(22) Miami-Florida (5-2) at Virginia (3-4)
Saturday, October 30th, 12:00 p.m. (et)
The Sports Network
By Pat Taggart, Associate College Football Editor
GAME NOTES: The 22nd-ranked Miami-Florida Hurricanes will travel to Charlottesville this weekend for an ACC battle with the Virginia Cavaliers.
Miami has won its last two games and four of the last five to move to 5-2 overall, one win shy of bowl eligibility. The Hurricanes were certainly impressive last weekend, as they cruised past North Carolina in a 33-10 final.
"Real big win for us tonight, it was huge," said Randy Shannon, head coach of the 'Canes. "We're taking the next step in the Atlantic Coast Conference, playing North Carolina really was a big victory for myself and this whole university."
Miami has allowed 13 or fewer points in four of the five wins to date, impressive to say the least.
As for Virginia, it managed to halt a three-game losing streak last weekend with a 48-21 romp over Eastern Michigan, a weak opponent from the Mid-American Conference.
"It feels good to win a game and be able to celebrate with the players on what this team can do and can accomplish," said Virginia head coach Mike London. "Can't let the highs get too high or the lows get too low, but we haven't won around here in a while and when you get the chance to experience a win regardless of the opponent, when you have a chance to compete you always want to win."
The Cavs are still in search of their first ACC victory, however, as all three league games to date have ended in double-digit defeats.
Miami owns a 5-2 series advantage over Virginia, which includes a 52-17 romp over the Cavaliers last season.
Through seven games, Miami is generating 29.7 ppg and 399.3 total ypg. The Hurricanes are led by quarterback Jacory Harris, an enigmatic performer who mixed flashes of brilliance with spurts of poor play. Harris has only completed 53.9 percent of his passes and has been intercepted 10 times, but he has racked up 1,561 passing yards with 14 touchdowns as well. Leonard Hankerson, the team's standout receiver, has hauled in 38 receptions for 591 yards with eight scores. As for the ground attack, Damien Berry leads the charge with 648 yards and four touchdowns.
Against UNC last weekend, Miami posted 442 total yards and 26 first downs en route to four offensive touchdowns. Harris threw three scores and tallied 217 yards through the air, while Berry rushed for 109 yards and a touchdown.
"Offensively, running the football was key," said Shannon. "We pounded the football and that opened up our passing game."
Opponents are generating a mere 18.3 ppg against Miami, which is holding foes to 302.7 total ypg. The Hurricanes have been fairly solid against the run, limiting teams to 3.9 yards per rushing attempt. Still, of the 13 touchdowns that Miami has permitted to opposing offenses, 10 have come on the ground. The top defender for the 'Canes has been Sean Spence, who leads the team with 59 total tackles and 10 TFLs. Allen Bailey has 5.5 sacks to his credit.
The Hurricane defense was swarming against UNC, holding the Heels to 10 first downs and 289 total yards. Most importantly, Miami permitted just one touchdown. It was certainly impressive that the 'Canes held UNC to 2-of-12 success on third-down conversion attempts, and three takeaways proved to be key as well.
Virginia has posted solid offensive numbers so far this season, as the club is averaging 27.0 ppg and 394.3 total ypg. Still, it needs to be pointed out that while the Cavs have run up the score against weak competition, they have struggled to move the ball and score points against good teams. Marc Verica has started all seven games under center for Virginia and has completed 57.8 percent of his passes for 1,489 yards and eight touchdowns against six interceptions. Kris Burd has made 32 catches for 472 yards and four scores, while Keith Payne has rushed for 471 yards and 10 touchdowns to lead the team.
Against Eastern Michigan last week, Payne scored a pair of rushing touchdowns, while Verica threw two touchdowns with no interceptions.
"Part of being a mature fifth year guy is understanding that you are a game away or a throw away from righting your ship and playing the way you are capable of playing," said London of Verica.
Defensively, Virginia is yielding 24.1 ppg and 376.9 total ypg. Stopping the run has proven to be problematic, as the Cavs are yielding 211.4 ypg at a clip of 5.1 yards per rushing attempt. Of the 19 touchdowns that the team has surrendered to opposing offenses, 12 have come on the ground. The pass defense can certainly stand some improvement as well, as only five interceptions have been registered while 12.2 yards per completion have been allowed.
The Cavaliers struggled to slow down the Eastern Michigan ground attack last week, as the Eagles gained 290 yards on just 41 attempts, an average of 7.1 yards per carry. Three rushing touchdowns were scored by EMU, and Virginia needs a better defensive effort this weekend against a much better team.
Miami figures to take care of business on the road this weekend, as it is a better team than Virginia in all aspects of the game. As well as Verica played last week, expect him to struggle against the Hurricane defense.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Miami-Florida 34, Virginia 13
10/27 10:41:31 ET