To this point, last season’s home win over Miami is the signature victory of the Bronco Mendenhall era at Virginia.
It announced to the world that the Cavaliers were no longer the doormats of the ACC and after a couple of stagnant years, the program was finally heading in the right direction.
We continue our 2019 Virginia football opponent preview series with the Cavaliers’ road trip to Miami, which is part of the Wahoos’ toughest stretch of the season. Virginia’s road game at Notre Dame and Miami are separated by a bye week and Duke comes to town on Oct. 19.
One of the first big decisions new head coach Manny Diaz has to make is who will be the man under center. Malik Rosier is gone, but N’Kosi Perry is back after starting six games last season and throwing for 1,029 yards and 13 touchdowns. He’ll compete with Ohio State transfer Tate Martell, who was granted immediate eligibility by the NCAA.
Martell threw for 7,507 yards, 113 touchdowns and just nine interceptions while going 43-0 as the starting quarterback at Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas. Coming out of high school, he was a consensus five-star prospect and the No. 2 dual-threat quarterback in the country by Rivals, 247sports and Scout.com.
The Hurricanes have to replace some major pieces from last season’s defense, including starting safeties Jaquon Johnson and Sheldrick Redwine and defensive linemen Joe Jackson and Gerald Willis. But the cupboard is far from bare.
Shaquille Quarterman and Michael Pinckney are two of the top linebackers in the ACC after combining last season with 25 tackles for a loss and 9.5 sacks. Behind them in the secondary, Trajan Bandy looks like one of the best cornerbacks in the country and the Hurricanes are expecting USC transfer Bubba Bolden to start at safety, though his enrollment was held up in late July and as of Saturday, he wasn’t listed on Miami’s roster.
Up front, defensive end Jonathan Garvin returns after starting all 13 games last season and posting 17 tackles for a loss and 5.5 sacks. Graduate transfer Trevon Hill will come off the other edge. In 2017, he started 12 games and posted 5.5 sacks, but Hill was dismissed from the team at Virginia Tech the day after last season’s loss to Old Dominion.
Game-deciding matchupIf there’s a glaring weakness on Miami’s roster right now it’s the offensive line. Of the seven linemen who started at least five games last season, five are gone. Guard Navaughn Donaldson is the lone solidified starter, and the Hurricanes’ coaches may be tinkering with starting combinations well into the season. If Virginia’s loaded front seven can shut down the running game and get in the quarterback’s face — both of which were key components to last season’s upset — the Cavaliers will be celebrating again.
Virginia is 7-9 all-time against Miami. The Cavaliers won three straight between 2010-12. They’ve won two of the last six meetings.
The Hurricanes aren’t the same program that dominated the ‘90s, but it is still Miami. Jeff Thomas is still one of the most explosive wide receivers in the ACC. The same goes for running back DeeJay Dallas, and graduate transfer wide receiver K.J. Osbourn caught 53 passes for 892 yards and seven touchdowns last season at Buffalo. When a quarterback with Martell’s talent has that many weapons, special things happen. Miami is also going to have one of the conference’s top defenses again this season. That being said, Virginia has a chance to win its first game in Miami since 2011. The win will be especially big in term of Coastal Division standings if the Cavaliers already have a victory over Pitt in their back pocket.