With a 28-21 win Thursday night over Miami, Virginia (5-3, 2-2 ACC) now stands one victory from bowl eligibility.
I’ll be honest, after the Cavaliers’ showing Saturday in a loss to North Carolina State, I didn’t think Virginia stood much of a chance against a Miami squad that had shown considerable improvement in recent weeks and had never* lost at home on a Thursday night.
* The Hurricanes were 16-0 all-time at home on Thursday games entering their contest against Virginia, according to an ESPN spokesman.
But the Cavaliers were creative, potent and – most critically – consistent on offense and just stingy enough on defense to pull out the win. As big a victory as the one against then-No. 12 Georgia Tech was two weeks ago, this one might top it in terms of importance to this team in this season.
A loss to Miami might have sent Virginia tumbling. Instead, the Cavaliers head into next week’s game at Maryland loaded with confidence.
1) Offensive game plan. Five days after appearing more lost than it had been at any previous point this season, the Cavaliers offense out-schemed and out-executed the Miami defense for most of the night. Virginia ran the ball 42 times for 207 yards, which averages out to 4.9 yards per carry. The Cavaliers mixed in a number of short passes that proved wildly effective. Sophomore quarterback Michael Rocco did exactly what was asked of him. And tailback Perry Jones carried out one of the night’s more entertaining plays when he took a toss from Rocco, ran a couple steps and then threw a 37-yard touchdown pass to wideout Tim Smith. Virginia gained 470 total yards less than a week after it managed only 249 against N.C. State.
2) Perry Jones. Not only did Jones throw a 37-yard touchdown pass – which actually traveled more like 45 yards in the air – he also scored on a 78-yard pass reception in the fourth quarter and carried the ball 12 times for 67 yards (5.6 ypc). Jones accounted for 182 of Virginia’s 470 yards (38.7 percent) on the night.
3) The defense. Virginia held Miami to 85 yards rushing. The Hurricanes entered the game averaging 154.1 rushing yards per game. Miami tailback Lamar Miller – who entered the game ranked No. 2 in the ACC in rushing (114.1 ypg) – ended up with 70 yards on 16 carries. The strides the Virginia defense has made in year two of the transition from the 3-4 to the 4-3 have been impressive. In terms of stopping the run, the Cavaliers seem to improve with each game. Now, Virginia did have some considerable issues defending the pass. But the Cavaliers made stops when they needed to. Linebacker LaRoy Reynolds stops Miami tailback Mike James on fourth and two late in the fourth quarter at the Virginia 15-yard line. Linebacker Steve Greer tackles Miami tailback Eduardo Clements after a 23-yard reception on the nine-yard line on what proved to be the last play of the game.
1) Pass defense. As was previously mentioned, the Cavaliers struggled to defend the pass Thursday night. It’s been a recent trend that has to be at least a little concerning for defensive coordinator Jim Reid and the rest of the Virginia coaching staff. Miami tallied 347 passing yards – 176 of which were accumulated by 6-foot-5 wideout Tommy Streeter. The Cavaliers had a hard time matching up against Streeter all night. At various points, he beat cornerbacks Demetrious Nicholson, Chase Minnifield and Dom Joseph, as well as safeties Corey Mosley and Rodney McLeod, all of whom tried to cover him. Plenty of credit should go to Streeter. There were several passes that he simply went up and plucked out of the air over the outstretched arms of a Virginia defender.
2) Field goal unit. Placekicker Robert Randolph converted field goals from 22 yards and 24 yards Thursday, but with just less than three minutes remaining in the third quarter, he missed a 32-yard field goal wide right. He is 13 of 19 (68.4 percent) on field goal attempts on the season. In the end, that miss didn’t end up costing the Cavaliers. But with the way the game transpired down the stretch, it very well could have.