Cavs brace for Hurricanes after dominant win
Recent success against Miami emboldens players for must-win contest
The Virginia football team hosts Miami Saturday in an attempt to hold on to its slim bowl chances. The Cavaliers (3-6, 1-4 ACC) are coming off of a 33-6 upset against North Carolina State, which ended their six game losing streak.
Before last Saturday’s stunning victory, Virginia had yet to record a conference victory. A third win, along with the hopes of post-season eligibility, seemed out of reach.
“If we lost this game, we still had three other games to play but it’s like nothing to look forward to,” sophomore linebacker Daquan Romero said. “So this was like a spark to win this game.”
The Cavaliers are still clinging to postseason aspirations after the defense forced five turnovers — one more than it had all of last season — and held N.C. State to its lowest point total for the year. The defense was also staunch against the run for the second time in three games, holding the Wolfpack to a measly 19 yards after limiting Maryland to negative one yard of rushing Oct. 13.
“As a defense, that’s something that you have to establish,” Romero said of the unit’s recent rushing defense renaissance. “That’s what we try to do, we try to stop every team from running the ball. We just try to be a dominant defense.”
With the defense playing dominantly, the offense finally started to come together and racked up 446 total yards. Sophomore tailback Kevin Parks led the ground attack with 25 carries for 115 yards and a score, and senior tailback Perry Jones contributed in many different aspects of the game, gaining 6.1 yards per carry and adding six catches for 46 yards.
Similarly, Virginia’s passing game gained traction thanks to the steady play of both sophomore quarterback Phillip Sims and junior quarterback Michael Rocco. Sims completed 8-of-10 passes for 115 yards and one touchdown, and Rocco was 12-for-23 for 83 yards and a score. Neither threw an interception, portending a happy November for the squad if the quarterbacks can remain consistent.
“I think with success comes confidence,” Sims said. “When you’re successful as an offense like we were last week, everybody gets a little more confident, everybody’s a little happier with the situation that’s going on.”
The ACC Coastal-leading Hurricanes (5-4, 4-2 ACC) are coming off a 30-12 win over Virginia Tech in which they did not trail at any point during the game. Miami’s attack revolves around incendiary freshman running back Duke Johnson, who tallied 217 all-purpose yards last week to add to his 1,320 for the season so far.
“The freshman, Duke Johnson is everything that he’s been made out to be,” Virginia coach Mike London said. “He’s very explosive. He gets his hand on the football in various ways; the offense is very creative with him.”
Johnson and senior running back Mike James have accounted for 1,032 of Miami’s 1,171 rushing yards as well as 15 of Miami’s 29 touchdowns this season.
The Hurricanes only need one more victory to clinch bowl eligibility but have struggled against Virginia recently. The Cavaliers have won the last two matchups, including a 24-19 home upset in 2010 against a then-No. 22 Miami team, and four of the last six. Last year, the Cavaliers stunned Miami with a 28-21 victory that went down to the wire.
“I know that [Miami coach Al] Golden is going to be reminded of that,” London said. “But we’re reminded of it too. It goes back to winning in November and having a chance to keep some of these goals alive.”
Although they know the road to reach their goal of bowl eligibility appears perilous, the Virginia players are working to stay focused on the task at hand.
“We’re taking it one game at a time,” Romero said. “We’re not really trying to look forward, we know what we have to do and where we have to go to get to these bowl games, but right now we’re just focusing on Miami.”
The game is set to kickoff at 12 p.m. and will be televised nationally on ABC.