After two consecutive victories over ranked teams, the Miami Hurricanes now find themselves No. 3 in the newly released College Football Playoff rankings.
The Hurricanes’ (9-0) latest win came over No. 3 Notre Dame, 41-8 as Miami led the game from start to finish and simply dominated the Irish in every face. The Hurricanes have already clinched their first-ever trip to the ACC Championship Game, but will look to keep things rolling against an upstart Virginia Cavaliers team.
Last week, the Cavaliers (6-4) lost to Louisville 38-21 as quarterback Lamar Jackson ran for 147 yards and a score. After blazing out to a 5-1 start, Virginia has lost three of its last four games, all to ACC teams.
These two teams have played each other 14 times previous with Miami holding a slight 8-6 advantage.
Virginia at Miami
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 18 at 12 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ABC
Spread: Miami -19.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Hurricanes’ defense
In their dominating victory over Notre Dame last Saturday, Miami’s defense came up with three interceptions, a strip sack, and a fumble recovery. That gave the Hurricanes eight takeaways in their previous two games and 24 for the season, which is the fourth most in the nation.
Miami will be playing a Virginia team that has been disciplined this year as the Cavaliers have turned the ball over just 12 times in 10 games. Five of those 10 turnovers came in two games, three against Boston College and two against Louisville, both resulting in losses.
The Hurricanes have a plus-15 advantage in turnover margin, which is the second best in the country. With Virginia quarterback Kurt Benkert (above, right) putting together a solid season (2,492 passing yards, 21 TDs), it will be up to Miami’s pass rush to get pressure on him to try to force him to make mistakes early in the game.
2. Cavaliers’ defense
Virginia also enters Saturday’s game with an impressive defense. The Cavaliers are ranked 36th in the country in total defense at 359.1 yards per game allowed.
Free safety Quin Blanding, who has 454 career tackles, leads the way and will be looking to slow down Miami quarterback Malik Rosier and the Hurricanes’ offense.
Rosier was efficient against Notre Dame last week, completing 15 of his 24 pass attempts for 137 yards and a touchdown. Most of the Hurricanes’ damage came on the ground, as they ran for 237 yards on the Irish, led by running back Travis Homer’s 146.
Virginia’s focus needs to be on stopping the run and trying to force Rosier to beat them through the air. While Rosier has posted an impressive 20:7 touchdown-to-interception ratio this season, he’s still not a prolific passer and is completing just 56.7 percent of his attempts on the season.
3. Miami’s attitude
During their last two victories over Virginia Tech and Notre Dame, the Hurricanes have played with a chip on their shoulder as they had something to prove to the nation. Now that Miami is expected to win by a wide margin over Virginia, will the Hurricanes come out flat?
Players and fans on Twitter felt the Hurricanes were disrespected by being ranked below a Clemson Tigers team that lost to the Syracuse Orange, who Miami defeated by eight points. In their final home game of the season, the Hurricanes must play with the same edge that they did against the Hokies and Fighting Irish.
Virginia has the offensive firepower to keep the game close in the fourth quarter. Benkert is tied for the lead in the ACC in touchdown passes, with 21, and is averaging 249.2 passing yards per game on the season. Miami has already won the ACC Coastal Division and punched its ticket to the conference championship game, but it can’t afford any slips up if it wants to stay in the College Football Playoff conversation.
Now that Miami controls its destiny as it relates to a spot in the College Football Playoff some experts have said the team and fans will be complacent against an inferior opponent. Don’t count on it.
Hurricanes head coach Mark Richt and defensive coordinator Manny Diaz will have the team focused, as they are third in the playoff rankings behind a Clemson team that has lost a game.
While Virginia hasn’t turned the ball over a lot this season, they haven’t played a defense with as talented as Miami’s. Look for the Hurricanes to continue to make a statement as they count down to their first-ever appearance in the ACC Championship Game.
Prediction: Miami 37, Virginia 17
— 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, the Miami Herald and the Palm Beach Post and is a reporter for Pro Player Insiders. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.