Miami's offense wasn't the same last week after Stacy Coley was knocked out of the game. The freshman sensation is expected back this week.
The Miami Hurricanes (7-3) have dropped three straight and will look to rebound against a Virginia Cavaliers (2-8) squad riding a three-year win streak over "The U".
Miami jumped out to a 17-7 lead at Duke last week, but a Stephen Morris interception killed a promising drive and an opportunity to pull away. Instead, the Blue Devils pulled to within three, took a one-point lead into halftime and outlasted the Hurricanes, grinding out a 48-30 upset win.
Virginia is coming off a bye but is riding a brutal seven-game losing streak. The Cavaliers have two wins on the season—BYU and Virginia Military Institute—but are 0-6 in ACC play, with Miami and Virginia Tech looming.
Having lost three straight, a matchup against a struggling squad like Virginia appears ideal for Miami.
"Senior Day" at Sun Life Stadium for the home finale, taking on an inferior opponent, could help the Hurricanes to right the ship regarding the regular season, which ends at Pitt next Friday.
For Virginia, an opportunity to kick a Miami team that's obviously down, getting back to winning ways and ending a rough season on a high note.
Something has to give between these two Coastal Division foes—and it will, come high noon in South Florida this Saturday.
Time: 12:00 p.m. ET
Place: Sun Life Stadium, Miami Gardens, FL
TV: ESPN U/WatchESPN
Radio: WQAM 560 (Miami)—WINA 97.5 (Virginia)
Spread: Miami -19.5 (Hilton, Caesars, Mirage)
The 41-40 loss to Virginia was arguably the roughest loss of the 2012 season for Miami. The Hurricanes suffered beatdowns at the hands of Kansas State, Notre Dame and Florida State, but the Cavaliers comeback was the most gut-wrenching.
Miami and Virginia went back and forth all game. The Cavaliers led 28-24 at the half, but the Hurricanes stormed back and took a 38-28 lead early in the fourth quarter. Unfortunately, the Miami offense never found the end zone again.
The Hurricanes appeared to be in control, up three with 4:27 remaining. Miami's defense came up big on a safety, extending the lead to 40-35, but the Hurricanes offense—potent most of the day—kept the ball on the ground, went three-and-out and the Cavaliers had new life.
Quarterback Michael Rocco continued to surgically pick apart a Miami defense that couldn't get to him. The Cavaliers marched 87 yards on 16 plays, picking up two fourth downs—one aided by a pass interference call. With :06 remaining, Rocco found tight end Jake McGee in the back of the end zone for the game-winning touchdown.
Duke Johnson was electric for Miami. The running back rushed for 150 yards, threw a touchdown, returned a kickoff 95 yards for a score and finished with 368 all-purpose yards. The Hurricanes pulled out all the stops on defense and special teams but simply couldn't close with the game on the line.
The above Canes All Access video is full of in-game highlights, player commentary and postgame locker room footage, showing how dejected Miami was after coming up short.
The final two minutes of the clip were filmed the Monday after, when Golden drove home how proud he was of his kids for the effort. Miami was short a few key players—including linebacker Eddie Johnson, who was suspended—but fought until the end, ultimately coming up one play short.
Miami must shake off three weeks of disappointment, remembering what it's like to win again.
Shake Off Past Three Weeks, Start Fresh
Al Golden and staff are out of motivational speeches and rallying cries. A loss to Florida State welcomed talk of a rematch in the ACC Championship game, but Miami still fell to Virginia Tech a week later. From there, motivation came in form of playing for a 10-win regular season, which isn't an option after a loss to Duke.
Right now, the Hurricanes simply have to play to get back on track. Virginia is a beatable opponent, and in a perfect world, Miami attacks early, gets some confidence and cruises to victory, helping momentum going into next week's season finale at Pitt.
No more "rah-rah" speeches are going to make a difference—results will. Saturday is about fundamental football. Miami is the more talented team, and playing up to potential should bury a flailing Virginia squad.
Get Back to Running the Football
Miami's ground game has all but vanished without the services of Duke Johnson. The Hurricanes rushed for 28 yards against the Hokies two weeks back.
Against the Blue Devils, a respectable 186-yard performance courtesy of Dallas Crawford, Eduardo Clements and Gus Edwards, but Miami still failed to convert in short yardage situations. Most notably, a three-yard loss by Crawford on 3rd-and-1 late in the third quarter when the Hurricanes still led, 31-30.
With Johnson out, it's still a running back by committee situation for the Hurricanes. Crawford is the go-to but lacks big breakaway ability, which welcomes the inexperienced Edwards, or veteran Clements, into the fold.
Three games remain, and as bad as things have been defensively for Miami, the ground attack is going to have to take a step forward, keep drives alive and stop the bleeding.
Find a Way to Create Turnovers
Miami hasn't recovered a turnover since late in the second quarter when it picked off Jameis Winston for the second and final time at Florida State. The Hurricanes got the Hokies to put the ball on the ground on a few occasions, but Virginia Tech always managed to get it back. At Duke, the Blue Devils played a clean game.
