Saturday, November 7, 2015

game preview: Miami

Date/Time: Saturday, November 7; 3:00


Record against the Canes: 6-6

Last meeting: UVA 30, Miami 13; 11/22/14, Charlottesville

Last weekend: UVA 27, GT 21; Miami 30, Duke 27

Line: Miami by 7

Last week I realized: I was only 6/7ths right on what this football season feels like.  Sunday through Friday, I'm pining for basketball season.  I want it now.  Saturdays....well, UVA botched yet another onside kick last week and the stream of four-letter words that involuntarily exited my mouth were all the proof I needed that on game day, it still matters.

UVA catches a second straight team coming off an emotional win, and one even more in the spotlight than the last one.  If you believe in football psychology, and yeah, it's not foolproof but there's something to it, then another favorable matchup awaits.  Interestingly, disaster though Mike London's tenure has been, the dude owns Miami, with a 4-1 record against the Canes.

-- UVA run offense vs. Miami run defense

Top backs:
Taquan Mizzell: 104 carries, 446 yards, 4.3 ypc, 2 TDs
Daniel Hamm: 46 carries, 211 yards, 4.6 ypc, 1 TD

UVA offense:
138.88 yards/game, 3.94 yards/attempt
92nd of 128 (national); 9th of 14 (ACC)

Miami defense:
200.25 yards/game, 5.22 yards/attempt
113th of 128 (national); 14th of 14 (ACC)

Fun fact: Six of the top seven run defenses in the ACC are Atlantic teams.  The other Atlantic team is 8th.  In other words, the bottom six run defenses all reside in the Coastal.  UVA is 11th, and this week ends a three-game stretch against the only worse teams in the rankings.  It so happens Miami is the worst of the worst.

This isn't from a suspect game here and there.  The Canes are legitimately horrible at stopping the run.  The Clemson game - the last straw for Al Golden - was a total bloodbath.  Clemson ran the ball 63 times and piled up 416 yards.  Gaudy numbers like that abound.  FSU's Dalvin Cook by himself racked up 222 yards.  It doesn't matter whether Miami won the game or lost it; FBS opponents have moved the ball on the ground, and the good ones have done whatever they want.

Up front, Miami has some occasional playmakers in DEs Trent Harris and Al-Quadin Muhammad, and DT Ufomba Kamalu is a solid space-eater as well.  But the back end of the defense is porous and often out of position.  And worse yet for Miami was the loss of LB Raphael Kirby to a knee injury.  Kirby is the Canes' second-leading tackler even after missing the Duke game, and might still be after this weekend, too, unless Harris has a really big day.

With improved play from a more cohesive offensive line, this is a matchup that actually swings in the Hoos' favor.  Amazing, but true.  Taquan Mizzell has shown he can hit a hole pretty darn quickly when the hole is there, and Daniel Hamm has carried the ball enough now to show that the vision he displayed in his VMI debut last year wasn't just because VMI.  These are backs that can't do much without help, but a little space goes a long way with them.  They should have more than a little space against Miami.

-- UVA pass offense vs. Miami pass defense

Matt Johns: 151/249, 60.6%; 1,755 yards, 13 TDs, 13 INTs; 7.05 ypa, 126.6 rating

Top receivers:
Taquan Mizzell: 46 rec., 499 yards, 3 TDs
Canaan Severin: 37 rec., 513 yards, 4 TDs
T.J. Thorpe: 12 rec., 207 yards, 1 TD

UVA offense:
223.6 yards/game, 6.9 yards/attempt
79th of 128 (national); 10th of 14 (ACC)

Miami defense:
210.1 yards/game, 6.5 yards/attempt
41st of 128 (national); 7th of 14 (ACC)

Miami lacks a true terrorizing playmaker defensive end - or tackle, for that matter - in the pass rush.  Al-Quadin Muhammad has 3 sacks, just a little more than what you'd expect just by sending any old body out there, and that leads the team.  What they do have is 12 guys with at least half a sack.  So while Matt Johns won't have to devote time always knowing where so-and-so is, he will have to keep his head on a swivel.

Where Miami is dangerous is the secondary.  Artie Burns has five picks, Rayshawn Jenkins has three, and Corn Elder, the lucky guy with the ball at the end of the Duke game, has broken up nine passes.  Johns is kind of gunslingery when given the chance, but his skills in that regard are inconsistent.  An interception or two in this game is almost guaranteed.

So I hate to say it, but the short passing game adored by Steve Fairchild is the way to go here.  Miami won't get any pressure at all if the drops are short and the ball is out quick, and since our passing game is sort of a quasi-run game anyway, you might as well attack the opponent where they're weakest.  For UVA to get the ball rolling and sustain some drives, Mizzell will have to get half a zillion touches, and the WRs targeted with great care.

-- Miami run offense vs. UVA run defense

Top backs:
Joseph Yearby: 126 carries, 641 yards, 5.1 ypc, 5 TDs
Mark Walton: 74 carries, 284 yards, 3.8 ypc, 5 TDs

Miami offense:
123.75 yards/game, 3.79 yards/attempt
103rd of 128 (national); 11th of 14 (ACC)

UVA defense:
163.13 yards/game, 4.55 yards/attempt
81st of 128 (national); 11th of 14 (ACC)

Miami's running back situation is pretty simple: Joseph Yearby is the unquestioned starter, Mark Walton gives him regular breaks.  Trayone Gray comes in at the end of blowouts, and that's about the extent of it.  Miami has tried one tricky thing all year - Stacy Coley on an end-around against VT.

