The race for the ACC Championship is wide open after just eight of the 56 regular season conference games have been played. That’s what happens when the league’s preseason favorites from both divisions have taken three combined conference losses in those eight games, and now it’s changed the conversation ahead of a Week 5 that has five teams playing their first ACC game of the year, starting with Miami on Thursday night against Virginia.
Virginia currently sits last place in the Coastal after an 0-2 start with losses to North Carolina and Wake Forest in a six-day span. Now the Wahoos have their backs against the wall in terms of the conference race and need a win against a fellow contender to keep its title hopes alive. Miami has had the edge in this series with six wins in the last seven meetings, and the last time Virginia has won in Miami was 2011.
So Thursday night’s national spotlight game sets up for the beginning of Miami’s run at a second ACC Coastal Division title and Virginia’s last opportunity to stay in the race as the division’s reigning champ (there was no division play in 2020). Each of the last three meetings in this series have been decided by one score, and the current odds suggest we’re in for another classic in this series.
Miami vs. Virginia: Need to know
D’Eriq King’s injury status is up in the air: The Hurricanes used last week’s matchup against Central Connecticut State to rest D’Eriq King and let the backups, most notably Tyler Van Dyke, take control of the offense in his absence. Van Dyke delivered an efficient performance with 270 yards and three touchdowns on 10-of-11 passing in the start, but the 49-0 halftime lead allowed freshman Jake Garcia to get in a good bit of work as well. Garcia finished with 147 yards on 11-of-14 passing with two touchdowns as well with a 45-yard run in the 69-0 runaway win.
Manny Diaz has indicated that the shoulder injury sustained against Michigan State is going to be something he works through the week before a decision is made on his status, or which of the two young backups would start in his place. King is one of multiple starters questionable for the game, bringing some intrigue to the final days and hours before kickoff for the Hurricanes.
Brennan Armstrong leads productive Virginia passing attack: Virginia currently leads the country in passing yards per game and Armstrong has thrown for three of the six 400-yard games in program history this season. Dontayvion Wicks and Jelani Woods have been among the notable Virginia pass catchers to benefit from this high-flying passing attack, which in total has seen Armstrong spread the ball around to at least nine different receivers in every game this season. Virginia has ultimately lost its first two ACC games because of the inability to get stops, but Bronco Mendenhall at least knows this passing attack is good for about three or four touchdowns per game.
Miami’s ground game still improving: One of the lesser-discussed aspects of Miami’s offensive struggles this season has been a rushing attack that has missed Donald Chaney and Jaylan Knighton from the running back rotation. Additionally, the offensive line has been working to get as healthy as possible — star tackle Zion Nelson, for example, was banged up in fall camp and has been working to get into form here at the start of the season — and that group has had to start a different five basically every week. In three games against FBS opponents, Miami is averaging just 104.7 rushing yards per game, which ranks 12th out of 14 ACC teams. As the offensive line gets solidified with this starting group and the running backs get healthy, the Hurricanes should see some balance brought to the offense in the coming weeks.
How to watch Miami vs. Virginia live
Date: Thursday, Sept. 29 | Time: 7:30 p.m. ET
Location: Hard Rock Stadium — Miami Gardens, Florida
TV: ESPN | Live stream: fuboTV (Try for free)
Miami vs. Virginia prediction, picks
Featured Game | Miami (FL) Hurricanes vs. Virginia Cavaliers
Miami coach Manny Diaz has made a point to establish what the Hurricanes need to do in order to level up as a program. One of those requirements is defending home turf against a Virginia team you’ve had the edge against for nearly a decade — especially in a Thursday night spotlight game that every recruit is watching with no other action all night in college football. Prediction: Miami (-5.5)
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