Miami Hurricanes Five Keys to Beating Virginia Cavaliers

Nov 5, 2016; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Miami Hurricanes head coach Mark Richt during the first half against Pittsburgh Panthers at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The Miami Hurricanes head to Charlottesville, Virginia for their third road game in the last four weeks. A Miami win over 2-7 Virginia would make the Hurricanes Bowl Eligible.

On paper, this is a game 10.5 favorite Miami should win. The Cavaliers are near the bottom, nationally and in the ACC offensively and defensively in numerous categories. They  do have skilled and dangerous players on both sides of the ball.

The Hurricanes offense that had struggled during their four-game losing streak regained its posture in its dismantling against Pittsburgh last week. The Cavaliers defense is similar to Pittsburgh in that they have been porous, but have playmakers.

Miami’s patchwork offensive line lost center Nick Linder for the season with an arm injury and tackle Trevor Darling will be a game-time decision. The Hurricanes held Panthers Defensive lineman/Linebacker Ejuan Price to one tackle last week. Price entered the game with 16 tackles for loss and nine sacks.

The Hurricanes lead the all-time series with Virginia 7-6. The Cavaliers have won four of the last six meetings, including the last three in Charlottesville. Miami’s last win at Virginia was in 2008.

Nov 22, 2014; Charlottesville, VA, USA; Miami Hurricanes quarterback Brad Kaaya (15) prepares to throw the ball as Virginia Cavaliers linebacker Max Valles (88) chases in the first quarter at Scott Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Protecting The Quarterback

Their protection of Brad Kaaya has been one of the biggest differences between winning and losing this season. The Hurricanes have allowed three sacks in their five wins and 18 in their four losses.

When Kaaya has had time to throw he has shredded opposing defenses. He has a 66.4 percent completion percentage and 7.41 yards per attempt in wins.  In losses Kaaya is completing 57.5 percent of his passes and 7.18 yards per attempt.

The ‘Canes have attempted 146 total passes in wins and losses. The lack of a running game has hurt them significantly in losses . The Hurricanes attempt an average of 29.5 passes in wins and 36.5 PA in losses.

The Hurricanes have to shuffle the offensive line against Virginia. Senior Alex Gall gets his first career start at center to replace Linder. Left Tackle Trevor Darling is also expected to be out. If he doesn’t play, left guard K.C. McDermott is expected to slide over to left tackle and Sophomore Tyler Gauthier would move into McDermott’s spot at Left Guard.

Sep 17, 2016; Boone, NC, USA; Miami Hurricanes running back Mark Walton (1) runs the ball during the first quarter against the Appalachian State Mountaineers at Kidd Brewer Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Reestablish the Running Game

Miami was off to a blazing start on the ground during their four-game winning streak to begin the season. Mark Walton, Joseph Yearby, and Gus Edwards all rushed for 100 yards in UM’s season-opening win over Florida A&M. Walton and Yearby topped the century mark week two against Florida Atlantic and Walton had his third straight 100 yard game against Appalachian State.

In the four losses, the Hurricanes averaged only 65 yards rushing per game. That number is skewed a bit because sack yardage counts against rushing yards in college football. In their four wins, the ‘Canes average 221.6 yards per game on the ground.

The re-shuffled offensive line will pose a challenge, but Virginia allows 174.4 rushing yards per game, 11th in the ACC. Getting Walton and Yearby going will help contribute to a strong finish in the Hurricanes last three games.

Oct 15, 2016; Charlottesville, VA, USA; Virginia Cavaliers running back Taquan Mizzell (4) carries the ball en route to a touchdown against the Pittsburgh Panthers in the first quarter at Scott Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Stop Virginia Running Back Taquan Mizzell

Mizzell is on pace to become the first player in ACC history with 1,500 yards rushing and receiving. He needs just ten yards receiving against Miami to inaugurate that club. Mizzell is eighth in the ACC averaging 108.1 all-purpose yards per game. He is averaging 67.4 yards per game on the ground and 41.3 receiving.

Mizzell leads the Cavaliers in rushing and receptions. He is third in the ACC in Yards from Scrimmage behind Florida State’s Dalvin Cook and NC State’ Matt Dayes. Miami was able to limit Pittsburgh’s James Connor to 40 yards on 12 carries last week. Connor torched Virgina Tech for 141 yards on 19 carries the game before.

If the Hurricanes can limit Mizzell, they will be able to put more pressure on UVA quarterback Kurt Benkert. Benkert completes only 57.5 percent of his passes and leads the ACC with 11 interceptions thrown.

The Junior transfer from East Carolina is 80th nationally with a Passing Efficiency rating of 123.5. Benkert has three games with multiple interceptions, thrown including the last two weeks against Louisville and Wake Forest.

Oct 29, 2016; South Bend, IN, USA; Miami Hurricanes defensive back Jamal Carter, Sr. (6) motions for the fans to make noise during a game against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in the 4th quarter at Notre Dame Stadium. Notre Dame defeats Miami 30-27. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Continue to Attack Defensively

Miami Defensive Coordinator Manny Diaz had restored the attacking style of defense that the Hurricanes were known for during their years as a national power. The Hurricanes shut down Connor last week and allowed Pittsburgh Quarterback Nathan Peterman to complete just 47 percent of his passes.

The Hurricanes have improved significantly from last season defensively when they ranked below 100 in many defensive stats. Miami is third in the country this season averaging nine Tackles for Loss for a total of 81 TFL’s and 29th nationally averaging 2.67 sacks for a total of 24.

The Hurricanes need to continue being disruptive behind the line of scrimmage, put the Cavaliers in third and long and put pressure on Benkert. Putting UVA in third and long pass situations should limit Mizzell’s opportunities to make big plays.

The Hurricane secondary also needs to be disciplined. Benkert has an 82-yard touchdown pass this season three more over 70 yards.

Nov 5, 2016; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Miami Hurricanes wide receiver Ahmmon Richards (82) makes a catch in front of Pittsburgh Panthers defensive back Ryan Lewis (38) during the first half at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Attack Downfield Offensively

The emergence of Ahmmon Richards at Wide Receiver has given Brad Kaaya a big play threat and should help open up the running lanes in the last three games.

Richards is making a push to be named a freshman All-American. He leads freshman Wide Receivers with 70.2 yards per game and yards per catch at 20.4.

Richards scorched Pittsburgh for 144 yards on eight receptions. That eclipsed his career high of 142 yards against Appalachian State. In seven of the Hurricanes nine games, Richards has averaged a minimum of 15.5 yards per catch.  He has 11 receptions for 24 yards or more this season.

The Hurricanes need to try and achieve balance against UVA. The running and passing games need to complement each other. When Virginia has to respect Richards big play ability it should open up the ‘Canes running lanes.

Once the ‘Cavs start to focus on the run, it will give Kaaya more time to throw and use the play action pass to get the ball to his receivers.

Miami-Virginia could be a shootout. The Hurricanes should be able to keep the offense rolling against UVA. If the defense can limit Mizzell like they did with Connor last week, UM should return home with their first win in Charlottesville in eight years.

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