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Game Preview: Can UVA football build on recent success at Miami?

uva-miami1Virginia has won four of its last five games with Miami, which considering UVA’s 13-31 ACC record in Mike London’s six seasons constitutes practical ownership of a series.

With Al Golden out at UM after a 58-0 Canes’ loss two weeks ago, it’s only London left on the coaching hot seat in this matchup of Coastal Division aspirants.

Interim Miami coach Larry Scott led The U (5-3, 3-2 ACC) to a controversial 30-27 win at Duke last week – controversial in the sense that the ACC has since acknowledged that the game-winning touchdown, scored on an eight-lateral, 91-yard TD return on the game’s final play, shouldn’t have counted.

Virginia (3-5, 2-2 ACC) comes in on a mini-hot streak, with wins in two of its last three games, including a 27-21 win over Georgia Tech last weekend.

Vegas has Miami as a seven-and-a-half point favorite on Saturday.

UVA offense vs. Miami defense Over its last four games, Virginia has run for an average of 187.8 yards per game and 4.8 yards per carry, after running for 92.2 yards per game and 3.0 yards per carry through its first four. The Cavs ran for a season-high 233 yards in the win over Georgia Tech last week. Quarterback Matt Johns has a 126.6 passer rating, completing 151 of his 249 passes (60.6 percent) for 1,755 yards, 13 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. Tailback Taquan Mizzell is a dual threat – leading UVA in rushing (473 yards, 4.3 yards per carry) and receiving (46 catches, 10.8 yards per reception). Canaan Severin is putting up good numbers at wideout (37 catches, 13.9 yards per reception). The Virginia offense averages 24.4 points per game (12th in the ACC) and 362.5 yards per game (11th in the ACC). The Miami defense is 12th in the conference in scoring defense (27.6 points per game), and the ‘Canes have given up 27 or more in five of their eight games. Miami is also 12th in the ACC in total defense (410.4 yards per game), and are particularly susceptible to getting gashed on the ground (200.2 yards per game, 13th in the ACC).

Miami offense vs. UVA defense The Hurricanes score 29.0 points per game (ninth in the ACC) and are seventh in the conference in total offense (400.0 yards per game). Most of the damage is done through the air (276.2 yards per game, first in the ACC), with sophomore quarterback Brad Kaaya throwing for 1,846 yards, completing 140 of his 229 passes (61.1 percent) for 10 touchdowns, just two interceptions, and a 141.5 passer rating (seventh in the ACC). UM is 13th in the ACC in rushing offense (123.8 yards per game, 3.8 yards per carry). The Virginia defense has progressed after an atrocious opening four games, holding Georgia Tech to half its season average on the ground last week to key the upset of the Yellow Jackets. The pass defense continues to be suspect, ranking 13th in pass yards per game allowed (248.9 yards per game) and 14th in defensive pass efficiency (156.2).

Special Teams UVA punter Nicholas Conte is averaging 44.4 yards per kick, with seven of his 32 punts downed inside the 20. Placekicker Ian Frye is 10-of-13 on field goals, with a long of 42, and a 1-for-4 mark from 40+. Miami punter Justin Vogel averages 44.5 yards per punt with 15 of his 41 punts downed inside the 20. Placekicker Michael Badgley is 17-of-20 on field goals, including a 5-for-5 mark from 40-49 yards.

Key Stat: Miami has committed six turnovers this year, including just two lost fumbles The ‘Canes are +10 in turnover margin in 2015. Virginia is last in the ACC in turnover margin (-10).

How This One Plays Out: The league’s best pass offense vs. the league’s worst pass defense. The league’s second-worst run defense against a team in the top four in the ACC the past four weeks in rush offense. The best team in taking care of the ball and the team that gives it away the most. One team that has fired its coach and the other seems to be headed in that direction.

How Virginia wins this game is it avoids the turnover, as it largely did last week in its win over Georgia Tech, and it figures out a way to stop the pass, which it couldn’t even do against a Georgia Tech team built to run a triple-threat option. Yeah, yikes. The UVA running game needs to gash the Miami front seven to pile up yards on the ground, move the chains and bleed the clock. Even that said, the ‘Hoos are going to need to pile up some points, because the D is going to have a hard time stopping Miami through the air.

The feeling here is that this UVA team is getting better, and will show it this week. The program hasn’t won on the road in what feels like a hundred years, but that streak ends on Saturday. The D forces a couple of Miami turnovers, Taquan Mizzell piles up yards on the ground and on screens and quick slants, and in spite of a handful of head-scratching coaching blunders involving incorrect personnel and plays getting sent in from the sideline too late, egads, I can’t believe I’m about to make this call.

Final: Virginia 27, Miami 23

– Game Preview by Chris Graham