Virginia versus Miami — a breakdown

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Senior wide receiver Doni Dowling will need to step up against Miami’s tough secondary and keep Virginia's passing game alive this Saturday. 

Lauren Hornsby | Cavalier Daily

After clinching a bowl berth, the Virginia football team fell to junior quarterback Lamar Jackson and Louisville last weekend. This weekend’s opponent doesn’t get easier — in fact, it gets much tougher, as Virginia will have to go on the road to take on No. 2 Miami. The Hurricanes — candidates to make the College Football Playoffs — are by the far the best team the Cavaliers will play this year. It remains to be seen if Virginia can rise to the challenge and pull off the major upset. Here are some players and keys to watch out for this weekend. 

Players to watch 

Senior quarterback Kurt Benkert 

The Cavaliers are 1-3 in their last four games, and in their three losses, senior quarterback Kurt Benkert has thrown for three touchdowns and three interceptions and has only completed 52 percent of his passes. If Virginia wants to go on the road and beat the second best team in the country, Benkert will need to play a lot better. During Virginia’s 5-1 start to the season, Benkert threw a spectacular 15 touchdowns to only three interceptions, showing that he is capable of playing at a very high level in order to help his team win. If Benkert can come out and have another big game, Virginia will certainly have an opportunity to pull off the major upset. It will be interesting to see if Benkert and the offense will be able to step up on the national stage and perform at a high level to give the Cavaliers a shot at their biggest win of the Bronco Mendenhall era. 

Senior wide receiver Doni Dowling

Virginia’s offense has looked very up and down over the past few weeks. At times, the Cavaliers score in spurts, but when the offense goes cold, it takes a while for it to get going. A major self-inflicted problem in the games against Georgia Tech and Louisville has been drops by receivers, and Dowling has been guilty of some crucial drops in this span. Against the Yellow Jackets he dropped a wide-open slant near the end zone that would have put Virginia at an insurmountable lead in the fourth quarter. Against the Cardinals, he let a pass tip off his hands into the arms of a defender for an interception. 

With three games left in his career as a Cavalier, Dowling will look to end his career on a high note after a mostly successful senior year. The Cavaliers will need him and his big frame to make plays against Miami’s tough secondary, which presents more of a challenge than teams in prior weeks. Dowling can make a big difference in Virginia’s ability to move the ball if he can get his mind right and make big plays in the passing game.

Keys to the game

Confidence 

Virginia will be faced with an incredibly tough challenge this weekend. Miami is not only a tough ACC opponent, but currently the second-best team in the nation. Virginia should not view this game as a trap game for Miami. The Hurricanes will be highly motivated to maintain their undefeated record and improve to 10-0, further improving their chances at making the College Football Playoffs. Miami is coming off of dominating wins over Virginia Tech and Notre Dame, thus if Virginia wants any shot at taking down Miami, they need to walk onto the field with all the confidence in the world. Though the challenge seems daunting, the Cavaliers will need to believe all along they can head into Miami Gardens, Fla. and beat the Hurricanes on the road. Virginia has showed that they are a confident and resilient bunch all season long, so it will be interesting to see if they can continue to exude that confidence despite the tall order that it will be to take on a team like Miami. 

Limiting Turnovers

The Miami defense is one of the most opportunistic defenses in the country, having caused 24 turnovers this season  — tied for fourth in the FBS. Not only are the Hurricanes good at taking the ball away, but their team feeds off the energy of big turnovers by breaking out its gold-plated “Turnover Chain” during the game to commemorate a defender who causes a takeaway. A talented Notre Dame team looked hapless against Miami last week after it started to turn the ball over, eventually losing in a 41-8 rout. Benkert’s offensive line will have to do a better job protecting him than they did against Louisville — against whom the quarterback fumbled three times, once for a loss — to limit the possibility of big turnovers behind the line of scrimmage. Benkert himself must be accurate and poised enough not to make risky desperation throws if he is chased out of the pocket. This game can quickly get away from the Cavaliers if they allow Miami to get hyped from turnovers, which has been the Hurricane’s formula for success all season.

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