UVA eager for test against No. 3 Miami
CHARLOTTESVILLE – A week ago, Kurt Benkert joined thousands of Miami fans, applauding the Hurricanes big win over Notre Dame.
No, Benkert – Virginia’s senior quarterback – isn’t a closet Miami fan, though he is originally from southwest Florida.
“I love that they won,” Benkert said this week. “I really wanted them to win last week. It just gives us an even better opportunity to show what U.Va. football can do.”
The Cavaliers (6-4, 3-3 ACC) have been one of the surprise teams in the conference this season. But Miami (9-0, 6-0) has been the story in the ACC, unbeaten and No. 3 in the College Football Playoff rankings. The Hurricanes have – in impressive fashion – dispatched of then-ranked Virginia Tech and then-No. 3 Notre Dame on back-to-back Saturday nights at Hard Rock Stadium.
Hard Rock Stadium hosted near capacity crowds and the energy was reminiscent of the atmosphere in South Florida during Miami’s heyday.
Saturday’s noon kickoff against U.Va. doesn’t come with the same buzz, but if it’s not a showcase game for the Hurricanes, it sure is one for the Cavaliers. Virginia hasn’t beaten a ranked opponent on the road since 2011, when they beat No. 23 Florida State
“This is what you live for,” junior wide receiver Andre Levrone said. “I’ve been here for a good while. I played some pretty good teams. You’ve got to show up for those games. You show up every week, but if you can’t get up for these, then why do you even play?”
Miami senior wide receiver Braxton Berrios said he anticipates Virginia being up for the game. The Hurricanes navigated most of the early season largely unnoticed. They won four of their first seven games by eight points or less.
“It is very obvious that now, in the ACC, everybody’s trying to knock us off,” Berrios said. “Luckily we’ve skated through most of the season with being a little underrated, being under the radar, scooting by teams. I’m hoping we got that out of our system, because that’s not good for anybody’s heart. I don’t think there’s any different pressure on us, but there definitely is a target.”
Berrios has seen Miami’s transformation under second-year coach Mark Richt. And with it, the new life at Hard Rock.
“You see it in every part of the program,” Berrios said. “We’re filling up the stands. When I got here freshman year, you couldn’t fill up the lower bowl to save your life, unless Florida State was coming to town. A city like Miami is not a college town. If you don’t win, they don’t come. You look at the Heat, you look at the Dolphins. When you’re not winning, they don’t come, and when you are, everybody shows up. That’s just part of being in a city like Miami.”
Virginia hasn’t won at Miami since 2011, also the last time the Cavaliers qualified for a bowl game. In their second season under Bronco Mendenhall, they’ve already secured the six wins needed to end that drought.
Finding a seventh figures to be tough. After the Miami game, Virginia hosts rival Virginia Tech, which has beaten it 13 times in a row.
Against the Hurricanes, the ACC’s leader in defensive takeaways, Benkert and the offense will need to protect the football, while the beleaguered offensive line will have to protect Benkert. A week ago, against lightly-regarded Louisville, the Cavaliers played six different lineups on the offensive line.
They’ll be tested even more Saturday against Miami.
“I think their defensive front seven do a good job of creating pressure that the guys on the back end can take advantage of,” Benkert said. “They’re forcing quarterbacks into quick decisions and to make bad reads. I think the pressure they generate from the front four and the front seven is really where the turnovers and the interception game comes from.”