CHARLOTTESVILLE – No. 20 Virginia had the week off to lick its wounds after a frustrating and bruising road loss at Notre Dame. Miami, meanwhile, dropped a bizarre home game to Virginia Tech, falling behind 28-0 after committing five first-half turnovers, then storming back to tie the game 35-35, only to give up the deciding touchdown in the final two minutes.
Susan Miller Degnan has been the Miami Hurricanes beat writer for the Miami Herald since 2000, the year before the Hurricanes won their fifth national title.
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As she did last week for the Hurricanes game against Virginia Tech, Miller Degnan took time out to answer four downs worth of questions about Miami going into Friday night’s game against Virginia.
1) Where is Miami emotionally after Saturday? The 28-0 hole, the big comeback, the disappointing loss. How will the Hurricanes bounce back on a short week?
Miami coach Manny Diaz said his players after the game were “hurting badly.’’ He said “there was not one negative word being said from one person to another person,’’ which is the way “it has been all year.’’
Diaz pointed to the respect the players have for one another and how proud he was of the way they fought to nearly mount a “comeback that gets talked about forever.’’
But let’s face it, the proof is in the execution and, ultimately, the result. These Hurricanes for some reason do not fight like that for the entire game, and they’re not good enough to choose which quarters to turn it on. When I see the Hurricanes come out enthused and engaged and stay that way for four quarters, I’ll believe that they are capable of bouncing back.
2) Jarren Williams got pulled after throwing interceptions on each of Miami's first three possessions against Virginia Tech. N'Kosi Perry played great, throwing for 422 yards and four touchdowns. So... Who plays quarterback Friday night against UVA?
This was the money question -- until we learned for sure what we had suspected, that Williams hurt his throwing arm/shoulder likely before the Virginia Tech game. The coach said Williams is “our guy,’’ after the Virginia Tech game Saturday and again on Monday, but on Tuesday Williams was sidelined during most of practice with what UM called an “upper extremity injury.’’
Diaz definitely opened the door for Perry on Monday when he indicated that Williams would begin the week as the starter, but that coaches would have to “see how he responds.’’
Keep in mind that Perry also threw a pick against Virginia Tech, had another pick negated because of a roughing-the-passer penalty and threw one ball almost straight into the hands of a Hokies defender, who dropped it.
Williams has been manhandled all season because of UM’s struggling offensive line. Of course, Perry was sacked six times Saturday, and on one play he nearly got his head taken off. Regardless of who starts (and as of Tuesday I wasn’t optimistic about Williams), I’m sure Virginia will prepare for both.
3) Virginia Tech had some success running QB Hendon Hooker against Miami. Virginia's best offensive weapon is the running of QB Bryce Perkins. How well will the Hurricanes be able to bottle up Perkins, especially considering the emergence of receivers like Joe Reed and Hasise Dubois for UVA?
Again, I’m not feeling particularly optimistic about this situation, despite the Canes being ranked seventh in rushing defense. Hendon Hooker was the first quarterback this season to run freely on UM, though the other Power 5 quarterbacks Miami has faced were not the running types.
Diaz proclaimed Monday, “I’m going to change my role in coaching the defense.’’ He said the play of the defense has been “completely unacceptable.’’
He did not elaborate on specifics, but made it clear that players will start to be held accountable for their play and that he will be closely connected to the defense “going forward.’’
4) Speaking of Reed, he's one of the ACC's most explosive kick returners. How has Miami's coverage been and are they likely to give Reed a chance to return anything Friday?
Going into the week, Reed was ranked second in the nation in kickoff return touchdowns (one), and fourth in kickoff returns, averaging 34.1 yards per return. The Canes rank 64th nationally in kickoff return defense (20.4-yard average per return) and 38th in punt return defense (4.7 yards per return). But I’ll let Manny Diaz answer that question.
“No. 1, Bubba Baxa does a great job of getting touchbacks (19 of 31 kickoffs),’’ Diaz said. “I’ve been very pleased with our punt coverage and kickoff coverage. The down side is the last two kickoffs that have gotten outside the 25-yard line have been when we kick off from our 20 due to a penalty...Our effort and intensity on all our special teams -- our coverage unit and our return units -- have made major improvements. That being said, our coverage unit has a massive undertaking this week because Reed has crossed the 50-yard line in almost every [game] they’ve played.”