Second-ranked Miami put an emphatic stamp on its climb toward the top, easily dismissing Notre Dame last Saturday with a punishing 41-8 triumph that put the Hurricanes smack in the center of the national title race at No. 3 in the College Football Playoff Poll. Now comes the harder part — remaining up there, and the Hurricanes’ first test comes in the home finale Saturday, when ACC Coastal Division-rival Virginia comes to town after suffering a 38-21 loss to Louisville.
For the Hurricanes, who have won 14 straight, the trick will be keeping that chip on their shoulder that propelled them each week, particularly in statement wins over Virginia Tech and Notre Dame the last two Saturdays. “(We) play better ball when they’re a little bit mad,” coach Mark Richt told reporters. “It’s a tough game. It’s a physical game. Sometimes you just need something, just a little bit, to get your blood pumping.” Miami shouldn’t really need any more incentive as the only thing the team has really accomplished thus far other than earning much-needed respect is wrapping up its first Coastal Division title and a spot in the ACC Championship Game against Clemson. Still, there’s always a chance of a Miami letdown from last week’s high and Virginia needs a pick-me-up after losing three of its last four as the bowl-eligible Cavaliers look to avoid their sixth straight losing season.
TV: Noon. ET, ABC. LINE: Miami -19
ABOUT VIRGINIA (6-4, 3-3 ACC): The Cavaliers offense has been struggling of late and the team has been unable to get top runner Jordan Ellis (766 yards) going with any consistency, resulting in the ground game amassing less than 103 yards in each of the last four games. The Cavaliers have been forced to rely on the arm of Kyle Benkert, who has thrown 21 touchdowns for the second straight season and is averaging 249.2 yards passing per game, but he only threw for 214 yards and a score against Louisville as the Cavs’ quarterback was under pressure most of the day and was sacked four times, the fourth time in the last five games that Benkert was dumped at least three times. The Cavaliers’ struggles running the ball mirror their defensive woes against the run, as four of the last five opponents have churned out at least 200 yards, including 298 by Louisville last week.
ABOUT MIAMI (9-0, 6-0): The Hurricanes have had some issues running the ball at times this year but with the pressure on the last two weeks, Travis Homer, DeeJay Dallas and the ground game came through with 210 yards against Virginia Tech and 237 against Notre Dame to help lighten the load for quarterback Malik Rosier, who has also kept plays alive with his legs. But while the Hurricanes got the job done offensively against Notre Dame both on the ground and through the air, it was Miami’s speedy, ball-swarming defense that really set the tone, completely stifling Heisman hopeful Josh Adams (40 yards, 2.5 yards per carry) and the vaunted Irish ground attack, giving up just 109 yards to a unit that came in averaging 324.8. That attacking defense also resulted in four Hurricanes — defensive backs Jaquan Johnson and Malek Young, and defensive lineman Trajan Bandy and Jonathan Garvin — wearing the turnover chain against the Irish as the unit came up with four takeaways for the fourth straight game and now have 24 for the year.
1. Miami leads this series 8-6 after winning the last two meetings, including a 34-14 decision last year.
2. The Hurricanes are 9-0 for the first time since 2002 and they are 6-0 in the ACC for the first time since joining the conference in 2004.
3. Cavaliers FS Quin Blanding needs three tackles to make Virginia the only school in the nation with two players with at least 100 tackles this season as ILB Micah Kiser leads the ACC with 106.
PREDICTION: Miami 40, Virginia 17