Football faces challenge at No. 2 Miami

Cavaliers look for big upset against Hurricanes

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Senior wide receiver Andre Levrone has provided a much needed spark for Virginia's offense in the middle of the season, recording two touchdowns against Georgia Tech and catching six passes for 92 yards against Louisville.

Lauren Hornsby | Cavalier Daily

A season that has seen a great deal of ups and downs for the Virginia football team is nearing its close, but not before the Cavaliers face its two hardest opponents of the season. First up for the Cavaliers is a clash on the road with No. 2 Miami, a team that is trending toward getting a shot at the national title.

After winning a thriller against Georgia Tech two weeks ago to clinch bowl eligibility, Virginia (6-4, 3-3 ACC) ran into a Louisville team desperate for a win last week and faltered to a 38-21 loss. The Cavaliers could not slow Louisville junior quarterback Lamar Jackson — last year’s Heisman winner — from a monster game, while surprisingly great play from a mediocre Cardinal defense allowed Louisville to keep Virginia from climbing back in the second half.

Virginia Coach Bronco Mendenhall acknowledged that a blip in the team’s speed against the Cardinals may have contributed to the tough loss.

“We looked just a little bit sluggish, not by effort or intent, but just by the way we were moving,” Mendenhall said. “And Louisville looked fast and they are, with good talent. [We are] so anxious to get back to work.”

The Cavaliers will need to clean up some parts of their game if they hope to make a statement in the last two games of their regular season. A defense that looked like a top unit in the FBS over the first half of the season has struggled as of late, giving up more than 30 points in the past four games after only doing so once in the first six games. 

Miami (9-0, 6-0 ACC) will give the Cavaliers a challenge similar to what they faced at Louisville on offense. Junior quarterback Malik Rosier is a true dual-threat quarterback — like Jackson — and has played at a very high level this season, throwing for 20 touchdowns to only seven interceptions. He has also added 339 yards on the ground and four scores as a rusher. Mendenhall expects his defense to be challenged by one of the most efficient offenses it will have seen. 

“Offensively, man, they manage the game really well — they have playmakers,” Mendenhall said. “They're athletic at the offensive line. The quarterback does a nice job with decisions — so really good players. [They have] a head coach that's managing the games really well and knows what it takes to win, without maybe pursuing sometimes what's considered style points.”

Meanwhile, the Cavalier offense has yet to find the consistency to keep the defense off the field. Virginia’s offensive line has struggled to protect senior quarterback Kurt Benkert, allowing four sacks, six quarterback hurries and a lost fumble against Louisville. An unordinary amount of drops by receivers over the last two weeks has hurt the offense’s ability to move the chains in big spots, leading to fewer points on the board.

A positive on the offensive side over the last few weeks has been the resurgence of senior wide receiver Andre Levrone after a quiet middle of the season. The senior caught two crucial touchdowns against Georgia Tech before hauling in six passes for 92 yards against Louisville.

Levrone has relished in his success in his final season as a Cavalier, but is eager for more as he looks to finish playing at a high level.

“There’s still plays I leave out on the field,” Levrone said. “When the season’s over, I’ll be able to look back and reflect and say ‘I feel like I was able to put together a pretty good season’ … Right now, I’m just focusing on every single week, every opponent we have and being as valuable to our team and our offense as possible.” 

The Cavalier offense will have to bring its A-game against the best defense it will face this season. The Hurricane defense is opportunistic and aggressive, having forced 24 turnovers this season and standing at tied for fourth in the FBS. Benkert and company will have to find ways to move the chains against this defense without turning the ball over excessively. 

Miami presents the Cavaliers with a challenge they will be hard-pressed to overcome based on each team’s respective performances over the last few weeks. Mendenhall is confident, however, that the team will get valuable experience as they look to upset the juggernaut Hurricanes. 

“It's an awesome opportunity for our program to play another ACC opponent that's having success,” Mendenhall said. “Regardless of who we're playing, I'm anxious to see [our potential] increase. And it just so happens to be against a really good team and a game that matters … It's fun to play in games that matter.” 

Kickoff between the Cavaliers and Hurricanes is set for noon Saturday at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami, Fla.

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