Coming off a bye week and fresh off their first loss of the season, the Virginia Cavaliers get back into ACC play with a Friday night road clash against the Miami Hurricanes. The Canes are 2-3, and coming off a crazy loss at home to Virginia Tech. The Hokies had jumped out to a 28-0 lead in the first half. Miami clawed their way back to tie it at 35 (and would’ve had a lead if not for a missed PAT). Virginia Tech won 42-35, though Miami had a chance to tie at the end.
That is the same Hokies who were coming off a 45-10 loss to the Blue Devils in Blacksburg. So is Miami that bad? Is Duke that good? As with most of the ACC Coastal right now, we simply don’t know.
Miami came into the season with some hype and promptly fell on their faces with a loss to UNC (following a good showing against Florida in their opener). UNC has looked better than expected, holding Clemson to 21 points in a close loss. And that game was in Chapel Hill. But UNC is still far from the national power than Miami aspires to be.
Since Miami joined the ACC in 2004, the Hoos and Canes have played annually and the Canes are ahead 8-7 in the series. Virginia has won just twice in Miami, the last time coming in 2011. Last year, the Hoos knocked off then #16 Miami 16-13 behind a tremendous effort from the defense and the breakout performance of PK Brian Delaney.
Virginia on Defense
Miami began with their fourth starting QB in as many seasons, redshirt freshman Jarren Williams. Williams was the #5 dual threat QB in the nation in 2018, with offers from Alabama, Ohio State and pretty much everybody else in the nation.
It’s rare for a freshman to unseat a sophomore as the starter. But last year’s starter, N’Kosi Perry struggled. He completed barely over 50% of his passes, and averaged under 100 yards passing per game, splitting time with senior Malik Rosier. Perry is talented, but Williams is on another level.
Through four games, it looked like Williams was the right call. Miami was just 2-2, but Williams was completing over 72% of his passes for 8.8 yards per attempt. Those are pretty good numbers, especially for a freshman. Never mind that Miami’s wins came against Bethune Cookman and Central Michigan. Williams put up decent numbers against Florida (19-30 for 214 and a TD).
Then last week, Williams...struggled. On the bright side, he threw seven passes, and zero hit the ground. On the down side, three of them were caught by Virginia Tech defenders. Williams was pulled at that point, 4-for-7 for 47 yards and three interceptions. Perry came in and threw for 422 yards (28/47, 59.5%) and four TDs. It really came as no surprise that Perry has been named the starter this week. (Williams is apparently dealing with a shoulder injury, and he’s actually listed atop the depth chart.)
Regardless of who is taking snaps, they’ve got a lot of weapons to turn to. The Canes have scored 21 TDs this year and nine of them are 20 yards or longer. This is a big play offense. That begins with RB DeeJay Dallas. Another big time recruit (16th RB in the 2017 class), Dallas can do it all. He’s compact at 5’10” 215, he can catch the ball out of the backfield and Miami will even use his out of the Wildcat one some plays.
This is a poorly executed screen. Dallas does all the work by himself, including an incredible one-handed catch.
This is also Dallas doing all the work. How many tackles does he break on this play? Why are no Florida defenders wrapping up? Florida’s defense is one of the best in the country. Hopefully, Virginia’s LBs have seen these plays and know that you have to wrap Dallas up.
At receiver, as always, Miami has a plethora of talented guys. The leading receiver is actually sophomore tight end Brevin Jordan. As a freshman, Jordan had 32 catches, but just 9 yards per catch. That’s low, even for a TE. This year, he’s up to 16 yards per catch, which is outstanding for a TE. Jordan was the #20 recruit in the nation last year according to ESPN.
The Canes will almost always have at least three WR on the field. The starters are K.J. Osborn, Mike Harley and Jeff Thomas, though a few others will rotate in. Thomas led in receiving last year, with 35 catches for 563 yards. He’s got 21 catches this year, but for just 256 yards (12 ypc).
The Miami offense ranks 38th in the country, averaging almost 450 yards per game. However, if you remove the Bethune Cookman game, that drops to just 413 yards per game. They racked up 563 yards against VT last week, but most of that came after falling behind 28-0. In the first quarter, they totaled 59 yards on five drives. That included 4 TOs. The four INTs they threw to the Hokies were the first four of the season. But they’ve also fumbled nine times, losing only 3.
The turnovers, along with penalties and sacks, have really killed the Canes’ offense. The Canes are 125th nationally in penalty yards per game, and dead last in sacks allowed. The Gators had 10 sacks, the Hokies had seven and UNC and CMU each had four.
