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Matchup: Virginia (4-3) at Miami (4-3)
Venue: Sun Life Stadium – Natural Grass
Date: Thursday, Oct. 27
Time/TV: 8:00 pm ET - ESPN
Line: Miami -13, o/u 48.5
I guess what it took to get Arizona to play up to their potential was for Mike Stoops to get fired. That must be the case because the Wildcats looked like a remarkably different team last Thursday night than the one that had consistently underperformed in 2011 and for much of 2010. When the final gun sounded, ‘Zona had stomped UCLA 48-12, easily covering the number (-4) and raising my Thursday night record in 2011 to 5-3 (63%).
Then again, maybe it had nothing to do with Mike Stoops and the reality is the Bruins are just that awful. Seriously, I know he is an alum and all but how much longer can head coach Rick Neuheisel be employed?
Moving on to this Thursday, let’s hop on a plane and head back East, specifically down to South Florida and take a look at Miami and Virginia.
Both programs are in the midst of rebuilding with new coaches and both have shown flashes of excellence and mediocrity so far in 2011. Mike London, in his 2nd year at Virginia, and Al Golden, in his first season at Miami, are very familiar with one another from their time together on Al Groh’s staff at Virginia. Since that time, London went to Richmond where he won a 1-AA National Championship with the Spiders and thus punched his ticket for a bigger job. Golden, meanwhile, went to Temple and turned the Owls into a winner after years of being a doormat and in the process made himself a very attractive coaching candidate.
While both programs sit at 4-3, it is the home team Hurricanes who have looked better as of late. Last weekend, the Miami rush defense, which entered the game ranked 94th in the nation, held Georgia Tech and its second-ranked rushing attack to 134 yards on the ground and just 211 total yards. And if the Yellow Jackets can’t run they are pretty much sunk and accordingly Miami cruised to an easy 24-7 win.
That win coupled with the victory over North Carolina the previous week gave Miami their first back-to-back victories since they beat Maryland and Georgia Tech in mid-November of 2010. Now, all that stands between the Hurricanes first three game winning streak since 2009 is a Virginia team which struggled mightily last week against North Carolina State.
The Cavaliers looked like they were trending in a positive direction when they defeated Georgia Tech 24-21 on Oct. 15. However, it was a case of “one step forward and two steps back” as they regressed a week later in a 28-14 home loss to the Wolfpack. Against NCST, Virginia managed just 12 first downs and an average of 3.7 yards per play - 249 total yards - on offense, the lowest offensive output in London's two seasons.
What’s tougher to accept for the Cavs is that “production” came against a banged-up Wolfpack defense that was starting its fourth combination in six games along the defensive line due to injuries.
The root of Virginia’s problems on offense stem from the fact that London just can’t seem to settle on a starting quarterback. It is never a good sign for a team to rotate QB’s throughout a game but that is just what London has done so far in 2011 with sophomore Michael Rocco – a traditional pocket passer – and true freshman David Watford – more of an athlete at the QB position. Their two differing skill sets have rarely added up to efficient production as the numbers from the NC State game would indicate. Rocco and Watford combined to go 11 for 35 for 125 yards against the Wolfpack.
Now the Cavaliers duo at QB must face a rapidly improving Miami defense led by Sean Spence. The senior linebacker has 65 total tackles (10th nationally), 9.5 tackles for loss (7th nationally), three sacks and a forced fumble and has been named one of the 12 semifinalists for the Butkus Award, honoring the nation's best LB. Spence and company will look to corral a Virginia rushing game featuring Perry Jones, Kevin Parks, and Clifton Richardson.
There was some QB controversy at the start of the season for Miami as many thought Stephen Morris might overtake Jacory Harris but Golden has stuck with the oft criticized Harris and he is starting to pay dividends. The offensive numbers aren’t huge – Miami only boasts the 79th ranked offense in college football – but the decision making process for Harris is much better and most importantly, the interceptions are way down.
It certainly helps to have a great running back to hand off to and Lamar Miller appears to be the next in a long line of talented Hurricane backs. Miller will be the focal point of the offense on Thursday night and will be tested against a Virginia defense ranked 19th in the country.
Thursday’s Betting Notes:
Virginia is 2-5 against the spread The Cavs have played four straight at home (2-2 SU, 1-3 ATS)
UVA is 1-1 SU and 0-2 ATS on the road, with the lone win coming against Indiana (34-31), who is 1-7 overall.
Miami is 4-3 ATS this season The Hurricanes have gone 3-1 SU and 2-2 ATS at home.
The two non-covers came as double-digit favorites against Kansas State (24-28) and Bethune Cookman (45-14).
The home team has won the last two encounters.
The total has gone 2-2 in the last four encounters but the ‘over’ is 2-0 in the last two from South Florida.
No look-ahead for Miami, with Duke on deck next week.