After 10 straight quarters without a takeaway, the Hurricanes defense needs a jump-start, and some turnovers will go a long way over the next two weeks. No better time to start than this week, attacking Cavaliers' quarterback David Watford, who has 12 interceptions on the year and five in his last four outings.
Junior safety Anthony Harris has been one of few bright spots for Virginia's defense this fall.
Kick Miami While It's Down
It proved to be sound advice for Virginia Tech two weeks ago and Duke last week. Miami hasn't emotionally recovered from the shellacking in Tallahassee on November 2. Against the Hokies, mental errors on special teams and an inability to recover Virginia Tech fumbles certainly cost Miami.
Last week at Duke, a 17-7 lead looked to be 20-7 or 24-7 before a Stephen Morris interception. The Blue Devils scored, making it a 17-14 game and the Hurricanes continued to unravel—giving up a 20-0 fourth quarter when trailing by one in the third.
Virginia is a fragile bunch as well but was never as high as the Hurricanes, though the fall hasn't been as difficult. Lose at Miami, and it was expected. Get an upset win, and it can help set the tone for the offseason.
Run the Ball at the Hurricanes
Miami couldn't stop Duke on the ground last weekend no matter how hard it tried. The most defeating run was a 33-yard touchdown from Shaquille Powell on 4th-and-1 when Miami trailed by eight and needed a big-time play.
Virginia should come with a healthy dose of Kevin Parks on the ground. Dominate the time of possession battle, get physical with the Hurricanes and eventually take some shots through the air with David Watford when Miami stays in run defense too long.
Play With Nothing to Lose
The statement is somewhat trite, but when riding a seven-game losing streak, cliché becomes truth. Virginia is almost a three-touchdown underdog against a wounded Miami team. Force the Hurricanes to play Cavaliers-style football, and remember that Miami has lost three straight to this Virginia program.
Head coach Mike London obviously has some mojo against the Hurricanes, so a safe assumption is the Cavaliers aren't going to back down on Saturday and believe they can emerge victorious.
Gus Edwards has seen action with Duke Johnson sidelined, but needs more game-day experience as a freshman.
Morris appears to be healthy—or as close to healthy as he'll be the remainder of this season—and needs to continue improving. Much like the final stretch of 2012, the Hurricanes' offense will have to bail out the maligned defense.
The senior quarterback threw for 379 yards and two touchdowns at Duke, but Miami only managed 23 points on 565 total yards. The Hurricanes were also 5-of-15 on third-down conversions and were outscored 20-0 in the fourth quarter.
While the Hurricanes' struggles continue, the onus is on senior leadership to go above and beyond. Miami's running game hasn't been productive as of late, so more pressure is on Morris to continue to lead this offense, taking heat off the defense.
The senior wideout has stepped up tremendously the past few weeks. Four catches for 142 yards and a touchdown against Virginia Tech, followed by an eight-grab, 107-yard showing at Duke. Hurns was also able to reel in five receptions for 84 yards and two touchdowns against a solid Florida State defense.
Morris-to-Hurns is Miami's best offensive play without Duke Johnson on the field, and these two need to stay in sync over their final three games as Hurricanes.
Dallas Crawford solidified himself as the top option with Johnson out, but Edwards needs to cement himself as a reliable number two. Edwards carried 11 times for 35 yards the past two weeks. Prior to that, the freshman had one carry the previous four games.
On paper, Virginia is Miami's easiest remaining opponent. As a result, backups like Edwards need their touches in order to gain valuable experience and reps somewhere other than the practice field.
Virginia running back Kevin Parks has carried 184 times for 796 yards and 10 touchdowns this season.
After Josh Snead ran for 138 yards and Duke tagged Miami for 358 on the ground, Parks is now a legitimate threat. Parks carried 24 times for 100 yards and a touchdown against North Carolina. He's topped the 100-yard mark on three other occasions this season and has 10 touchdowns on the year.
If the junior running back can help keep the chains moving, the Cavaliers will be able to hang in there, sustaining drives, controlling time of possession and keeping the Hurricanes' offense off the field.
Miami has made lesser quarterback look like rock stars this season. Will Watford be the next in line?
The sophomore quarterback has thrown seven touchdowns to 12 interceptions on the year and struggled against North Carolina and Clemson. Prior to that, Watford put up some yards through the air—376 against Georgia Tech and 263 both against Duke and Maryland.
If Miami's front seven can't get to Watford, the Cavaliers' quarterback will be able to stay on the field and will eventually find the end zone.
The junior safety is the bright spot of the Cavaliers' defense and could be Stephen Morris' biggest enemy on Saturday. Virginia's secondary has struggled due to injury, with Demetrious Nicholson and Maurice Canady banged up, but Harris has made plays nonetheless.
In the season-opener against BYU, Harris blocked a punt and intercepted a pass, setting up both touchdowns in a 19-16 win over the Cougars.
