Raise your hand if this season is going as you expected. Not a lot of hands up in the audience. I’m not sure many Wahoo fans envisioned a start to the season quite like this.
UVA (1-3, 1-3), coming off a seventeen point loss at Wake Forest last Saturday, is now mired in a three-game losing streak.
Things don’t get much easier this weekend. The Hoos travel to 11th ranked Miami (4-1, 3-1) for a primetime matchup. Last weekend, the Hurricanes righted things against Pitt after suffering their only loss to date at Clemson the week before.
Kickoff is scheduled for 8:00 PM at Hard Rock Stadium.
The Hoos will break out another combination for the first time this season. This week, it will be a classic look with the blue-white-white option. I’m a big fan of this combo.
𝚂𝚊𝚝𝚞𝚛𝚍𝚊𝚢'𝚜🔥 𝙱𝚞𝚜𝚒𝚗𝚎𝚜𝚜 𝙰𝚝𝚝𝚒𝚛𝚎:
— Virginia Football (@UVAFootball) October 22, 2020
For the history buffs, the Hoos wore this uniform combo when they humiliated Miami 48 to 0 when closing out the Orange Bowl in 2007.
UVA and Miami have a relatively young history between the programs. The two squads had not played prior to the 1996 Carquest Bowl, a 31 to 21 win for the Canes.
— Winsipedia (@Winsipedia) October 21, 2020
This will be the 18th matchup all time between the Hoos and Hurricanes.
Miami currently holds a 10 to 7 edge in the all time record. The U, which won last season at Miami by eight, will look to create a two-game winning streak this year.
The @VirginiaSports Twitter account chose to feature the 2012 game this week for their Throwback Thursday moment. The Hoos won that game 41 to 40 courtesy of a ten yard Michael Rocco touchdown pass to Jake McGee with six seconds left.
That win would be the third in a row for the Hoos in the series, their longest winning streak to date against Miami.
— Virginia Cavaliers (@VirginiaSports) October 22, 2020
UVA continues its run on the ACC Network. They’re a perfect five for five during the 2020 season now.
Per UVA’S game notes, the 8:00 PM game will feature Dave O’Brien on play by play. Former Boston College QB Tim Hasselbeck is scheduled to be the color analyst. And Katie George will be the sideline reporter.
As usual, Dave Koehn and Tony Covington have the radio call for the Virginia Sports Radio Network. You can find their affiliates list at the link.
Finally, satellite radio coverage can be found at these channels: Sirius – 137, XM – 383, SiriusXM Internet Streaming – 973.
What Worries Me About Miami
After spending most of the 21st century in QB purgatory, Miami has finally found itself a quarterback worth the hype.
The 5-11 grad transfer from Houston only played in four games for the Cougars in 2019. He took advantage of the NCAA’s recent change in redshirt rules while determining during the season that he would transfer from Houston to play out his final year of college eligibility.
In 2018, his last full season at Houston, King put up video game like numbers. He passed for 2,982 yards while completing 63.5% of his passes. He threw 36 touchdowns against only 6 interceptions as well. Running the ball, King gained 674 yards on 6.1 yards per carry. He also rushed for 14 touchdowns. His QB Rating of 167.0 was also 7th best in the country.
After beating out Arkansas, LSU, and Maryland for King, Miami inserted him into new offensive coordinator / QB coach Rhett Lashlee’s high tempo offense that he imported from his previous stop at SMU.
Now, King will be the first, and most, dynamic QB the Hoos have faced this year. Sure, Trevor Lawrence can beat you with his feet too. But Lawrence plays off of Travis Etienne to do most of his damage. King can create offense with his feet on his own.
Entering the UVA game, King has completed 59.5% of his passes on the season for 1,079 yards. He’s thrown 10 TD passes and 4 interceptions. On the ground, King has 53 rushes for 273 yards and 2 touchdowns. His Total QBR of 74.2 ranks 20th in FBS.
King’s rushing totals do include 11 sacks taken as well. The sacks plagued King at Houston too, but it’s part of his style of play. More troubling for Miami may be their offensive line which, to be generous, was a hot mess in 2019.
The Hurricanes have reinforcements on the offensive line by way of another grad transfer from Houston, a handful of nice recruits, and 100% of their 2019 offensive line starts returning.
The Hoos, who have made repeated mentions of their diminished pass rush, will have a decision to make against King. Do they play for containment like UVA did mostly successfully against Lamar Jackson and Louisville in 2016? Or do they dial up the pressure even more than usual in order to try to exploit the Miami offensive line?
With either approach, UVA’s issues with tackling in space and giving up big plays will make you cross your fingers and hope for the best as a fan.
Most missed tackles forced by power five QBs:
1. D'Eriq King, Miami – 18
1. Jeff Sims, GA Tech – 18
3. Jordan Travis, Florida St – 14
4. Matt Corral, Ole Miss – 13 pic.twitter.com/t6iwuiv9hr
— PFF College (@PFF_College) October 23, 2020
One thing the Hoos must do is be well prepared for King to fake the QB before throwing the ball to a tight end or running back across the middle. King threw two easy touchdown passes against Pitt last week with this play. Those passes went for 35 and 45 yards. And they would have easily gone for more had Miami had more distance to cover.