The Canes’ OL is incredibly young. There’s one junior, two sophomores and two freshmen. That’s generally not a recipe for success, as Wahoo fans well know. The OL has struggled in particular with blitzes.
UNC brings five, with the edge rusher coming clean. The Center tries to pick him up, but can’t get there in time. We know Bronco and company can dial up some clever pressure packages. We’ve seen a lot of DB blitzes. In the 2-4-5 packages we’ve seen so much this year, the OL simply does not know which LBs will generate the pass rush.
Right now, Virginia has the #10 defense in the nation, just ahead of Florida. The Gators held Miami to 301 yards, piled up 10 sacks and allowed just 2/13 on third down conversions. If Virginia’s defense has a similar performance, the Hoos have a good chance to win.
Virginia on Offense
In the last game, Virginia offense struggled to protect Bryce Perkins. Eight sacks and three forced fumbles later, you have to assume the Virginia offense will undergo some changes.
One of those changes should be to get Bryce Perkins out of the pocket more. Perkins’ mobility has seemed less than 100% for much of this season, and he’s hasn’t really fared well throwing outside the pocket. That may explain why Robert Anae didn’t use more bootlegs or waggles against the Irish. Once it became clear that the OL couldn’t keep Notre Dame’s pass rushers out of the pocket, wasn’t it time to move Perkins away from that pocket? Hopefully, the bye week has opened up Anae’s (and Bronco’s) eyes.
Miami’s defense obviously did not look good last week, allowing 42 points. In truth, the offense put them in poor positions throughout the first half. They could’ve done better in the red zone (5-5 TDs). And then they let the Hokies drive 63 yards in two minutes for the game winning score.
That drive was essentially two plays.
The first is good coverage but a better catch. The second is a blown coverage, which plagued them all night. Dalton Keene had 5 catches for 73 yards and 3 TDs. He had 4 catches for 27 yards coming into the game. Here’s another one. Also no one on him.
Both of these are plays in which Miami brings pressure up the middle. It’s impossible to know if somebody lost him or if he was simply left alone, but Tanner Cowley has picked up his game the past few weeks, so look for him on similar plays.
That first play from the Hokies is single coverage on the outside for the Canes. They use a lot of single coverage, which has always been a staple of Miami defense because they always have good DBs. This year, there’s Trajan Bandy at CB (third team All-ACC last year), but the rest of the unit is young and untested. Bandy is a ballhawk who picked off three passes last year and also recovered two fumbles. But he can be beaten with double moves, as he looks to make the big play.
The Wahoo WRs were fantastic against Notre Dame’s single coverage, with both Dubois and Reed going for over 100 yards on 9 catches apiece. Miami’s DBs are not better than Notre Dame’s, so if Perkins has time to throw, look for another big game from the WR duo.
The rest of Miami’s defense is a veteran unit. All three starting LBs are seniors, led by Shaquille Quarterman, who is the best player on this defense (and maybe team). He was a top recruit and first-team All-ACC last year. He’s started 44 straight games.
The DL rotates a number of guys, but the starters include three juniors and a senior. That rotation includes freshman Gregory Rousseau, their leader with 4 sacks.
The key for the Hoos is the OL. This isn’t exactly a new idea. If they play like they did against Notre Dame, the Hoos have little chance on offense. But if they improve, even just a little bit, there should be chances for Perkins to make plays down the field. If the OL improves enough to run on the nation’s #15 run defense, that would be amazing.
#UVA coach Bronco Mendenhall said he anticipates expanding the role of true freshman RB Mike Hollins.— Mike Barber (@RTD_MikeBarber) October 7, 2019
Wayne Taulapapa is a very good all-around back. He can block, he can catch and he has good vision. He doesn’t have the speed or power than Hollins has. Fans have been clamoring for more Hollins since he ran all over William and Mary, and may get their wish. But without improved run blocking, it won’t matter who’s back there.
Despite all of Miami’s high-level recruits, they simply haven’t been very good for most of this year. They’ve looked good in stretches, but the whole product has been missing. You could say the same about Virginia’s offense, but the Wahoo defense has been consistently outstanding.
The two OLs are big keys. Again, that probably isn’t groundbreaking. It’s true about most games, but in this case, both OLs have been bad. Whichever one comes out and performs better likely win the game.
If this game was in Charlottesville, with the crowd behind the Hoos, I think they’d win. But in Miami, and perhaps a bit flat early on off the bye week, there’s too much going against the Hoos. I hope I’m wrong.
Prediction: Miami 21, Virginia 17 (My record this season: 5-0)