Monday night brings Wahoo football history as 24th ranked Virginia (9-4) plays in its first ever New Year's Six bowl game. It's their second ever major bowl game joining the 1991 Sugar Bowl in program record books. The SEC will have supplied the opponent in each game as the 9th ranked Florida Gators (10-2) will occupy the opposite sideline in Hard Rock Stadium.

The Hoos will look to win their second consecutive bowl game, both against SEC opponents, finish the season ranked, and win ten games in a season for just the second time in program history. Some may think that the Hoos are just happy to be there. But this group has a ton to play for without even including bouncing back from the ACC Championship Game performance against Clemson.

It all goes down Monday night at 8:00 on ESPN.

Game Uniform

The Hoos are giving a nod back to the Welsh era as they go white, orange, white. This is also the combo worn by UVA in the 1984 Peach Bowl.

There's going to be A LOT of orange and blue on the field Monday night.

Most of us weren't alive yet the only time the Hoos and Gators met on the gridiron.

Keys To Victory

Pass Blocking

The Hoos throw the ball on just over 53% of their offensive plays. That's nice balance but it often seems that the ratio is more like 75/25 in favor of the pass. You can thank Bryce Perkins for keeping things close to even as UVA doesn't feature a traditional running game.

So as they look to move the ball down the field through the air, pass blocking takes on enormous importance. 

The Florida defensive line will present a significant challenge.

The Gators' pass rush is lead by All-SEC First Team defensive end Jonathan Greenard. The 6-3 263-pound senior from Georgia transferred to Florida from Louisville after his redshirt sophomore season. During his senior campaign with the Gators he posted 51 tackles including 8.5 sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss. He's forced 2 fumbles, broken up 3 passes, and received credit for 8 additional QB hurries. Greenard also has 1 interception and an 80-yard fumble return for a touchdown to his credit.

Greenard's 8.5 sacks led the SEC this season.

Florida also led the SEC in sacks for the season with 46. The next highest, LSU, was 11 sacks behind the Gators.

Other Florida pass rushers to watch for will be redshirt senior defensive lineman Jabari Zuniga (3 sacks in 5 games), redshirt sophomore defensive lineman Zachary Carter (4.5 sacks), and freshman linebacker Mohamoud Diabate (4.5 sacks).

UVA has struggled a bit against standout defensive lines this season. They gave up 8 sacks to Notre Dame, 5 sacks to Miami, and 2 sacks to Clemson. It's also worth noting that the trend is heading in the correct direction.

Finish Opportunities

In big games against decided favorites, the underdog must take advantage of most opportunities they earn, or are given, over the course of the game. It's an essential part of the underdog's upset blueprint.

Against Clemson in the ACC Championship Game, the Hoos won the time of possession battle. They gained over 100 yards on the ground (104). They had nearly 400 yards of total offense (387). They marched down the field on the game's opening possession and got the ball within Clemson's 15-yard line.

But the Hoos threw an interception in the endzone coming away with no points on the opening drive. They turned the ball over three times. And they managed only 17 points despite those nearly 400 yards of total offense.

That's not going to cut it against Florida.

Instead, UVA must cash in opportunities, big and small, as they come. 

Pass Defense

Florida enters the Orange Bowl with the 16th ranked pass offense in FBS. Prior to the Orange Bowl, the most prolific pass offense faced by the Hoos was Clemson. The Tigers rank 20th in FBS passing offense.

On paper, this appears to be a huge mismatch.

The Gators' passing attack is led by redshirt junior QB Kyle Trask (6-5 239 pounds), sophomore tight end Kyle Pitts (51 catches, 610 yards, 5 touchdowns), and redshirt senior wide receiver Van Jefferson (43 catches, 528 yards, 6 touchdowns). 

The Gators also boast eight players with 20 or more receptions on the season.

Trask played in only 11 of 12 Florida games this year. Despite that, he passed for 2,636 yards while completing 67.6% of his passes. Trask threw 24 touchdowns against only 6 interceptions. His passer rating of 159.2 ranks 13th in FBS (behind Sam Howell and Trevor Lawrence, however). His Total QBR or 81.4 ranks 12th in FBS (behind Micale Cunningham of Louisville and Trevor Lawrence).

Check out the HOOS Place Orange Bowl preview podcast. It features special guest appearances from former UVA football players Ahmad "Ball Hawk" Hawkins and Earl Sims. Everyone knows Hawkins, but Sims is the head coach of Gulliver Prep of Miami. Sims, who played for both coaches Welsh and Groh, coached current Hoos Mandy Alonso, D'Sean Perry, and Sean Moore in high school.

Heading into game day, Florida is holding as a 14.5 favorite. ESPN's Football Power Index gives the Gators an 81.8% chance to win this game.

Given Florida's strengths in the passing game and UVA's depleted secondary, it's hard to argue with that too much.

For the fans, this is almost a "happy to be there" moment. 

Rest assured, however, that the coaching staff and players will not have that mindset. 

I suspect they'll play with a ton of emotion and effort, carrying a chip on their shoulder from the ACC Championship Game. They'll have also heard naysayers giving them absolutely no shot to win this game. 

UVA will leave it all on the field. Bryce Perkins will go out moving the ball more than most expect against the Gators. And the UVA defense will surprise.

The game is going to be closer than the casual observer, and many in the media, expect.

35 to 24, Gators win.


This article contains the tags:

Football, 2019, Florida, Orange Bowl