No. 20 Virginia vs. Miami — a breakdown

The Cavaliers look to come out of the bye strong against the slumping Hurricanes

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Senior linebacker Jordan Mack is tied for first in the ACC with six sacks this season.

Courtesy Virginia Athletics

After the bye week, Virginia will look to bounce back from its first loss of the season to No. 9 Notre Dame. The No. 20 Cavaliers (4-1, 2-0 ACC) will travel to Miami Gardens, Fla., to take on the Hurricanes (2-3, 0-2 ACC) Friday night at Hard Rock Stadium.

Miami is reeling from a loss to Virginia Tech at Hard Rock Stadium, in which the Hurricanes were down 28-0 at one point. Sophomore quarterback N’Kosi Perry replaced redshirt freshman quarterback Jarren Williams to lead Miami to tie the game at 35 in the fourth quarter, but it was too little, too late.

Perry will get the start Friday night, with Williams hurt. He will lead a Miami team that has been inconsistent so far in Coach Manny Diaz’s first year, despite having talent at both sides of the ball. The Hurricanes have tied or led in the fourth quarter in all five of their games. They will be hungry for a win on their home turf Friday night.

Miami opens a stretch of five consecutive conference games for Virginia. The Cavaliers will have to continue to set the tone defensively and establish a ground game to come out of Hard Rock Stadium with their first win there since 2011.

Players to watch:

Senior linebacker Jordan Mack

Mack is a captain for Virginia and one of the leaders on the defense. He leads by example, playing defense with physicality, motor and high effort. With news this week of junior inside linebacker Rob Snyder being out for the season with an injury, Mack’s presence inside will be especially important.

Miami junior running back DeeJay Dallas is a dangerous playmaker in the backfield. Dallas is second in the ACC with 7.1 yards per carry and is a big play threat. Mack, as a leader of the defense, must prevent Dallas from breaking away for long runs.

In Virginia’s 3-4 defense, Mack is not only responsible for stopping the run, but also for getting pressure on the quarterback. He has done that so far this season, leading the nation’s linebackers with six sacks. Perry is not an experienced starter and has been prone to mistakes — he threw two interceptions before getting benched against Virginia last year. Mack’s pressure can get him rattled and force him into making mistakes.

Freshman running back Mike Hollins

Hollins’ arrival at Virginia was highly-anticipated, but the true freshman back has been lightly played so far this season. The Baton Rouge, La. native had a successful debut against William & Mary, taking 11 carries for 78 yards and 2 touchdowns. Despite that success, he has received no more carries so far this season.

The coaching staff has taken a cautious approach to giving Hollins more carries, in an attempt to ensure the back will have a long career. So far, that has meant limited playing time. That is likely to change moving forward, however, as Coach Bronco Mendenhall expressed at his weekly press conference Monday.

“I think what you'll see is his role expand from this game on,” Mendenhall said. “I won't predict nor can I say how many touches, but I think that you will see that expansion in a more sequential manner.”

After the Cavaliers picked up just four total rushing yards against the Fighting Irish — although poor blocking was certainly a factor — Mendenhall could look to Hollins to spark the run game against Miami. Sophomore running back Wayne Taulapapa has been solid for Virginia, but Hollins might be able to be the back Jordan Ellis was for the Cavaliers last year.

Keys to the game:

Protect Perkins

Senior quarterback Bryce Perkins is the key to Virginia’s offense. In the first half against Notre Dame, Perkins was 18-22 with 235 yards passing and 2 touchdowns. The Cavaliers led 17-14, in position to pull off the upset.

In the second half, the Fighting Irish pass rush overwhelmed Virginia’s offensive line. On the first drive of the half, Perkins was sacked and the Cavaliers were unable to build momentum off of the onside kick. The next drive, Perkins was sacked and fumbled. This pattern of quarterback pressure continued, and all of a sudden, Notre Dame was in the driving seat up 35-17. In total, Virginia’s offensive line allowed eight sacks against the Fighting Irish.

“Our offensive front is really the position group right now that's controlling the speed in which we can progress,” Mendenhall said at his press conference Monday. “Because of its effect, direct effect on the run game and the pass game, there's really no offensive play where that can be a workaround. It has to go through the offensive line.”

The offensive line is ready to step up, and it will have to against Miami Friday night. Perkins has all the tools to pick the Hurricanes’ defense apart, but will need a clean pocket to operate.

Havoc Hoos, keep the pressure on

Miami’s defense is known for creating havoc. It was current Head Coach Manny Diaz who introduced the infamous “turnover chain” which cemented the reputation of the Hurricanes’ defense for making game-changing plays.

Last Saturday, however, it was Virginia Tech’s defense — not Miami’s defense — making the game-changing plays. The Hokies turned over the Hurricanes five times and recorded five sacks. In fact, Miami is last in the nation in sacks allowed per game, averaging 6.2 per game.

The opportunity is there for the “Havoc Hoos” — the moniker the Cavaliers’ playmaking defense has taken — to take control of the game against Miami. Virginia’s defense is No. 6 in the country in sacks with 24, and No. 12 in the nation in yards allowed per game. The Cavaliers’ defense can seize home field advantage from the Hurricanes by continuing to create havoc.

Kickoff is slated for 8:00 p.m. from Hard Rock Stadium. The game will be broadcasted on ESPN.

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