D’Eriq King continues to target his running backs, this time connecting with Cam’Ron Harris on a touchdown. pic.twitter.com/xo1OKcJ7fB
— Anthony Yero (@AnthonyYero1) October 17, 2020
🙌🏻TOUCHDOWN🙌🏻 For the 2nd time today, D’Eriq King hits Will Mallory right over the middle for a WIDE-OPEN TD!!! (13) Miami leads Pittsburgh 28-19 heading into the 4th Qtr. pic.twitter.com/eJqXyXzAvV
— Oracle Sports (@OracleSports1) October 17, 2020
Miami’s other heralded grad transfer is defensive end Quincy Roche. Miami expected to team Roche with Gregory Rousseau to form the most dominant edge pass rush in the ACC, and perhaps nation. But Rousseau elected to sit out this season leaving Roche to chase accolades and quarterbacks on his own.
The grad transfer from Temple was the 2019 American Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Year. At Temple in 2019, Roche was 5th in FBS with 13 sacks and 11th with 19 tackles for loss.
Miami won his transfer recruiting battle over Virginia Tech, Rutgers, North Carolina, and Texas.
The 6-3, 245 pound defensive end is currently second on Miami with 2.5 sacks. He also has 21 tackles (15 solo, 6 assisted), 4 QB hurries, 1 forced fumble, and 1 fumble recovery. He’s coming off a major performance in last week’s win over Pitt.
Roche is number 2 in the highlights to follow.
— ACC Digital Network (@theACCDN) October 22, 2020
Roche is another in a list of outstanding edge rushers, and possible first round picks in the 2021 NFL Draft, faced by UVA this season. The Wahoo offensive line has largely held its own against their more hyped competition this year. Roche will present another challenge and another opportunity to make a statement.
What Worries Me For UVA
New Game, Same Issues
In last week’s edition of the Gameday Guide, I highlighted turnover margin, special teams miscues, and an unsettled QB position as reasons for concern.
Did anything happen against Wake Forest to change my mind heading into the Miami game?
Against the Demon Deacons, UVA turned the ball over another three times without forcing one from their opponent. That moved UVA’s season turnover margin to -4. That’s tied for 66th out of 76 in FBS through games played on October 22. Miami, on the other hand sits at even for the season. That’s tied for 36th out of 76 FBS teams.
Special team miscues continued to plague the Hoos against Wake too. I may miss something here, but there was a missed field goal, another kickoff out of bounds (by Justin Duenkel instead of Brian Delaney this time), and a turnover on a Wake Forest kickoff when Perris Jones was unable to field cleanly a pooch kick.
And the QB position remains unsettled as Brennan Armstrong’s concussion did not allow him to play against the Deacons. UVA did the best with what was available, fashioning a three-headed monster among Lindell Stone, Keytaon Thompson, and Ira Armstead. Thompson and Armstead especially excelled running the ball out of the QB position. Thompson led UVA in rushing in Winston Salem with 71 yards on 10 carries. Armstead contributed 46 yards on 6 carries while scoring a touchdown on a 4 yard rush.
But it’s clear that the offense is not comfortable with Stone, Thompson, or Armstead as a passer. Stone has as many interceptions as he does touchdowns while throwing for the shortest yards per attempted pass in FBS. Thompson is not capable of the high volume of passes required in the normal UVA offense due to a shoulder injury suffered in camp. And Armstead does not appear to be seasoned enough to command the entire offense either.
And to be fair, Armstrong was still finding his way before an NC State cheap shot sent him into the concussion protocol. His status for Miami is still TBD.
But, individually, none of these elements are winning football. Combined together and it makes it nearly impossible for a team to win under those circumstances. To beat Miami, the Hoos must change their fortunes in no less than two out of three.
Why I Should Worry Less
It’s difficult to find something tangible here. But Miami’s defense is just middle of the pack nationally. The Hurricanes are giving up almost 400 yards per game which is good for 38th best in FBS.
And sure, Miami has a much hyped pass rusher. But UVA’s offensive line really has done a nice this job season against other much hyped pass rushers. None of Rumph and Dimukeje for Duke, Basham for Wake, and the 5 Star talent on Clemson’s defensive line were able to take over the game or overmatch the UVA blockers consistently. As one of the bright spots so far in the 2020 season, they’re capable of another strong performance here too.
UVA’s three headed monster at QB was a nice surprise from the offensive brain trust. It was very effective on the ground too. The strong running from Thomson and Armstead also opened things up for Wayne Taulapapa. And Miami gives up 144 yards per game on the ground (ranked 33rd). The elements are here for more success if Dr. Bob wants to go the well again. This wrinkle to the offense also works well with Armstrong back in the saddle.
And my main source of confidence whenever UVA plays Miami is that the Hurricanes never seem to be up for the game. UVA is just another game on the schedule for Miami. And it’s one they expect to win easily every year. As a result, the Hoos catch Miami by surprise more often than not it seems. The lack of an energetic, engaged crowd at Hard Rock Stadium will always work in the visitor’s favorite as well.
I also believe that Bronco is a better coach than Manny Diaz. Diaz, just in his second year as head coach, is still finding his way as the head whistle. Should this be a close game, the coaching matchup becomes a major advantage for UVA.
But is any, or all, of this enough to predict a Virginia win?
Per Sportsline.com, Miami is a 13.5 point favorite heading into Saturday morning. And ESPN’s Football Power Index gives Miami an 83.6% chance of victory.
I would agree that the odds are long for the Hoos.
They have their backs against the wall as a result of this losing streak. They’ll almost certainly take an us against the world / no one believes in us approach against the Hurricanes.
But unless the Hoos play against recent type, it’s hard to see them overcoming the issues that currently plague this team enough to pull the upset.
Miami wins 31 to 10.