MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. (AP) — The Atlantic Coast Conference’s Coastal Division has seven teams, and there’s been a different champion in each of the last six seasons.
Virginia is the outlier.
It might be the Cavaliers’ turn.
The 20th-ranked Cavaliers (4-1, 2-0 ACC) head to Miami (2-3, 0-2) on Friday night in a game where they could remain in full control of this season’s division-title chase. It begins a stretch that Virginia coach Bronco Mendendall’s staff likened to a roller coaster — in a text chain among the coaches, they even used roller-coaster emojis to underscore the point.
Mendenhall apparently doesn’t know what an emoji is (“the little pictures that you put on the text,” he calls them), but no one needs to explain to him how vital this game could be to the Cavs’ Coastal hopes.
“Much like (when) you’re at a carnival going into one of the rides, now here is the Coastal ride,” Mendenhall said. “And we’re going right into five straight Coastal games, and those are more meaningful and they are more impactful. … And holy cow, you never know what’s going to happen when you’re on that ride.”
The ride has been bumpy for Miami and first-year coach Manny Diaz, who are trying to avoid starting 0-3 in conference play for the first time ever. It hasn’t happened to Miami in the ACC era that goes back to 2004, or its Big East tenure before that.
The Hurricanes are making two major changes this week. N’Kosi Perry is starting at quarterback for the injured Jarren Williams, and Diaz said he’ll have more of a role with the defense. He was Miami’s defensive coordinator for three seasons prior to becoming head coach, and after giving up 42 points to Virginia Tech last week Diaz has clearly seen enough.
“Ultimately I am responsible for how we play on defense,” Diaz said. “There is a culture that was created here back in 2016 that, for some reason, we have not been able to recreate. It is not a coaching issue. It is not a scheme issue.”
Here’s some of what to know going into Virginia-Miami:
This is the second straight year that Virginia has had a bye week prior to facing Miami, and byes seem to have worked wonders for Mendenhall’s teams in recent years. His teams at Virginia and BYU are 4-1 in their last five regular-season games with an extra week to prepare.
Miami started 10-0 in 2017, climbing to No. 2 in the AP Top 25 poll — with the last win in that streak coming against Virginia. It’s been all downhill from there. The Hurricanes are 4-12 against teams from Power 5 conferences since (5-0 against all other schools), 4-8 against members of the ACC and 1-4 against ranked teams.
Virginia won its lone ACC game away from home so far this season, prevailing in Pittsburgh. Getting two in a row in league play on the road is something no one on the current roster has ever done. The Cavaliers haven’t won consecutive road ACC games since winning three straight in 2011. In fact, that was also the last year in which they had more than one ACC road win in an entire season.
Part of the reason why Diaz is going to have more of a role — whatever that means — in the defense this week is because of that group’s penchant for giving up the big play. The longest pass the Hurricanes allowed in 2018 was 45 yards. This year, Miami has allowed a pass of at least 60 yards in three different games and lost every one of those matchups. Virginia’s longest pass so far this year: 43 yards.
Virginia is 2-10 in its last 12 Friday games. Miami has dropped its last two Friday games (at Boston College last year, at Pitt in 2017). While it may seem strange for the Hurricanes to play on Fridays, it used to be the norm. This is 295th time the Hurricanes will play a Friday game (178-105-11 previously), while Virginia is playing its 20th (7-11-1 coming in).