Quarterbacks Advantage: Miami (FL)
It was good to see Jacory Harris finally have a productive game against a stout defense in Saturday night’s 33-10 victory over the North Carolina Tar Heels. Although UNC was down two projected first round defensive linemen and two cornerbacks, their defense was still one to be feared going into the game. Harris completed more than half of his passes for the first time in exactly one month (the last time coming on Sept. 23 against Pittsburgh) while throwing for 217 yards and three touchdowns. While he did throw the one interception, Harris has only thrown 2 in the past 14 quarters of play. He fed off of the running game’s success and the balanced offensive game plan and was able to spread his passes among his plethora of options as 9 different players made a reception against UNC. His three touchdown passes all went to different receivers in Travis Benjamin, Laron Byrd, and Leonard Hankerson. With his performance this past Saturday, Jacory moved into second place on UM’s all-time touchdown list with 50 for his career.
The Virginia Cavaliers will be starting senior Marc Verica at quarterback against the Canes Saturday afternoon at Scott Stadium in Charlottesville, VA. He’s been the starter all year for Virginia and also was their starter in 2008 but missed mostly all of 2009 due to injury. He’s completed passes on the season at a higher rate than Jacory Harris while throwing for nearly 1,500 yards, 8 touchdowns, and 6 interceptions. He’s had the chance to inflate his passing stats with 5 of his 8 touchdowns coming in Virginia’s games to Eastern Michigan and Virginia Military Institute. Against the same UNC team the Canes just faced, Verica threw 3 interceptions and went without a score. The Cavaliers passing attack ranks a respectable 35th in the FBS but that’s primarily because they’ve been playing from behind in most of their games.
Running Backs Advantage: Miami (FL)
The Miami running game was dominant last Saturday against UNC. Offensive coordinator Mark Whipple probably had his best play-calling game of the season as he called for running plays to the trifecta of Damien Berry, Lamar Miller, and Mike James on 41 of the team’s 76 offensive plays. The team’s ability to run the football was essential in setting up the pass and vice-versa. The entire offense was in sync. Berry pitched in with his fourth consecutive 100-yard rushing game. Saturday was his first out of the four where he needed less than 20 carries to get it done. Lamar Miller and Mike James both had 11 carries—Miller going for 67 yards and James for 54. Miller would’ve had much more if he didn’t get a long run down the sideline called back due to a block in the back. Over the past four games the Canes run game is averaging 202 yards and a lot of the credit has to go to the push the offensive line has been getting up front as well as fullback Pat Hill’s ability to run block linebackers one on one to free up whoever’s behind him. Expect the production of the running game to continue against Virginia’s atrocious run defense which ranks 114th in the FBS allowing 211.4 yards per game on the ground.
Virginia has a bicameral backfield led by senior Keith Payne and sophomore Perry Jones, who are two completely opposite tailbacks. Payne is appropriately named as he is the bruising, tough-to-bring-down, bus-like ball carrier standing tall and strong at 6-3 and 255 lbs. Payne leads the team in carries and yards with 96 and 471 respectively and gets all the goal line carries as he’s crossed the plane for 10 rushing touchdowns on the year. Jones is the much lighter and much quicker of the two. At 5-8 and 185 lbs. he’s a big-play threat and is actually running at a higher yards per carry average (5.6) than Payne (4.9). Jones, however, is yet to find the end zone this season.
Wide Receivers/ Tight Ends Advantage: Miami (FL)
The best thing we saw out of the Miami receivers last Saturday is that they were all getting in on the action. Laron Byrd finally caught his first touchdown pass of the season, Travis Benjamin caught his second on a highlight reel catch, broken tackle, and scamper into the end zone, and Leonard Hankerson caught his team-leading eighth. The thought at the beginning of the season with this receiving corps was that it would be virtually impossible to contain because of its talent and depth—opposing defenses could attempt to stop one or two of the receivers but not all of them. We saw a glimpse of that notion for the first time in a long time last Saturday. Also impressive for Cane fans was the emergence of freshman tight end Asante Cleveland. Cleveland had two key catches for 34 yards including a 25 yard reception on 4th & short in the second quarter that eventually set up the Byrd touchdown that gave the Hurricanes a lead in the game that they never looked back from. The Virginia secondary consists of two solid corners but is most certainly vulnerable to getting exploited by the pass; they gave up 198 yards to Dwight Jones of UNC two weeks ago. Don’t be surprised if Leonard Hankerson can break through in similar fashion against Virginia, although it’s highly unlikely as I’d look for the Canes to once again get all their options in both the running and receiving game involved in the offense.
Virginia’s receivers don’t compare to those of Miami. Junior Kris Burd is their leading receiver with 472 yards on the year. He caught one touchdown in each of his first four games, but hasn’t been able to find pay dirt since then. The team’s #2 option, in senior Dontrelle Inman, has struggled similarly as of late with only 3 catches in his past two games including a reception-less performance against the Tar Heels. Junior Matt Snyder has been the guy to pick up the slack as of late with 14 catches in the last three games for 208 yards. A big reason for the receivers’ lack of production recently can be attributed to the loss of tight end Joe Torchia who’s missed those same past three games. No one on this roster has really been able to control the middle of the field since he went down.
Offensive Line Advantage: Miami (FL)
The O-line has truly been superb recently. Center Tyler Horn was recognized as ACC Offensive Lineman of the Week for his efforts in the game against North Carolina. The running backs ran behind him up the middle all night and he was pivotal in the team running for over 200 yards. Seantrel Henderson continues to perform at a high level from the right tackle position. Left tackle Orlando Franklin was held out of a couple of practices this week with Henderson earning reps in his place. If Franklin is unavailable Saturday afternoon, Henderson may find himself covering Jacory Harris’ blind side with Jermaine Johnson getting most of the reps on the right side with Joel Figueroa probably remaining on the sidelines. The line has only given up 9 sacks through the first 7 games; they are on pace to finish with about half of last year’s total for sacks allowed.
