CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) — Virginia’s last meeting with Miami looked like it was going to be a highlight of the Bronco Mendenhall Era — until it turned sour.
The Cavaliers (3-2, 1-1 ACC) hope that if they get a lead this year against Miami, they will hold onto it when Virginia hosts the No. 16 Hurricanes (5-1, 2-0) on Saturday night.
Virginia led 28-14 early in the third quarter at Miami a year ago, but two touchdowns — one defensive — in a span of seven seconds pulled the Hurricanes even, and they scored the last 30 points in a 44-28 victory.
The game was on players’ minds as they prepared this week, along with a desire to make a statement.
“I think it’s a huge opportunity,” linebacker Charles Snowden said of the 7 p.m. start. “You don’t get to play ranked teams on prime-time TV every weekend. So I think our team is ready to get up for the challenge, and we’re really excited. It’s kind of like a do-over from last year. … We had ’em on the ropes and we let it get away.”
Turnovers were key to Miami’s rally — a 30-yard interception return for touchdown tied the game — but the Cavaliers are intent on keeping Miami’s now infamous turnover chain dormant at Scott Stadium.
Safety Juan Thornhill, who said he wasn’t at 100 percent last year, is ready for the challenge.
“I mean, I want to go against the best,” he said. “I’m not backing down from anybody. If they throw it to me, I feel like I’m going to make the plays this year and I really want them to throw it my way this year, too, just because of the fact that I feel like I didn’t make those plays last year. They’re going to test me and I’m going to be ready for it.”
The Cavaliers will be coming off a bye week, and Miami played Florida State last Saturday.
“They’ll be well-rested, because they had an open date,” Miami coach Mark Richt said. “We had an emotional ballgame and had to turn around pretty quick to get ready for this. Hopefully that won’t come into play by the end of it.”
Some other things to watch when Miami visits Virginia:
Virginia’s Bryce Perkins has been effective as a dual threat, but the Cavaliers have struggled when opposing teams take the run option away. Finding a balance that allows WR Olamide Zaccheaus and RB Jordan Ellis to be effective will be key for the Cavaliers as they try to get untracked offensively.
No defense in the country has been better on third downs than Miami, which is stopping opponents 80 percent of the time in those situations. The Hurricanes are ranked No. 2 nationally in total defense, No. 3 in fewest passing yards allowed and No. 7 in rushing defense. There are only five players in the country with at least 11 1/2 tackles for loss so far this season — and Miami has two of them in Gerald Willis III and Jonathan Garvin.
Virginia is one of the nation’s worst teams in punt returns, averaging just over 5.2 yards per attempt. On Saturday, it’s unclear if any punts will actually reach a Cavs returner in the air. Miami ranks 128th out of 129 FBS teams in net punting, with the Hurricanes netting an average of only 30 yards per kick.
FIRST TO 4
Miami has won the last three games in the series. Neither Miami nor Virginia has ever beaten the other side in four consecutive meetings; the Hurricanes won the first three matchups between the schools, Virginia went 3-0 against Miami from 2010 through 2012, and the ‘Canes won in 2015, 2016 and 2017.
Miami will return to the state of Virginia on Nov. 17 to play Virginia Tech. This is the third time that the Hurricanes have played at both Virginia and Virginia Tech in the same season. In each of the previous instances, in 2014 and 2016, Miami has only managed to go 1-1.
AP Sports Writer Tim Reynolds in Miami contributed to this report.
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