Virginia Cavaliers (4-3 SU, 2-5 ATS) at Miami Hurricanes (4-3 SU, 4-3 ATS)
Thursday October 27th, 2011. 8:00PM EST, College Football Week 9
Sun Life Stadium Miami, Fla.
By Jay Horne, College Football Handicapper of Predictem.com
Point Spread: UVA +14.5/The U -14.5
Over/Under Total: OFF
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Thursday night football returns to the ACC this week when the Miami Hurricanes host the Virginia Cavaliers at Sun Life Stadium. The game will be an ACC Coastal Divisional match-up featuring middle of the pack teams who are both trying to close out the season on a strong note. The Cavaliers had a 2 game winning streak snapped last week with a 28-14 loss to North Carolina State and currently sit at 1-2 in conference play. After a 4 game home stand, the Cavaliers take the road for just the 2ndtime this season as they travel to South Florida to battle a surging opponent by way of the Miami Hurricanes.
Miami appears to have come to life in recent weeks and appears to be playing well. After a nail biting loss to Virginia Tech 3 weeks ago, the Hurricanes have knocked off two straight opponents which was capped off by a big 24-7 win over no. 22 Georgia Tech last week. Miami was expected to be a contender this season in the ACC Coastal Division, but a 2-3 start erased those expectations. However if you look back on the season, the Hurricanes are just a play or two away from being 6-1 this season. Therefore, Im not sure if the Hurricanes have played as bad as perceived by most of the betting public.
Then again the Hurricanes have not played well at all by their numbers on paper. Miami ranks 61stin total defense and an even more disappointing 81stin total offense this season. In the Hurricanes 3 losses this season, Miami has averaged giving up 32 points per game in those contests. However, the good news for Miami fans is that the offense has started playing well in recent weeks which has resulted in wins rather than losses. If Miami continues to play well on offense, they could still possibly salvage an 8 or 9 win season which seemed nearly impossible just a few short weeks ago.
That Miami offense is a balanced force that can move the ball on the ground or through the air. In the win over North Carolina two weeks ago, Hurricanes QB Jacory Harris threw for 267 yards with 2 scores while shredding the Tarheels defense in route to the victory. Then last week running back Lamar Miller carried the ball for 27 times for just less than 100 yards to beat Georgia Tech on the ground. Miller currently ranks 3rdin the ACC with 799 rushing yards on the season and is averaging a stout 5.8 yards per carry. Miller proved last week that he can handle the heavy work load and it will be interesting to see how many touches he gets again this week.
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Still, the majority of the talent surrounding the Miami offense resides in the passing game. Harris has shown flashes of brilliance with his arm despite poor decision making through his career for the Hurricanes. Still, the Miami receiving corps is very talented with wide outs Tommy Streeter and Travis Benjamin at the helm. Streeter currently leads the team with 428 yards while averaging over 20 yards per catch. Benjamin has historically been the homerun threat for the offense and currently ranks 2ndin receiving with 368 yards on the year. The challenge this Miami group will face this week is they will battle a UVA pass defense that ranks 12thin the country giving up just 176 yards per game.
For Virginia they will definitely need the pass defense to play well, but they have to find some answers on the offensive side of the ball as well. The Cavaliers have been disappointing on offense this season scoring just 24 points per game which ranks 80thout of all teams in the country. The problem starts at the quarterback position with sophomore Michael Rocco. Rocco has not performed well this year and his numbers dont lie. On the season, Rocco has completed just 59% passing for 1,186 yards with 4 scores and 8 picks. The Cavaliers offense has a solid big play threat in the receiving game in WR Kris Burd. Burd has caught 34 passes for 447 yards this season, but his numbers would be much better with more consistency at the quarterback position.
As a result, the Cavaliers have run the ball more frequently this season. Virginia has some guys that are solid rushers capable of moving the ball on the ground. Running back Perry Jones leads the team with 576 yards while averaging over 5 yards per carry. Backup running back Kevin Parks has been impressive in the secondary role racking up 386 yards while also averaging over 5 yards per carry. Therefore Virginia has the players that can carry the ground game and they will attempt to do just that this Thursday night.
However, at times Virginia has abandoned the run this season when playing from behind. Therefore it is important the Cavaliers can get a good start and keep pounding the football into the heart of that Miami defense. For Virginia, they have averaged over 30 rushing attempts in their 4 wins this season while averaging just 20 in their 3 losses on the year. Therefore, it is important that Virginia keeps the game close early and sticks to the ground attack through all 4 quarters of play.
Jays Pick to Cover the Point Spread: Despite some solid performances by Miami in recent weeks, I am not convinced they can keep it going. Miami beat an overrated Georgia Tech team and took advantage of a North Carolina pass defense that cannot stop anyone. Additionally, I like the way Virginia matches up in this game. They have the personnel to be competitive against the Hurricanes passing attack and the running game to move the ball on offense. I expected this line to favor the Hurricanes too much and that is exactly what happened. Take Virginia +14.5.
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