The Virginia offensive line, on the other hand, has allowed their quarterbacks to get sacked 17 times on the year. The Cavaliers have a considerably smaller offensive line than the Canes do with their projected starting five weighing in at an average of 296 lbs. The only starting Miami offensive lineman below their average weight is center Tyler Horn who only misses the mark by 1 at 295 lbs. The UM O-line averages 315 lbs. The front line for Virginia actually did not allow a sack in their last game, albeit against Eastern Michigan. That will surely change come Saturday and they will have their hands full against a defensive front for the Hurricanes that I will now address.
Defensive Line Advantage: Miami (FL)
It was the Allen Bailey Show the last time we saw this group on the field. The defensive line, as a whole, had 5 sacks with Bailey contributing to 3.5 of those. He ended up earning ACC honors for his efforts. The Hurricanes up front rank 2nd in the FBS in both tackles for loss, at 9.3 per game, and sacks, at 3.6 per contest. The depth up front is such an issue for opposing offensive lines as the boys are coming in and out of the game constantly and staying fresh to keep their motor running at 100%. Micanor Regis has been awfully impressive as of late, picking up from a slow start earlier. He, Olivier Vernon, and Andrew Smith have combined for 10 sacks on the season.
The Virginia defensive line is nothing to write home about. They are incompetent at pressuring the opposing quarterback, but then again, they rarely put their opponents into difficult passing downs because they simply let them run up and down the field. The Cavs rank 114th in run defense in the FBS allowing 211.4 yards per contest. Expect the Canes O-line to unremittingly get a persistent push on them and the Miami running backs to get the opportunity to roam freely into the Virginia secondary. If anything, they’re experienced up front as most of the guys that get playing time for them up front are juniors and seniors.
Secondary/ Linebackers Advantage: Miami (FL)
Aside from the long Johnny White touchdown run, both the linebackers and the secondary for the orange and green were outstanding. Brandon Harris was finally able to snag his first interception of the year, and don’t let the fact that he went without an interception for six games fool you. He has been dominant at corner all year but just hasn’t been challenged enough by opposing quarterbacks to get his hands on many balls. Vaughn Telemaque has truly picked up his play in recent games picking up a takeaway, in some form or another in his past three games. First, he had interceptions against Florida State and Duke and then he recovered a fumble in the end zone that was forced by Sean Spence on one of the key early plays in the game that kept the Canes in it to eventually break away from the Tar Heels. Through 7 games, the U’s secondary has already picked off ten more passes than it did all of last year. All that extra emphasis on forcing turnovers from the spring until now has really paid its dividends. Also, it appears that this defense has brought the swagger back to the football team. The boys on defense were jumping up and down, getting hyped up, dancing, just flat-out having fun during the intermissions of the game against UNC. It’s safe to say they were not just ‘flying around’ in-game, but also with their dance moves and swagger.
Randy Shannon alluded to the two top Virginia cornerbacks this week in preparation for them in practice, complimenting them on their play. Junior Chase Minnifield is a ball hawk on his side of the field, acquiring 4 of the team’s five interceptions on the season. Starting opposite of Minnifield, and the other cornerback Shannon was talking about, will be senior Ras-I Dowling. Senior linebacker Darnell Carter has picked up the team’s lone interception that didn’t come courtesy of Mr. Minnifield. The linebackers and defensive backs for the Cavaliers are specifically vulnerable in their inability to make tackles. They give up an abundance of big plays in the run game because of it.
Special Teams Advantage: Virginia
Senior kicker and punter Matt Bosher, who would often be labeled the best player on the team coming into the season, has been far from it. He continues to find ways to struggle. Last week it was the missed extra point to go along with a couple of shanked punts. This is a problem that can’t persist by the time Virginia Tech rolls around in late November. The return game has been nothing extraordinary. One area where the special teams did appear to improve on in the game against UNC, however, was kick coverage. Freshman outside linebacker Tyrone Cornileus did a great job flying down to the opposite side of the field to put a hit on a North Carolina return man on a couple of plays. Those moments really pump up the defense, as well as the fans, as they get set to begin a series of downs.
Virginia is strong on special teams. Their kick returner Raynard Horne leads the ACC in kick return average. Last week against the Eastern Michigan Eagles, the Eagles tried kicking away from Horne and the ball ended up in the hands of fullback Terence Fells-Danzer who subsequently took the ball 70 yards for the Cavalier touchdown. Fells-Danzer took home ACC Specialist of the Week honors for his highlight-worthy play. Also in that game the Cavs pulled off a fake punt, courtesy of punter Jimmy Howell who tossed a 56-yard touchdown pass to Trey Womack on the play. Virginia is sneaky on special teams and have nothing to lose in this game so Miami better come prepared.
Coaching Advantage: Miami (FL)
I have to give this one to Randy Shannon. He told the players before last week’s game to just go out there and have fun. That’s all it took to get his boys amped, playing hard, playing pressure-free and playing with… Is he gonna say it? Is he gonna say it?… yes, swagger! Even Shannon was jumping up and down chest-bumping players on the sideline. Seeing things like that is what gets Miami fans reminiscing on the teams of the 80s. I want to see this type of energy from the usually quiet and reserve Randy Shannon more often.
The Virginia football program is head coached by Mike London. He’s in his first year as head coach of UVA and was with the Richmond football team a season ago. He’s struggling to start off but has a promising future and is trying to get this football program rebuilt. Nonetheless, he’ll probably get blown out in this contest.
David Furones may be contacted at email@example.com.