Virginia football pulled off a historic comeback against No. 10 North Carolina Saturday night, stunning an undefeated Tar Heel team that was expecting to walk away with an easy win. The Cavaliers (2-5, 1-2 ACC) will now look to continue their success as they travel to play Miami at Hard Rock Stadium in another tough ACC matchup. The Hurricanes (5-2, 1-2 ACC) are coming off a thrilling two-overtime victory over Clemson and boast one of the most talented offenses in the country.
Virginia certainly enters this game as the underdog, but if they defied expectations last week, there is no reason why they could not do the same this week. Maybe the players are using the North Carolina win as fire to fuel the rest of the season — but Coach Tony Elliott feels that the players are operating as if it were business usual in preparation for Saturday’s contest.
“[The players’] response [after the win] was, ‘We’ve got to go back to work,’” Elliott said. It’s Monday. It’s mindset Monday. We can’t be thinking about what happened on Saturday night.’”
The win against North Carolina marked the team’s second consecutive victory, an impressive feat considering the team began the season with five consecutive losses. It seems they did not let this get them down.
“When you start 0-5, you start maybe thinking, ‘Is what we’re doing working?’” senior quarterback Tony Muskett said. “But we kept our head down, we kept our belief and … we’ve seen the victories come. It’s just reassuring to know that we’re on the right track and our work is coming to fruition.”
The Cavaliers are in a good position to stay on the right track this Saturday.
Miami Player to Watch – Junior safety Kam Kinchens
Muskett and the rest of the Virginia offense will need to keep their eye on junior safety Kam Kinchens. The Florida native has missed two games this season, yet he is still third on the team with tackles with 32 and has also recorded two interceptions. Kinchens is one of the premier defensive backs in this year’s draft class and is projected to be picked 21st in the 2024 NFL Draft based on CBS Sports Analyst Chris Trapasso’s latest mock draft.
Kinchens has really come into his own as a prospect as he came into Miami as just a three-star recruit and the 41st-ranked safety in the country. However, he’s done nothing but dominate in his time with the Hurricanes as last year he was named to the AP and Sporting News first-team All-Americans and was an All-ACC selection. If Muskett looks for a deep ball, he will need to be mindful of the explosive Kinchens who recorded two pass deflections against the Cavaliers in last season’s matchup.
Virginia Player to Watch – Graduate student running back Mike Hollins
Since his stellar performance against James Madison, graduate student running back Mike Hollins has stayed relatively quiet. In his three games leading up to Saturday night, he totaled just 49 yards with no touchdown to his name. However, Hollins exploded against North Carolina.
He rushed for a season-high of 66 yards while accounting for three of the four Virginia touchdowns. It’s clear that the Cavaliers’ incredible upset wouldn’t have been possible without his contributions. Hollins, who had a multiple-touchdown game earlier in the season against the Dukes but then went through a tough stretch, has now reasserted himself, making this next game an important opportunity to establish himself as not only a dangerous scoring threat for Virginia, but a consistent one as well.
Key to the Game
Stop the Miami Passing Attack
Junior quarterback Tyler Van Dyke missed Miami’s last contest against Clemson with an apparent leg injury, but all signs point to him being ready to go for Saturday’s matchup. This season has largely been a redemption campaign for Van Dyke. Two seasons ago, he looked destined to be a first-round pick. As a sophomore, he threw 25 touchdowns to just six interceptions and completed 62.3 percent of his passes. He was called one of the best 10 best returning starters in the country and ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. had him as high as 12th on his draft board.
However, Van Dyke did not come close to meeting expectations last season as he managed just 10 touchdowns, and at one point in the season was benched. This season, however, Van Dyke has largely returned to form, having thrown for 1,721 yards with 16 touchdowns to just six interceptions. He will certainly be looking to improve his draft stock and be aggressive against a Virginia secondary that has been less than optimal in their turnover abilities, currently 109th in the country in interceptions per game.
The Cavaliers’ defensive backs need to look to exploit his weaknesses to have a chance at stopping the Hurricanes’ passing attack this weekend. Van Dyke has a tendency to overthrow his receivers on routes to either sideline, sometimes being saved by his talented pass catchers. The Virginia secondary should look to crowd the middle of the field and force these tough sideline throws.
Additionally, Van Dyke isn’t the most accurate passer under pressure and he struggles with throws off his back foot. The Cavalier defensive front should do as much as they can to put constant pressure on the quarterback to force tough throws and increase their chances of a turnover.
If Virginia can limit the damage done by Van Dyke, continue their rushing success and limit offensive turnovers, they are poised to make this game a close one.
Virginia faces Miami in Miami Gardens, Fla. for its final game of a road trip before returning to Charlottesville next week. Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m., and the game will be televised on the ACC Network.