By Alex Donno

MIAMI GARDENS (CBSMiami) – The 9-0 Miami Hurricanes will look to stay unbeaten on Saturday when they host the 6-4 Virginia Cavaliers.

While the 3rd ranked Hurricanes have already clinched the ACC’s Coastal Division crown, a loss to the Cavaliers could prove catastrophic to their playoff hopes.

On Tuesday, the Hurricanes joined (1) Alabama, (2) Clemson and (4) Oklahoma in the College Football Playoff top four. It’s Miami’s first ever top four appearance in the CFP era, as the Canes jumped three spots from number 7 after their dominant 41-8 victory over Notre Dame.

Miami controls their own destiny. Keep winning, and you can punch your ticket to the College Football Playoff for the first time. If they lose a game, they’ll need to rely on other top teams to fall and hopefully emerge from the chaos.

The Virginia Cavaliers are bowl eligible for the first time since 2011. They earned their crucial sixth victory on November 4th, beating Georgia Tech 40-36 in Charlottesville.

The Coaches

Each head coach is in their second season at the helm. Miami’s Mark Richt, who spent 15 years at Georgia, now has Miami on the nation’s longest winning streak at 14 games. He’s led Miami to their first ever Coastal title and locked in their first trip to the ACC Championship game. Miami will face Atlantic Division winning Clemson on December 2nd from Charlotte.

Virginia’s Bronco Mendenhall, who spent a decade at BYU, is a former (2006) Mountain West coach of the year. Virginia was eliminated from contention for the Coastal crown last week in a road loss at Louisville. Their loss officially clinched the division for Miami.

The Quarterbacks

Miami’s Malik Rosier played stellar football in the biggest game of his career against Notre Dame. He completed 15 of 24 passes for 137 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions. He added a 16 yard rushing touchdown, carrying 9 times for 44 yards. On the season, Rosier has thrown for 2,410 yards with 20 touchdowns and 7 interceptions.

Virginia’s Kurt Benkert has recorded 2,492 passing yards, 21 touchdowns, and seven interceptions. Last season, he completed 16 of 27 passes for 143 yards and a touchdown, as Virginia fell to Miami 34-14. With 21 passing touchdowns, he’s the first Cavalier in program history to throw for at least 20 touchdowns in multiple seasons. He had 21 last year also

Virginia Defense

Hurricanes head coach Mark Richt was very complimentary of the Cavs defense in his weekly press conference.

“[Quin] Blanding has been around a while. This will be his 47th game. He has set a school record for tackles – 454 tackles. Very, very impressive. [Micah] Kiser is their leading tackler. This is his 35th start. He’s number one in the ACC with 106 tackles. I think he’s top 10 in America in tackles. Last year he’s the one who had that unbelievable interception on our first offensive play of the game. He had 13 tackles in that game. Very impressive player. [Juan] Thornhill, their corner, has a couple of picks. The defense altogether has 12 interceptions, so they’ve been doing a great job at that. [Brenton] Nelson is a kid that grew up in Miami, actually has got four interceptions and leads the team in that area. Former walk-on. [Andrew] Brown, one of their front four, is 6-foot-4, 285 [pounds]. He has 34 tackles, eight tackles for loss. Their defense is 36th in America in total defense, which is a pretty impressive stat this time of year.”

Hurricanes Defense

Miami ranks 20th in total defense, 10th against the pass, and 10th in points allowed per game at just 16.6. Miami ranks second in FBS in team tackles for loss (8.8), second in sacks (3.67), 10th in scoring defense (16.6) and fourth in turnovers gained (24). The Canes are second in the country in turnover margin at plus-15, and first in the ACC with 16 passes intercepted. 

Safety Jaquan Johnson leads Miami with 66 tackles on the season (40 solo). The Canes are led in sacks by Trent Harris at 6, with Joe Jackson not far behind at 5.5.

Turnover Chain

The Hurricanes have forced 24 turnovers on the season, with Jaquan Johnson and cornerback Michael Jackson leading the way with 4 takeaways each. In the win over Notre Dame, Johnson grabbed his 3rd interception of the season to bring his takeaway total to four. Miami also got interceptions from Malek Young and Trajan Bandy. Bandy returned his 65 yards for a touchdown. Plus, Jonathan Garvin forced and recovered a fumble in the fourth quarter.

Skill players to watch

Senior receiver Braxton Berrios leads Miami with 8 receiving touchdowns this season. He also leads his team with 38 receptions for 484 yards. On the ground, Travis Homer rushed for a team high 146 yards in the Notre Dame game. He broke off an impressive 40 yard run, tying his second longest scamper of the year.

Virginia’s leading receiver is versatile running back Olamide Zaccheaus who’s made 70 catches for 727 yards and four touchdowns. Miami will also need to account for senior wideout Andre Levrone, who averages 21 yards per catch. He’s made 27 catches for 566 yards and a team high 6 touchdown receptions.

Game Time

Kickoff is set for 12-Noon on Saturday, November 18th from Hard Rock Stadium.

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