Both the Virginia Cavaliers and the Miami Hurricanes haven't exactly begun the season the way each team expected.
They will hope to get back on the right track in a critical ACC Coastal matchup on Thursday night.
Virginia (2-2, 0-2 ACC) has lost its last two games to North Carolina and Wake Forest after the Cavaliers won their first two to start the season. After failing to Michigan State at home, Miami (2-2) rolled past FCS member Central Connecticut State 69-0.
Thursday will mark the 19th meeting between the Cavaliers and Hurricanes, with Miami leading the series 11-7. The Canes also have won the past two encounters, including 19-14 last season at home.
Virginia at Miami
Kickoff: Thursday, Sept. 30 at 7:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Miami -4
When Virginia Has the Ball
Despite two straight losses, Virginia features the nation's top passing attack. The Cavaliers, and likewise quarterback Brennan Armstrong, lead FBS in passing. The team is averaging 430.5 passing yards per game while Armstrong is at 426.3. Armstrong has done so by throwing it a lot. His 180 attempts are fourth in the country and 32 more than any other ACC quarterback (NC State's Devin Leary has attempted 148 passes). But to his credit, Armstrong is tied for sixth nationally with 13 touchdown passes (Pittsburgh's Kenny Pickett leads the ACC with 15) and has thrown just three interceptions while completing 67 percent of his attempts.
Virginia's pass-heavy approach could potentially be a problem for Miami's defense, which struggled with tackling and generating a pass rush in losses to Alabama and Michigan State. Armstrong also doesn't make it easy on defenses by spreading the ball around. Five different Cavaliers have recorded 13 or more receptions to this point, led by Billy Kemp IV's 25. Dontayvion Wicks has been the most productive pass-catcher with 460 yards and four touchdowns on 22 receptions. Last week against Wake Forest, Wicks did plenty of damage, hauling a career-high eight passes for 114 yards and a score against the Demon Deacons.
With so much success through the air, Virginia hasn't run the ball much and it shows. The Cavaliers are averaging 115.5 rushing yards per game, last in the ACC and tied for 109th nationally. Quarterback-turned-wide receiver Keytaon Thompson has been the most explosive ball carrier thus far (7.1 ypc on 11 att.) and could get his chances against the Hurricanes in an effort to keep the defense somewhat honest.
When Miami Has the Ball
It is unknown who will start under center for the Hurricanes on Thursday night. Starter D'Eriq King, who has been dealing with a shoulder injury, missed the team's last game against Central Connecticut State. Tyler Van Dyke and Jake Garcia played well in King's place, but this is obviously a step up in competition from the FCS Blue Devils.
"We're trying to see D'Eriq's availability, he's improving and feeling better every day and was able to move around a little bit today, so we'll see where he's at with that," Hurricanes head coach Manny Diaz said.
Central Connecticut aside, Miami's offense averaged 17.7 points per game in its first three games. Also, center Corey Gaynor and guard/tackle Justice Oluwaseun also missed last week's game with undisclosed injuries.
This week, Miami will get a boost as running back Jaylan Knighton returns after serving a four-game suspension to start the season. He will team with Cam'Ron Harris and freshman Cody Brown to form a three-headed rushing attack.
Miami will face a Virginia defense that has struggled in each of its last two games. The Cavaliers have given up 96 combined points in losses to North Carolina and Wake Forest. Virginia hasn't been able to generate a lot of pressure on opposing quarterbacks (six sacks in four games), which has resulted in several big plays for opposing offenses.
There are a lot of questions with the Hurricanes' offense, especially with King questionable for the game. But there might be more questions surrounding the Cavaliers' defense right now.
This game will likely come down to the defense: which unit can make a stop during critical points in the game? Virginia hasn't been able to rush the passer this year, and it's given up big chunk plays against teams with less talent than Miami. This is where Miami might have a slight advantage because of talent.
Prediction: Miami 31, Virginia 28
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— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, Pro Player Insiders and is a reporter for Sports Talk Florida. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.