He asked me four questions, so I asked him four of my own regarding Friday’s 8 p.m. nationally televised game (ESPN) between the Miami Hurricanes (2-3, 0-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) and Virginia (4-1, 0-2) at Hard Rock Stadium.
Mike Barber is in his eighth year covering the ACC for the Richmond Times-Dispatch. A New Jersey native and 2001 Rutgers University graduate, Barber spent 10 years covering James Madison football in Harrisonburg, Virginia, before joining the Richmond staff. A self-proclaimed foodie, he briefly owned a bar/restaurant in Harrisonburg. He has also officiated six of his close friends’ weddings.
Mike answers Susan’s questions:
Tell us about Virginia quarterback Bryce Perkins and why he’s special. What should the Hurricanes be most worried about regarding his game, and who has been able to successfuly stop him?
Perkins is a classic pick-your-poison dual-threat quarterback. He arrived at UVA — a juco transfer who had started his career at Arizona State — with unmatched running ability and a very good arm to throw deep balls. This season, he has really improved his short and midrange passing game. The image most people have of him is the play last season where he hurdled a Louisville defender, but he has really developed into a true quarterback, not just an athlete playing that position.
He’s completing 66.5 percent of his passes. No one really has “stopped” him, but if you look at Notre Dame’s 35-20 win in the Cavaliers’ last game, that’s probably the most successful approach. The Irish contained him to limit his scrambling and got after him in that pocket, sacking him eight times. The biggest concern for UVA with Perkins is the number of hits — and hard hits — he has taken this season.
Virginia went into the week ranked second nationally in team sacks. The Hurricanes are last in the nation in sacks allowed. Who are the Cavaliers’ most dominant pass rushers and what makes them great?
UVA has gotten its pressure this year by blitzing. That’s not a huge surprise, considering the 3-4 scheme. The Cavaliers essentially ask their three down linemen to occupy blockers, opening lanes for linebackers and defensive backs to blitz.
Of the team’s 24 sacks, 17 come from linebackers and 3 ½ from safeties and cornerbacks. Individually, outside linebacker Charles Snowden is the team’s most dynamic pass rusher. He has the speed and long arms to be a dominant edge rusher.
At least on paper, Virginia seems to be lacking a rushing offense, averaging only 107.6 yards a game on the ground. What’s the situation there?
The simple answer? They’re not very good running the football. Wayne Taulapapa and PK Kier have been functional at running back, but the offensive line has been largely ineffective. In recent weeks, they have shifted to a more pass-heavy offensive approach, but that won’t be sustainable if they hope to win the Coastal Division.
Against Notre Dame, with the Irish pretty focused on containing Perkins, he was able to find plenty of space downfield to throw the ball. But Perkins tucking the ball and going remains their best rushing offense.Interestingly, UVA is talking about getting promising true freshman running back Mike Hollins more involved in the offense in the next few weeks. We will see if that starts Friday at Miami.
Miami has lost both its games (North Carolina and Virginia Tech) following open weeks. Historically, how is Virginia in that area, and how do you sense they’ve done this time with the extra week to prepare?
Like everything else in the program, coach Bronco Mendenhall has a comprehensive plan for how his team does things during a week off, from the practice schedule, to film study to team-building. His formula has been successful. Mendenhall is 13-5 in his career after an open date.
He went 11-4 in those games during his 11 seasons at BYU and, after losing his first post-bye week game at Virginia, he’s won the last two, including last season’s win over Miami.Virginia was due for some time off. Their 4-1 start, especially the last game — a road loss at Notre Dame — had left them fairly battered and bruised.
Susan answers Mike’s questions:
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.
Jarren Williams got pulled after throwing interceptions on each of Miami’s first three possessions against Virginia Tech and 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.’’
On Wednesday, Diaz announced Perry as the starter for Virginia.
Keep in mind that in addition to his impressive numbers, 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.
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.’’
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.”
Mike: UVA 31-27.
Susan: UVA: 35-31.