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The Big Preview: Virginia Cavaliers at Miami Hurricanes Football

Can the Hoos right the ship?

Wake Forest v Virginia Photo by Ryan M. Kelly/Getty Images

The ACC did Virginia Football no favors by scheduling back-to-back short weeks early in the season and back-to-back primetime games on national TV. Simply put, Virginia, now coming off two straight losses, needs some time to figure out what it is capable of. And that just can’t happen over a short week and it can’t happen on national TV.

Miami comes into this game off a 69-0 trouncing of Central Connecticut. But the Canes are not where they’d hoped to be at this point in the season. Sure, nobody really expected a win over Alabama, but they hoped to be competitive and were not. The Canes were also not competitive in a home loss to Michigan State and a late FG to take down Appalachian State at home. This is Miami’s first ACC game of the season.

When: Thursday, September 30, 7:30 PM Eastern
Where: Hard Rock Stadium, Miami
TV: ESPN

Virginia on Defense

Defense? What’s that? The Hoos have not played much defense over the past two weeks. They did not force a single punt against UNC, and Wake Forest did not punt until the fourth quarter with the game well out of reach.

UNC averaged 10 yards per play. Wake averaged 6.5 yards per play, but over 7 yard per play prior to their final three clock-burning drives. For reference, BYU and Alabama led the nation last season at 7.7 yards per play. Ten yards per play is insane. Virginia’s defense is making good offenses look like Alabama.

This is after two pretty very good defensive outings in the first two games. Maybe the Tribe and the Illini aren’t world-beaters, but Virginia completely shut those teams down. Why?

Could it be that in both of those games, Virginia was facing a backup QB? In the opener, Virginia faced a true freshman playing his first ever game. Some poor QB play may have been masking Virginia’s defensive woes. The last two QBs have made the plays that Virginia’s first two opponents weren’t making.

Well, Virginia gets another backup QB this week, as D’Eriq King is unlikely to play. That means Virginia gets redshirt freshman Tyler Van Dyke, who has all of 14 career pass attempts, most of which came last week against Central Connecticut State, which coincidentally is where he grew up.

Van Dyke was a four-star QB and has a lot of talent. But he was not tested against CCSU, in large part because the Canes rushed for 322 yards at over seven yards per attempt. That will have to be the focus for the Wahoo defense, shutting down Cam’Ron Harris and the running game.

This is a zone-read look, although it may be a straight hand-off. Van Dyke is not a runner, at least not at the level D’Eriq King is. Sam Hartman didn’t end up running much, but after seeing Sam Howell run all over the Hoos, it’ll be a nice change to not see a mobile QB there.

Van Dyke had 270 yards passing with three TDs. But the Canes kept his throws simple and short for the most part.

These two plays accounted for more than half of Van Dyke’s passing yards, and totaled about 10 yards in the air. Miami’s skill position guys were just too good for CCSU. We’ll see if Virginia’s defense can keep up.

At RB, Harris leads the way. At WR, it’s Mike Harley and Oklahoma transfer Charleston Rambo. That duo has over 40% of the team’s receptions thus far. But Miami has so much talent at WR, including a number of underclassmen. One, freshman Romello Brinson, made one of the best catches you’ll ever see last week against CCSU.

One way to slow down an offense is getting pressure on the QB. This is something Virginia has not been able to do. Through four games, the Hoos have six sacks. That’s 98th in the nation. They are 108th in TFLs.

This play is a three man rush, with eight in coverage. Sure, Hartman spends a lot of time in the pocket and it’s tough to cover somebody for that long. But there’s no UVA player even on camera when the ball arrives. How does he get that open? Where is the defense?

What can you say about the defense the last two weeks?

The DL has to be better. The DBs have to be better. And frankly, the defensive coaching staff needs to be better because right now this entire unit is a disaster.

Virginia on Offense

The offense put up over 500 yards again, but struggled when it mattered. On their opening drive, Virginia reached the five yard line and could not come away with points. Should they have kicked? Maybe. That said, after Wake’s opening drive, maybe Bronco knew he wasn’t going to win the game with FGs. But then the decision to kick the FG on fourth down from the four yard line on the very next drive belies that idea. Also the second time was fourth and 2, as opposed to fourth and goal from the five. The inconsistency in the decision making there is troubling.

Five red zone drives and 17 points. That’s just not going to get it done. Virginia ranks 112th in the nation in red zone efficiency. Much of that is due to the lack of a consistent running game. Passing in the red zone is tougher because there’s less space for the defense to cover.

For the game, Virginia had 27 rush attempts (includes sacks and scrambles) and 59(!) pass attempts. Yes, they were down and playing catchup. But three RBs averaged 6.6 yards per carry, but saw just 10 carries. Total. The RBs need to be more involved. The lack of running game allows the opposition to focus on getting to Armstrong. Wake Forest sacked Armstrong six times, a week after UNC had three sacks.

This is not entirely the fault of the OL. It’s an empty backfield with two TEs. After the two TEs go out on pass routes, there isn’t any backup for the OLs. But two guys are on Wake’s NT and nobody picks up the blitzer. This is a fail from the offense as a whole. Poor play design, poor reads and poor execution. Nobody seems to read blitz. There’s no hot route, the OL completely misses the inside rusher and Armstrong seems surprised by the pass rusher.

Virginia opened with four runs in the first seven plays. The second drive opened with seven consecutive passes. The third drive was eight pass plays and a single run (on second and short). Yes, the Hoos were down 17-3 at this point. But there was still a lot of time remaining, and some runs would take pressure off Armstrong and maybe give the defense a chance to rest.

On the bright side, we have started to see more and more passes to the RBs. Mike Hollins has six receptions the past two weeks and looks comfortable catching passes out of the backfield. That’s something Michigan State used very well. It’s an easy way to get the RB out to the edge.

This is a simple swing pass, but just a poor job tackling on the edge from Miami. Virginia’s red zone offense has been predictable with a lot of up-the-middle runs and three step drops. No play action, though that may not work anyway since they can’t run. No RPOs, no bootlegs, no screen passes. Have we seen a single screen pass this season?

The best thing about this Virginia offense is the downfield passing. Armstrong has a cannon, and he has receivers who are able to create separation. Obviously, that starts with Dontayvion Wicks, who is sixth in the nation in receiving.

This play starts off poorly, as Armstrong isn’t ready for the snap. But it doesn’t matter. Just a tremendous throw from Armstrong and a tremendous catch from Wicks. Two guys having very big years for a team that needs all the help they can get right now.

Michigan State QB has time to throw and his man is very open downfield. One solution to the red zone struggles would be to score from outside the red zone. Some big plays, especially on the road, could really benefit the Hoos. Miami has been beaten by the long ball a few times this year, and they’ll be ready for Wicks. That should help open up the middle for Jelani Woods and Billy Kemp, among others.

The Virginia offense has really not been the problem during the two game losing streak. Sure, there were struggles last week, including the red zone issues. But the way the defense is playing, it puts an awful lot of pressure on the offense to be perfect.

Conclusion

Look, the Hoos are likely not as good as they were in the opening two weeks, and likely not as bad as they’ve looked the past two weeks. But getting things worked out with a short week, especially on the road? Unlikely.

Miami has also struggled more than expected. The Canes offense has struggled, in part due to D’Eriq King’s injury. But their defense has struggled as well. If Virginia can clean things up on offense, especially with the OL, they will score some points. But can they keep Miami off the scoreboard, on the road, in primetime?

Prediction: Canes 38, Hoos 27 (season record: 3-1)