Virginia has a chance to build momentum with shaky Miami coming to town

By Jerry Ratcliffe

Miami head coach Mario Cristobal (Photo: University of Miami Athletics)

The landscape in the ACC Coastal Division transformed a bit over the weekend, allowing Virginia football a chance to turn things around.

UVA, which pulled off a mild upset at Georgia Tech, stopped the bleeding with impeccable timing. Tony Elliott’s Cavaliers don’t leave the state of Virginia for the remainder of the regular season, and have a chance to build momentum if they can use the win over the Yellow Jackets to gain some steam.

Virginia hosts Miami, North Carolina, Pitt and Coastal Carolina (who was hammered by ODU recently) before ending the schedule in Blacksburg. The Coastal resembles a dumpster fire for the most part, even though Carolina seems to be getting itself together. The Coastal is so bad that some ACC fans are wishing divisional play would end this season instead of 2023, so that Clemson and Wake could play in a rematch for the conference championship game in Charlotte.

Miami comes to Charlottesville on Saturday, reeling from a turnover-plagued, 45-21 loss to Duke. The Hurricanes turned the ball over eight times in the game and starting quarterback Tyler Van Dyke suffered a shoulder injury (status pending). When Van Dyke was KO’ed, Miami turned to backup Jake Garcia, who was responsible for five of those eight turnovers (three interceptions, two fumbles). The eight turnovers were the most by a Power 5 school since 2009 (half of Miami’s were in the fourth quarter).

New Hurricanes head coach Mario Cristobal was so frustrated with the way his team performed, he didn’t hide his feelings afterward.

“You either fix it or you get people that care and play as hard as you’re supposed to as a Miami Hurricane,” Cristobal said. “What we’ve got to do requires tough people. To turn the program around, to rebuild it, requires tough-minded people. If [a lack of effort] shows up on tape, they’ve got to go play somewhere else.”

Miami was the favorite of media that voted in the ACC preseason poll to win the Coastal and play Clemson for the league title. However, the Hurricanes haven’t come close to resembling that type of team.

Instead, they lost to Middle Tennessee (45-31) and to Duke (45-21, and the Devils took a knee at the Miami 5 to end the game). The Hurricanes have lost 4 of their last 5 games. Their three wins have come against Bethune-Cookman, Southern Miss and Virginia Tech (20-14).

In the losses to Duke and Middle Tennessee, media that cover Miami reported that it appeared Hurricanes players “quit” during the second half.

Should that be the case, then Virginia needs to pour a lot of energy in getting off to a fast start Saturday and see if Miami can handle another dose of adversity.

UVA’s defense played well at Georgia Tech against a backup quarterback who made the Yellow Jackets very one-dimensional.

In fact, John Rudzinski’s defense is tied for 12th in the nation in fumbles recovered with 8; tied for 11th in the country (third in the ACC) in team sacks with 23; and 29th nationally in turnovers gained with 13.

Now, if Des Kitchings’ offense can only stop playing giveaway, Virginia might be able to get something going.

“If we take away these freakin’ turnovers and these drops, this [offense] will be pretty,” Kitchings said after beating Georgia Tech. “It’ll be pretty. It’s going to come.”

Brennan Armstrong was intercepted twice in that game, although both balls were tipped. Receivers dropped at least four passes, including one in the end zone.

While Elliott seemed encouraged, Miami’s Cristobal did not.

“Most importantly, when you go through something like this and you get hit in the face like this, you’ve got to be tough enough to look each other in the eye and go to work,” the Miami coach said. “It doesn’t magically get better.”