Was it a fluke?
That’s the question all Virginia fans are asking themselves this week after watching the Cavaliers snap a six-game losing streak in dominating fashion at North Carolina State last Saturday. Virginia played well in all three phases of the game, sacking Wolfpack quarterback Mike Glennon six times, creating five turnovers and rushing for a season-high 248 yards.
Suddenly a bowl berth that seemed unlikely during the bye doesn’t appear so unrealistic these days, provided the Cavaliers can replicate last week’s performance. It won’t be easy with Miami coming to town, but Coach Mike London has yet to lose to the Hurricanes since returning to Charlottesville.
Here are three other factors to keep an eye on if Virginia is to make its resurgence more than a one-week fad.
London will once again use both redshirt sophomore Phillip Sims and junior Michael Rocco after each had success against the Wolfpack last week. Sims was more efficient, completing eight of his 10 passes for 115 yards. He also led the Cavaliers on two touchdown drives, including a 38-yard bomb to wide receiver Tim Smith. Rocco showed off some wheels, scrambling for 36 yards in his first significant action in about a month. And after struggling in a platoon system last year, he seems more comfortable with the idea now. The rotation worked for one week, but facing an explosive Miami offense, both will need to stay in rhythm again.
Slowing down Duke
Miami has been up-and-down on offense, with the capability to explode for 651 yards one week (against North Carolina State back in September) and then average just 12.3 points the following three. It’s emblematic of a roster that features a plethora of youngsters in Coach Al Golden’s second season and the catalyst for the Hurricanes appears to be freshman running back Duke Johnson, a threat out of the backfield and on kick returns. In Miami’s five wins this year he has averaged close to 192 all-purpose yards. In the Hurricanes’ four losses, that number drops to less than 91 all-purpose yards per game. But on top of harassing Glennon a week ago, the Cavaliers were also strong against the run. North Carolina State gained just 19 yards on the ground.
Miami’s Achilles’ heel is a defense that is historically bad. The Hurricanes are on pace to allow the most points in school history this year, and their run defense is particularly porous. Teams are averaging 246.2 rushing yards per game against Miami, the second-highest total in the country this year. That would seem to play right into Virginia’s strengths. In recent weeks, Kevin Parks has emerged as Virginia’s most reliable threat in the backfield, topping the 100-yard mark in two of his past three games. But the Cavaliers would be wise to feed Parks and senior Perry Jones early and often to take advantage of a Miami defense that will also be missing two starters due to injury.
The Hurricanes need just one win to become bowl eligible this year, and whenever they get that victory, their administration will decide whether to self-impose a postseason ban for a second straight season in light of the NCAA’s investigation into the Nevin Shapiro scandal. Something tells me the specter of that looming judgment, combined with a road trip into cold weather, could do in a young Miami team going up against the rejuvenated Cavaliers.
My prediction: Virginia 28, Miami 24
What do you think? Can Virginia’s improbable march toward another bowl game continue? Or will Miami become bowl eligible and set its sights on the school’s first-ever ACC championship game appearance? Vote in the poll below and let me know how you think Saturday’s game will play out in the comments section.