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2018 Virginia Football Opponent Preview: Miami Hurricanes

UVA hosts the U following a bye week

NCAA Football: Orange Bowl-Wisconsin vs Miami Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

When the Virginia Cavaliers took a 28-14 lead after a Kurt Benkert touchdown pass to Daniel Hamm, it appeared Bronco Mendenhall’s first signature win would come sooner than expected...until it didn’t. The then 3rd ranked Hurricanes responded as they so often did last year, transforming into a different team when the situation demanded it. The U would go on to score 30 unanswered points, spoiling the upset bid. Still, 2017’s installment of Miami-Virginia proved that a competitive game was possible.

2017 Season: 10-3 (7-2 ACC)

It was a breakout season for Mark Richt in his second year at the helm in Miami. While the Canes stumbled down the stretch, losing their final three games to Pitt, Clemson, and Wisconsin in the Orange Bowl, the team’s 10-0 start that included victories over Florida State, Virginia Tech, and Notre Dame (a thumping that ESPN featured on their College GameDay), made people wonder: is the U back?

Players to watch:

DB Jaquan Johnson: You might best remember Miami’s defense from last year’s most famous piece of college football jewelry: the turnover chain. In the 30 turnovers created last season, Johnson accounted for a significant portion, earning four interceptions, three forced fumbles, and two fumble recoveries. He also led the team with 96 tackles overall. Bottom line, the Hoos will always have to account for him in the secondary.

NCAA Football: Virginia at Miami
Jaquan Johnson
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

DL Joe Jackson: Just a sophomore in 2017, Jackson was a problem up front. He led the defensive line with 59 tackles, 11.5 of which were for loss. Having lost four impact linemen, two of whom - RJ McIntosh and Kendrick Norton - were taken in April’s NFL Draft, Jackson’s role will only continue to rise.

QB Malik Rosier: Rosier is very difficult to figure out. At times, he was unstoppable, and then, he couldn’t make wide open throws (leading to a benching in the team’s first loss against Pittsburgh). Through 10 games, Rosier boasted an impressive passer rating of 142.28, but, in averaging his final three contests, that number stood at just 92.0. Whichever quarterback shows up in week 6 will go a long in way determining how the game plays out.

WR Ahmmon Richards: To be fair to Rosier, many of the key pieces that surrounded him suffered injuries throughout the year. Ahmmon Richards was one of these players, who, after breaking the Miami record for most receiving yards by a freshman, faded in and out of the lineup throughout 2017 thanks to injury. Richards was still able to grab 24 passes for 439 yards and three touchdowns before knee problems ended his season for good. We’ll have to see if the star wideout can remain healthy, as that seems to be the only thing holding him back.

Mascot grade: A

NCAA Football: Orange Bowl-Wisconsin vs Miami Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

On top of having one of the best nicknames in the biz - the Hurricanes - the school’s mascot is equally as iconic. The animal portrayed is an ibis, and let me tell you, this bird is awesome. Ibis’ are native marsh birds to the area that, according to Miami’s website, are “the last sign of wildlife to take shelter before a hurricane hits, giving warning that danger is imminent.”

One of the best stories about the mascot stems from an incident in 1989 when, prior to a game against rival Florida State, Sebastian, the name of Miami’s ibis, was nearly arrested over a fire extinguisher. Read all about it here.

Analytics:

Bill Connelly’s 130-Team Preview, 2018

(This is a radar graph. It shows you where a team ranked in various categories. Closer to outer edge = better rank. Lots of area = elite unit.)

Miami had a well-rounded defense in 2017, but they were especially strong up front, ranking fourth in defensive line havoc rate (forced fumbles divided by total plays, tackles for loss, and passes defended). Outside of Jackson, as mentioned above, however, most of that pressure is gone. That means the line, while still chock full of talent, is inexperienced, at least in comparison to the team’s absolutely loaded back end. Bryce Perkins and the run option, along with Jordan Ellis, will need to take advantage.

Prediction:

The S&P+ projects Miami to win all of its 12 games this season. Against Virginia, they have, as it stands, an 82% chance of victory. While I remain unsure of Rosier’s development, I still expect him to be competent. Combine that with a defense that will be more than capable, and the U will be a tough out once more. This spells troubles for UVA, especially given the current uncertainties surrounding UVA’s offense. I don’t think this one will be close by the time the second half starts.

Score: Miami, 38-14.