With three games remaining, Miami must pull together and shake off the effects of a three-game losing streak.
Tuesday media days in September and October featured less hard-hitting questions when Miami was working its way to 7-0 and a No. 7 national ranking.
With the Hurricanes unraveling and dropping three straight since, media members are grilling head coach Al Golden with more questions related to defensive schemes and the "why" behind disappointing losses.
To his credit, Golden answered what was thrown at him and went into great detail regarding some tough questions, as reported by CaneSport.com (subscription required).
When asked how scheme is related to overall execution:
At the end of the day you summed up any coordinator, entity. You lay out what the philosophy is, what you're trying to execute and ultimately it comes down to the execution of it. The problem with defense is you can get exposed if there's nine or 10 guys doing it right one play and one guy is not. No. 2, when you have issues you weaken other areas by trying to fix those.
I don't think there's any question in my career I've seen just about every defense that you can have. Ultimately it comes down to the execution of what you're trying to get done on any single play. That's it at the end of the day. There's a million different things we can call. We look at that every day. We're evaluating personnel, making sure we put people in position to execute.
When asked about the style of defense Miami runs, Golden elaborated:
Because we didn't have a million defensive linemen, 16 defensive linemen. For the real big guys, the noses, you only needed a couple of those. (Curtis) Porter, Earl Moore, we had to bring (Justin) Renfrow in to have enough to got through the season.
We didn't have the depth on the defensive line, had more linebackers, guys like (Tyriq) McCord that were a hybrid guy. I think it was the best decision for us coming into this season and we'll continue to personnel it. We're going to have to continue to improve and build depth and move forward.
Defensive coordinator Mark D'Onofrio also talked with CaneSport.com about keeping the defensive players positive after a third straight loss:
They're a good group and they've been through a lot of adversity. They came in under a different coaching staff, had to go to work under a new one, go through losing two bowl games the last couple of years. And they are tough-minded and they stick together. They understand there's another opportunity and get ready to go back to work. From week to week it can certainly get better.
Former 'Canes offensive lineman and current Arizona Cardinals tackle Eric Winston opened up to InsideTheU.com (subscription required) and shared his thoughts on the current state of his alma mater:
My problem is a lot of it in the back end. There's hardly any blitzing so you're hardly getting any pressure on the quarterback and the front four is not creating the pressure that gets to the quarterback a lot of times. And the linebackers look totally lost a lot of times to me. If they are in zone they don't read the combo routes coming off of their receivers, they don't play one and two on one side; they have no concept of what these guys might be running, what their favorite play is.
They just kind of show up and they are kind of robotic. They just drop into an area, they sit there and teams just play off of that and receivers just do a good job of sitting in a zone. They really don't make any plays at all in a zone defense and you get them in man and I don't know if it's much better either there. They don't look like they're being coached up. That's my biggest problem with them on defense.
I don't know where it comes from, but it's definitely not the style that I would probably want to play as a college defensive coordinator or head coach. It's definitely not the style that I think has been accustomed to Miami for a long time.
I think another big problem is that this is year three and it doesn't seem like it's getting much better and that's concerning. It's also concerning that the head coach was a defensive coordinator, that's where he made his mark and doing things. Where has he been? What's he have to say?
Obviously he's not calling the plays and calling the defense, but if I'm a defensive guy or an offensive guy and my coordinator is not doing what I want him to do or not doing what I think is right then I either will take over or I'm going to get someone who can. That's my biggest beef with all of this. There hasn't been much changing.
Stephen Morris and Miami should bounce back this Saturday against a subpar Virginia squad.
Predictions are getting harder and harder as the Hurricanes' season rolls on. It's been a mixed bag for Miami this year. There were early struggles, but UM fought back and found a way to persevere on a few occasions.
Miami put everything it had into the Florida State game. Going "all in" and losing has since caused the Hurricanes to bust.
Virginia Tech was a winnable game, but Miami dug a huge hole early with turnovers, gave the Hokies confidence and things got away from the Canes quickly. Against Duke, an opportunity to take a 17-point lead was a 17-14 lead minutes later. Too many points were left on the field for a defense that can't be relied upon.
Miami certainly had time to catch up in both cases, but where the defense continues to fail, the offense is forced to work double time. Special teams fumbles changed the trajectory of the game against Virginia Tech, while the difference against Duke was red zone struggles. How will the story write itself against Virginia?
Things should change this week for Miami, not because the Hurricanes are on the mend, but because the Cavaliers appear to be that bad. This game is simply a mismatch, comparable to the Hurricanes' showdown with South Florida late September.
Defensively, Miami needs the offense to score fast and early, changing the trajectory of the game. Put Virginia on its heels, force them to play catch-up and the turnovers should soon follow.
Regardless, the Hurricanes' offense should be humming in this meeting as the Cavaliers' defense might actually be that much worse than the home team's.
Prediction: Miami 40, Virginia 20