Virginia has run out of room for mistakes if the Cavaliers want to play in a bowl game.
The Cavaliers (4-6, 2-4 Atlantic Coast Conference) are coming off a bye week and will face Miami on Saturday night. The Hurricanes (6-4, 3-3) feature one of the league's most dynamic runners in Duke Johnson.
Johnson is second in the ACC with an average of 134.3 yards per game, and has six consecutive 100-yard performances. Virginia has the nation's No. 15 rushing defense, allowing just 118.6 yards per game.
Cavaliers coach Mike London, whose fate could rest on the outcome of this game and the regular season finale against Virginia Tech, says Miami doesn't try to disguise its offensive strategy.
Virginia will have to prevent Johnson busting loose for big gains.
Miami coach Al Golden's team is coming of a difficult loss to Florida State. It took the Hurricanes out of Coastal Division contention, but he says his team will be ready to play against the Cavaliers.
"Miami is a team that will line up with two tight ends and a fullback in the back and say, 'We're going to run the ball right here and you've got to stop us,'" Virginia coach Mike London said. "There is no pretense about what they do. So it's going to be important that when we line up, whatever defense that we have called, that we beat blocks, that we have our hats in the gap and then we tackle Duke Johnson."
London's fate could also rest on the outcome of this game and Virginia's regular season finale against Virginia Tech. The Cavaliers were riding high after a 4-2 start, but have won just 10 of their last 34.
The Cavaliers haven't qualified for a bowl game since 2011, when they finished 8-5.
The Hurricanes were riding high only a week ago, and had No. 1 Flordia State in the ropes before faltering late in a 30-26 loss that knocked them out of contention for the Coastal Division title.
Coach Al Golden, whose team has still never won the division, doesn't expect an issue getting them ready to play in prime time. In preparation for the Seminoles, the Hurricanes watched film of Virginia's 34-20 loss to Florida State, and what the Cavaliers do well "just snaps you right back in, and it's going to take all of our energy and investment from an emotional, physical and mental standpoint to come out of there with a win, and our guys know that, and that's what our focus is right now," he said.
Here are some things to watch when Miami plays at Virginia:
SIR DUKE: Earlier this season, Virginia limited ACC rushing leader James Conner of Pittsburgh to a season-low 83 yards, but he's a bruising 250-pounder. Johnson is 5-foot-9 and 206 pounds and has breakaway speed he displayed in a 249-yard effort against Virginia Tech. Not letting him get loose will be key.
MISTAKES: Virginia ranks second in the ACC with 24 takeaways, and ranks eighth nationally with 95 points off those turnovers. Most of those points came in the first six games, however, and with Miami boasting the No. 15 total defense in the country, some easy points could help tremendously.
LETDOWN? The Hurricanes were playing as well as any team in the nation heading into their game against No. 1 Florida State, but a late Seminoles rally earned them a 30-26 victory. Miami is already bowl eligible, and can't win the Coastal Division. Do they show up with the same motivation to keep winning?
PLAYING FOR COACH? London's future at Virginia surely seems to be riding on the Cavaliers' last two games, and the team's 34 fourth- and fifth-year players have said all season they don't want to be the ones to cost him his job. How that impacts their ability to execute under pressure could be critical.
TRIBUTE TO GOOCH: Virginia WR Darius Jennings has worn the No. 6 throughout his career, but will wear the No. 17 on Saturday night to honor teammate and fellow senior Miles Gooch. Gooch was having a breakout season as a receiver and blocker when he suffered a season-ending knee injury of Oct. 25 at UNC.
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