Riding a two-game win streak and seemingly getting better every week, first-year head coach Al Golden needs to push the right buttons in order to get his squad ready for a Thursday night win over the Virginia Cavaliers. Each week, a building block to better days.
Miami is again under the spotlight this week, nationally televised on ESPN for this sixth time this season – third in primetime – and on display for all of those who love or hate this program. All college football eyes will again be on South Florida this Thursday eve.
Seven games into the season UM is experiencing something that hasn’t been the case in years; improvement as the year rolls on. 4-3 could legitimately be 6-1 and aside from getting better every week, the Canes have shown tremendous growth by not mailing it in when the going got tough. Where past UM teams have folded, this one continues gaining momentum into late fall.
Heartbreaking, last-minute losses against Kansas State and Virginia Tech would’ve broken lesser Miami teams, but this squad is 2-0 since a loss in Blacksburg. A resilient road win at North Carolina was followed by a dominant performance against Georgia Tech.
Still, a showdown against Virginia still screams ‘must-win’ as it’s time that the Miami program keep inching ahead, as opposed to two steps forward and several steps back. Golden’s squad needs to prove not only that it can consistently win, but that it can absorb the praise that comes from success while keeping the work ethic, effort and discipline where it needs to remain for the duration.
Virginia has been a tricky rivalry for the Canes since joining the ACC. Road games in Charlottesville have always been a battle for UM, often down the wire and in 2010 resulting in a season-defining loss.
Midway through the second quarter Cavaliers defensive tackle John-Kevin Dolce fired into the chest of Jacory Harris, knocking the junior quarterback out of the game and several thereafter.
After two quick interceptions by back-up Spencer Whipple, Miami’s coaching staff burned the redshirt of true freshman Stephen Morris, who almost rallied the Canes back from a 24-0 deficit, falling 24-19.
Two years prior Miami’s Harris-led comeback proved to be enough. Having replaced starter Robert Marve late in the game and trailing 17-10 from late in the second quarter until the final moments, the true freshman led the Canes on a fifteen-play, 95-yard game-tying drive with under a minute to play.
In overtime. Harris found fellow freshman Aldarius Johnson for the go-ahead score and after a defensive strip on the Cavs first overtime play from scrimmage, Miami’s endurance proved to be the difference-maker.
Miami fell 17-7 at Virginia in 2006 and in 2004 put together a seven-play, 70-yard drive in the final minutes to stretch a 24-21 lead to a 31-21. Since joining the ACC the Canes are 2-2 at Scott Stadium.
The Canes took care of business the last time the Cavs rolled into Sun Life, putting on a 52-17 performance. Harris went 18-of-31 for 232 yards with two touchdowns and an interceptions while Graig Cooper, Lee Chambers and Damien Berry combined for 272 yards and three scores on the ground.
Two years prior, the game that most likely set the tone for that 2009 contest — the 48-0 drubbing in the Orange Bowl finale. 418 yards given up and 189 amassed, courtesy of five turnovers and an inability to stop the tight end.
Miami got a 25-17 win in 2005, making the Canes 2-1 against the Cavs at home.
That said, history is history for a reason and in 2011 these are two 4-3 squads with two conference losses a piece. Virginia got their wins against William & Mary, Indiana, Idaho (in overtime) and a miraculous upset of Georgia Tech. Losses came against North Carolina, Southern Miss and NC State.
Quarterback Michael Rocco gets the start against Miami on Thursday night. Rocco has four touchdowns and eight interceptions on the season and his performance of the season came at North Carolina in a 28-17 loss where the sophomore was 22-of-37 for 287 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions.
Senior wideout Kris Burd is the leading receiver on the season with 34 receptions for 447 yards, though he’s yet to find the end zone. Sophomore receiver Tim Smith is next with 18 receptions for 276 yards and two touchdowns.
Perry Jones and Kevin Parks are the Cavs’ duo at running back, both in that 5-foot-8 range and under 200 pounds. Jones has 576 yards on the season with two touchdowns while Parks has picked up 386 yards with seven scores. Both are averaging about five yards-per-carry.
Defensive the Cavaliers earned some hype weeks back when shutting down Georgia Tech’s triple option, holding the Wreck to 272 on the ground and 296 total. A stat that is less impressive a week later after the Canes held the Yellow Jackets to 134 rushing yards and 77 through the air.
For a Miami team on the rise, this is one of those games they Canes used to drop, but have to get done under Golden. Virginia is a sound team under head coach Mike London, but doesn’t have the type of explosive offense that should give the Canes fits. Conversely, should the Miami offense continue clicking, Virginia doesn’t have the defense to shut down all phases of the Hurricanes O.
Game eight and the recipe remains the same. Strong offensive line play, smart football from Harris and a steady diet of Lamar Miller and Mike James. Offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch must also return to his bag of tricks, calling a balanced game, albeit one with a few wrinkles that takes advantage of Miami’s speed at the skills positions.
A home game at Sun Life should be a big difference-maker here. A rare Thursday night game should bring out a good home crowd, but more importantly this one isn’t at Scott Stadium, where Miami has struggled in the past.
Harris all but left the field in a body bag last October in Charlottesville. In one “revenge” game this season he led his Canes to a victory over the Buckeyes and was even stronger in Miami’s first win at North Carolina in four tries.
A top his game and under the lights this week, Harris should bring his best against the Cavs en route to a Canes win. – C.B.