Yearby is easily the better back, but, fact is, most of his best work was done early this year.  Two-thirds of his yards came in the first four games of the year; the latter four, with no decrease in workload, he's averaged less than 3.2 yards a carry.  Walton is sputtering, too; his workload has markedly decreased, and most of his game-high carries are for single-digit yardage.

Neither Yearby nor Walton is really a home-run hitter, in fact.  Miami's run offense the last four games is basically the same minimally-functional assault UVA has featured most of the year.  It's a pretty vanilla attack, too, after last week's yearly dose of head games.  Last week offered some hope; UVA has done a respectable job holding down the middle against opposing run games, because Micah Kiser has been very much up to the task.  Last week was all about the edges, and UVA decisively won the battle there.  In retrospect, Trent Corney was a how-did-I-not-realize-this star of the game.  GT doesn't block, they just try to chop you down - which is one thing Corney is perfectly built to defeat.  If Corney could translate that to fighting off regular blocks, Miami would be in for a long day.  As it is, they'll probably have some stretches of success and some 3rd-and-9s.

-- Miami pass offense vs. UVA pass defense

Brad Kaaya: 140/229, 61.1%; 1,846 yards, 10 TDs, 2 INTs; 8.06 ypa, 141.5 rating

Top receivers:
Rashawn Scott: 37 rec., 502 yards, 4 TDs
Herb Waters: 27 rec., 473 yards, 1 TD
Stacy Coley: 26 rec., 354 yards, 2 TDs

Miami offense:
276.3 yards/game, 7.7 yards/attempt
45th of 128 (national); 5th of 14 (ACC)

UVA defense:
248.8 yards/game, 8.1 yards/attempt
109th of 128 (national); 13th of 14 (ACC)

It's still a mystery whether Brad Kaaya will return from a concussion he suffered against Clemson.  (Though, it's looking more likely that he will.)  His replacement, Malik Rosier, played horribly in relief in that game, but with a week of prep, Rosier was worlds more effective against Duke.  Still, Miami is better off with Kaaya under center.  Kaaya has only thrown two picks all year and was on pace to threaten the 4,000-yard mark for the season, an excellent build on his terrific debut season last year.

UVA will likely have a lot of trouble with Miami's deep stable of receivers.  Both quarterbacks know how to spread the ball around, and the Miami receivers are capable of stretching out the field and going for big chunk plays.  Miami leads the conference in long passing plays of >10 and >20 yards.  They don't go for the whole field at once off of a touchback, but they don't need to because they can get there in a handful of plays anyway, if your coverage is less than effective.

Combine that with excellent quarterback protection, and this is a very dangerous aspect of the game for UVA, which hasn't shown the ability to deal with too much at one time in the passing game.  Even GT burned them for 251 yards and two touchdowns, and that's a simple passing game to defend if you don't get sucked too close to the line of scrimmage.  Miami will make things very difficult, and probably pick up 300+ yards through the air.

-- Favorability ratings

Run offense: 6.5
Pass offense: 4
Run defense: 4
Pass defense: 2

Average: 4.13

-- Outlook

Lot of competing trends here to make this one a difficult game to call.  On the one hand, Mike London has typically had Miami's number - the one team he's consistently beaten.  In fact, until last week, Miami was the only FBS team he'd beaten more than once.  (He's now 2-4 against Georgia Tech, with the other win coming in 2011.)  And Miami is coming off a crazy-ass, emotional win, just as with GT, and this is the least intimidating road environment in all of Power 5 football.

On the other hand, UVA carries a 13-game losing streak to Florida with them, and it's entirely possible Larry Scott has lit a fire under Miami's asses that lasts longer than one week.  Miami's run defense is horrible, but UVA isn't going to Clemson up the score on them regardless, and there's a semi-decent chance the Canes could pile up 400 passing yards.

So which is it - loss or win?  Because UVA football is obnoxious like this, I choose the option that causes the most chaos, consternation, and general uproar among the fanbase: a win.  Put this team at 4-5, and some people will wonder if this team can keep the comeback trail going all the way to a bowl.  Some will declare it's just the usual Charlie Brown and Lucy routine.  Some will chew their fingernails down to the knuckle in fear that too much winning will inspire the front office to extend the coach.  All are legitimate takes.  A loss is simpler - you just remind yourself that the next basketball game is sooner than the next football game.  A win makes a mess, and we still can't have nice things, so a mess it is.

Final score: UVA 28, Miami 21

-- Rest of the ACC

Byes: Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest

Duke @ North Carolina - 12:00 - We're used to it being for basketball supremacy, but now it has the Coastal Conference riding on it too.

Pittsburgh vs. Notre Dame - 12:00 - Possibly the best unranked team in the country, Pitt will likely shed that label one way or the other here.

Syracuse @ Louisville - 12:30 - This week we're chock full of games that would be better hoops contests.

NC State @ Boston College - 12:30 - The Pack are looking to get bowl eligible - and if they don't do it here, it's not a stretch to say they might never get there.

Florida State @ Clemson - 3:30 - I've been bitching about this for years and FINALLY they schedule this game for November.  This is Clemson's last legitimate regular season hurdle between them and an undefeated season.

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