should possess, and he’s showing the ability to turn that talent into in-game production. I am very pleased with his performance thus far. He’s tied for 2nd in the ACC in TDs, 2nd by himself in passer rating, and showing great feel for the speed of the game. Perry has a strong arm, and can make any throw you want, and has done that multiple times through his first 2 starts (and another nearly-full game played against FIU).

The key to slowing Perry down is getting pressure on him. I know, that’s what people say about every QB, but it’s true. In addition to getting pressure on him, disguising defenses is something teams can do to rattle Perry. The redshirt freshman is able to read defenses well enough -- the “check with me” offensive mechanic where he looks to the sideline pre-snap is likely an aid in this area -- and has manipulated safeties and linebackers with his eyes (looking them off of where he eventually wants to go with the ball) and made big plays after doing so. I would say taking away the run game would affect Perry’s passing ability, but FSU largely did that and he simply threw for 4 TDs and 0 INTs in a 20 point comeback win. So, try that if you like, I guess.

STL: The Miami defense made life miserable for UNC and hassled Francois a ton. Who is going to be the biggest problem for Virginia when it comes to dealing with the Miami defense?

SOTU: Miami’s defense has 2 things that are elite and will cause problems for any team: a DOMINANT defensive line, and lockdown secondary.

Miami’s defensive line is a major factor in Miami being 1st nationally with 72 tackles for loss, 1st nationally averaging 12 TFLs per game (only 1 other team averages double digits), 1st nationally allowing 19.77% opponent 3rd down conversions, 2nd nationally in total defense (237.3 yards per game), and 2nd nationally in yards per play allowed (3.81).

Along the defensive line, DT Gerald Willis III is 2nd nationally with 12.5 TFLs on the year (the same number that Warren Sapp had FOR THE ENTIRE SEASON when he won the Lombardi and Nagurski awards in 1994), and DE Jonathan Garvin is tied for 3rd nationally with 11.5 TFLs. On top of those guys, DE Joe Jackson is a beast (7.5 TFL, 5.0 sacks, potential 1st round NFL draft pick), and there’s more where that came from. This unit has been elite and the trio of players I’ve mentioned (and others off the bench) have been unblockable this year. That’s where UVa will struggle against Miami, because EVERYBODY struggles there against Miami.

In the secondary, Safeties Jaquan Johnson and Sheldrick Redwine team with Cornerbacks Michael Jackson and Trajan Bandy to form a tough, stifling group. Miami is only allowing 137.3 yards per game in the air, and held FSU to 130 yards last week. With STRIKER Romeo Finley and several other rotation players also factoring in, Miami’s secondary is one of the best units in the country.

Oh, and that’s not to mention 3 linebackers who have all been starting for their entire college careers making plays going forward in the run game or blitzing the passer, and tipping or intercepting balls in the passing game too.

In short, Miami presents problems for their opponent on every level of the defense. To fully account for one thing, the opposition has to then give Miami the advantage somewhere else. And, as has been seen by the elite performance so far this season, Miami is able to take full advantage of any opening the opposing offense gives them.

STL: The Hoos have some dynamic offensive pieces in Bryce Perkins, Jordan Ellis, and Olamide Zaccheaus. How do you think Miami slows down the trio?

SOTU: As I detailed above, I think Miami slows down UVa’s offense by being themselves, which is a fast, penetrating, hard hitting unit that has stifled every team they played (first 20 minutes of the LSU game notwithstanding).

Zaccheaus is a fast, shifty player in space, and he gave Miami problems last year (6 catches, 67 yards, TD) so I’m interested to see who is assigned to cover him (I’d go with Bandy, personally) and how that matchup works out. No single RB, regardless of the player, really scares me this year. Well, other than AJ Dillon from BC, but we don’t see him this week.

The wildcard is Perkins. It is pretty widely known that for all the good performance and stats, a Manny Diaz coordinated defense will struggle to deal with a mobile QB. Such has been the case throughout Diaz’s coaching career. So, with Perkins’ ability to avoid pressure in the pass game, and get involved in the QB run game, I’m on alert to see how this works out. In the past, teams have used mobile QBs to really hurt Miami, so we’ll see if UVa is able to do the same.

STL: This is actually a pretty big game for the Coastal, under the lights at Scott Stadium. How do you think this one plays out? Who ya got?

SOTU: I know Miami is only a 6pt road favorite in this game, so this won’t be a super easy win. Yet and still, I think Miami is the better team, the best team Virginia has faced this year, and that will show itself to be true on the scoreboard.

Final Score: Miami 34 Virginia 20

Huge thanks to Cam and State of the U for taking the time out to answer questions for us! You can catch the Hoos in action on Saturday night at 7pm on ESPN2.