Ahead by 14 points early in the second half, it looked as though Virginia was in the driver’s seat to pull off one of the biggest upsets in college football last season as the Cavaliers were shocking No. 2 Miami in Miami Gardens.
But in a matter of minutes, Virginia’s lead spiraled out of control, much like the latter half of their entire season as Miami scored 30 unanswered points to knock off the Cavaliers 44-28 and keep their undefeated season alive.
“I like the way my team played,” Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall said last season after the loss. “We were well prepared, played hard. We had plenty of chances to stage the upset. Came up short.”
Eleven months later, the two Coastal Division foes meet again, this time in Charlottesville where Virginia (3-2, 1-1) has had great success against the Hurricanes since Miami (5-1, 2-0) entered the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2004. The Cavaliers have beaten Miami three times at home since 2010 including a 22nd-ranked Hurricane team 24-19 in 2010.
This go around, the Hurricanes will travel north with a No. 16 nationally ranking after narrowly edging in-state rival Florida State 28-27 last Saturday. Miami needed 21-straight points in this act to earn their first home win over the Seminoles in over a decade.
“Well, history has proven that’s the kind of game it’s been,” Miami head coach Mark Richt said. “When you stop a streak, normally it takes something, I’ll say, spectacular. Like, last year, we had lost seven in a row and it took a spectacular play to win the game.”
Virginia’s heartbreaking loss to the Hurricanes last season was one of four straight defeats for the Cavaliers to end their season and just two games into the conference slate in 2018, Virginia will be looking for a marquee win to keep pace in the ACC’s Coastal Division.
“Our players know they’re capable of beating top teams, they just have to finish,” Mendenhall said of his team. “That’s the task, to play well through the majority of the game and add the other component to close it out.”
Miami enters Saturday night’s showdown with the nation’s 20th ranked offense as the Hurricanes are averaging 41.5 points per game. Virginia’s defense surrenders just over 20 points per game but showed signs of fatigue against a high-powered N.C. State offense two weeks ago. The Cavaliers used their bye week to get healthier on the defensive side of the ball but will need to put the pieces back together to tangle with quarterback N’Kosi Perry who tossed four touchdowns in the Canes’ win over Florida State.
Perry has thrown for 646 yards and 11 touchdowns so far this season and has emerged as the Hurricanes’ number one quarterback after taking over for Malik Rosier who struggled earlier in the season.
“The quarterback (Perry) seems to provide a spark and an ability to move the ball a little bit with his legs,” Mendenhall said of Perry. “It appears they’re opportunistic and the energy and the turnovers that their defense creates their offense then is opportunistic and leverages that.”
Miami’s defense has proven to be one of the best in the conference as they’ve sacked an opposing team’s quarterback 20 times already in 2018 and have forced 14 turnovers through six games.
Virginia quarterback Bryce Perkins will need to be ready to get the ball out of his hands quickly as the Cavaliers’ offensive line has yielded 12 sacks.
Perkins’ first season as a Cavalier got off to a hot start but the junior recorded his first two-interception game against the Wolfpack. His speedy weapon in the slot, senior wide receiver Olamide Zaccheaus, is continuing his record career as a Cavalier and will need to be Perkins’ constant weapon against a fast Miami defense.
Zaccheaus is the only active player in the country with 2,000 career receiving yards and 450 career rushing yards and has 501 receiving yards and six touchdowns this season.