Miami is all about glitz. South Beach, Coconut Grove, Lebron and D-Wade. Virginia played a glitzy football game in the Miami burbs Thursday night, hitting the hometown Hurricanes with a tailback pass, fake field goal and three touchdowns of longer than 35 yards.
But don’t get distracted by the bright lights. The Cavaliers’ 28-21 victory was rooted in the dark trenches, where linemen push, scratch and grunt for every inch.
Here is the telling stat from Thursday: Virginia outrushed Miami 207 yards to 85.
That’s the Cavaliers’ widest margin against a Division I-A opponent in Mike London’s two seasons as coach.
What’s that you say? Virginia scored the game’s first 17 points and forced the Hurricanes to abandon the run?
Not buying it. Miami averaged 3.0 yards on 28 rushes. Virginia averaged 4.9 on 42.
Kevin Parks averaged 5.3 on his 16 carries, Perry Jones 5.6 on his 12. This they did just as coaches draw it up: They bulldozed defenders inside, eluded them outside and ran through gaping holes opened by Oday Aboushi, Austin Pasztor, Anthony Mihota, Luke Bowanko and Morgan Moses.
No glitz there. Just brawn.
The Cavaliers defended the run equally well. Lamar Miller, the ACC’s No. 2 rusher, gained a modest 70 yards and averaged 4.4, well shy of his 5.8 norm.
Miller’s final carry came late in the fourth quarter and netted 5 yards. Virginia led 28-21, and Miami faced third-and-3 from the Cavaliers’ 16.
Virginia could ill afford OT. Not after leading 17-0. The defense needed to make a stand.
The Hurricanes handed to Mike James. Tackle Matt Conrath and end Jake Snyder stuffed him for a 1-yard gain. Fourth-and-2.
James got the call again and had no chance. Outside linebacker LaRoy Reynolds was in the backfield instantly and tackled him for a 1-yard loss with 5:02 remaining.
This was an impressive statement for an emerging program, and not simply because it was Virginia’s second consecutive victory over the five-time national champions.
Most important, Virginia showed the resiliency that defines successful teams.
The Cavaliers were fresh off a dispiriting 28-14 home loss to North Carolina State. They were working on a short week, with only three days of true practice, and were playing on the road, where they had lost seven straight ACC games.
That’s a credit to London, his staff and players.
Much will and should be made of Virginia’s long touchdown passes: quarterback Michael Rocco’s of 53 yards to Darius Jennings and 78 yards to Perry Jones, and Jones’ 37-yard option pass to Tim Smith. But offensive coordinator Bill Lazor’s biggest contributions were more fundamental.
In concert with London, he scrapped the peculiar quarterback rotation that robbed the offense of all rhythm. He also returned to his personnel’s strength – Virginia had 42 rushes and 21 passes, a much wiser ratio than last week’s 33 rushes and 35 passes.
A nod also to defensive coordinator Jim Reid, who spent the 2008 and ’09 seasons in Miami as a Dolphins assistant. The Cavaliers allowed 347 yards passing, but they sacked Jacory Harris three times less than a week after never touching N.C. State’s Mike Glennon
So now the Cavaliers (5-3, 2-2 ACC) are one victory from securing bowl eligibility for the first time since 2007. But the road will not be easy.
First, Virginia hasn’t won a November game since 2007, when the Cavs embarrassed Miami 48-0 in the Hurricanes’ Orange Bowl farewell. That’s a 13-game losing streak.
Second, Virginia’s four November games are at Maryland, home against Duke, at Florida State and home against Virginia Tech. The Cavaliers were 0-4 against that quartet last season, allowing 168 points in the process.
This year should be different. Virginia is better and needs to prove it.
Maryland? The Terps lost to Temple by 31.
Duke? A fourth straight loss to the Blue Devils would border on unacceptable.
Florida State? OK, probably not going to happen on the road.
Virginia Tech? Yes, the Hokies have won the last seven editions of the state rivalry. But their defense is decimated, and if the Cavaliers can run effectively and get the home crowd jazzed …
No matter how Virginia’s November transpires, Thursday night’s bare-knuckled victory at Miami makes the next month very intriguing.
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