Miami Hurricanes seniors aim for happy home finale against Virginia Cavaliers

It’s Senior Day at Sun Life Stadium, where the Hurricanes will play their home finale and try to end a three-game skid to Virginia.

11/23/2013 12:00 AM

11/23/2013 9:26 PM

For a team that is 2-8 overall, 0-6 in the Atlantic Coast Conference and a loser of seven consecutive games, Virginia has a way of making the most confident Miami Hurricanes fans feel queasy.

Not that many Canes fans would likely be confident these days, given Miami’s three-game losing streak — against Florida State, Virginia Tech and Duke — after starting the season 7-0.

Considering the Cavaliers have defeated the Hurricanes (7-3, 3-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) the past three years, and considering they’ve owned Miami five of their past seven meetings (including a 48-0 debacle in UM’s final game in the Orange Bowl), it’s no wonder Senior Day at Sun Life Stadium will take on even more urgency for the 26 seniors who hope to celebrate Saturday after their final home game.

UM quarterback Stephen Morris said Virginia “holds a special place’’ for him “because we never beat them. That’s really the only thing I ever think about when you talk about Virginia.

“I’m 0-3 against Virginia so that’s something I’m not proud of and something I’d rather fix, and that’s the first thing that comes to my head.”

The Hurricanes were 20-point favorites as of Friday. The Cavaliers, who were off last weekend, have had two weeks to prepare.

“As you guys see,” Morris said, “records don’t really mean anything now. It’s all about playing smart.”

The Hurricanes, strange as it seems, still have a chance to win the Coastal Division of the ACC. They need to beat Virginia and then Pitt (5-5, 2-4) the day after Thanksgiving — and Virginia would have to defeat Virginia Tech (7-4, 4-3) on Nov. 30; North Carolina would also have to defeat Duke the same day.

But nobody is even talking about that unusual scenario, as much as regaining respect and sending the seniors out with pride. UM coach Al Golden is especially grateful in light of the lengthy NCAA case that finally ended last month.

“They stood with us when it was really hard,” Golden said of his seniors. “I know for the most part it’s over now, but there really weren’t many days where they could see the future in the last two years, the last 28 months. Those guys, I’m really proud of them for the way they’ve delivered us through this.

“They adopted somebody else’s problem as their own. They fought through it, they resolved it and they’re allowing us to move forward now. I just want to make sure everyone in our organization understands how pivotal that was for us, and that we send them off the right way.”

The last game Virginia won was a 49-0 pounding of VMI on Sept. 21. The Cavaliers also beat BYU 19-16 in their opener. Since then they’ve lost to, in order, Pittsburgh, Ball State, Maryland, Duke, Georgia Tech, Clemson and UNC.

The Cavs are ranked 108th nationally in scoring offense (20.5 points per game) and 99th in scoring defense (allowing 33.8 points per game).

Miami is ranked 36th nationally in scoring (34.5) and 56th in scoring defense (25.5).

“The one thing we want to focus on is always having a chance to compete,” Virginia coach Mike London said. “You look at college football this past week, the things that happened, teams that won, teams that overcame large deficits. It’s about continuing to give great effort.

“A lot of players on this team have been successful against Miami. You have to create that mind-set, that balance of, we’ve got two games left and we want to play to the best of our ability to send these seniors out.”

The Hurricanes want to do the same, but first they have to find a way to alleviate the defensive woes of the past several weeks. Miami has allowed its opponent to gain 500 or more yards in four of the past five games, which encompassed Duke’s 358 rushing yards last Saturday.

“I don’t know if guys are pressed to make plays or are just over-thinking,” said junior linebacker Denzel Perryman, who also could be playing in his last home game Saturday if he decides to enter the NFL Draft after this season. “After awhile, it does get frustrating, but at the same time you’ve got to stay locked in.”

Senior safety Kacy Rodgers acknowledged the significance of his last run through the smoke, and last game in front of a home crowd.

“I’m sure it’s going to be emotional for all the seniors,” Rodgers said. “We’ve been through a lot. To go out with a victory is going to be special.”

• The Hurricanes have organized a Thanksgiving canned food drive to benefit Feeding South Florida and are asking all fans to bring canned-food items to the stadium, where collection bins will be located at several gates.

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