Virginia has been one of the weakest teams in the ACC in recent years. Since 2008, the Cavaliers have had one winning season and fired two coaches. The most recent head man, Mike London, went 27-46 in six years and managed 14 ACC wins.
Four of them were against Miami and Al Golden, who was mocked by fans for consistently saving London’s job. The two used to work together at Virginia, you see.
Mark Richt is friendly with Bronco Mendenhall, but he would be more than happy to deal his pal a loss in Charlottesville on Saturday. He would do it so on behalf of the dozens of Hurricanes alums.
Miami (5-4, 2-3 ACC) hasn’t won in that leafy, picturesque land of presidents since 2008. That year, touchdown passes by Jacory Harris in the final minute and another in overtime helped Miami escape 24-17.
In 2010, they were ranked No. 22 and lost Harris to an injury in the first half. Virginia, going up 24-0 while facing two backup quarterbacks, held on for its only ACC win of the year.
In 2012, UM lost 41-40 on Jake McGee‘s touchdown catch with six seconds left, causing fans in the home of Thomas Jefferson to explode with joy. And in 2014, the Hurricanes sputtered through a dismal 30-13 defeat, one of four losses that closed a rare losing season and helped seal Golden’s fate.
That’s ancient and unknown history to Richt, who was introduced at Miami on Dec. 4. That was the same day Mendenhall left BYU for a job more than 2,000 miles due east. Both first-year coaches are trying to establish their program. Entering Saturday, Richt’s team is finding more success than Mendenhall’s (2-7, 1-4).
“I would just say they’re a very quality team,” he said. “They’ve been playing their tails off. … We know it’s going to be a challenge. As far as the history, I don’t know much about that.”
Recent events suggest the Cavaliers are plucky. Last week at Wake Forest, they lost 27-20 on a late interception returned for a touchdown. Two weeks ago at home, they took No. 5 Louisville to the final minute, losing 32-25 on a 29-yard Lamar Jackson touchdown pass with 13 seconds remaining.
“It’s hard to win on the road in any conference,” UM defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said. “I think Louisville found that out. We expect the same type of effort this week.”
The Hurricanes must contend with senior running back Taquan “Smoke” Mizzell, who ranks fifth in the ACC in yards from scrimmage (104.6 per game) and is the Cavaliers’ main big-play threat. Junior quarterback Kurt Benkert has thrown more interceptions (11) than any ACC passer, but has a strong arm.
“When they’re on, they can really move the football,” Diaz said.
The best Cavaliers are linebacker Micah Kiser (102 tackles) and safety Quin Blanding (90), both juniors who rank 1-2 in the ACC in tackles. Kiser is fifth in sacks (6.5) and 10th in tackles for loss (10.0). Six-foot-4, 290-pound end Andrew Brown (5.0 sacks, 8.5 tackles for loss) is the Cavaliers’ top defensive lineman. Like Blanding, he was a former five-star recruit.
“I think they’re better than their record,” tight end David Njoku, who scored two touchdowns last week and caught a touchdown pass in last year’s 27-21 win in Miami Gardens. “I think they’re a pretty well coached team. The game should be interesting and fun. Very, very interesting.”
If it goes Miami’s way, players will be interested to discuss where they might travel for the postseason. A win would be the Hurricanes’ sixth, which would make them bowl-eligible. UM hasn’t won a bowl game since the MPC Computers Bowl, held in Boise, Idaho, in 2006.
That futility is unfamiliar to Richt.
“I’ve been blessed,” he said. “I’ve coached 33 years, and every year, I’ve been to a bowl. I kind of expect it.”