As he prepares for his second visit to Miami as Virginia’s head football coach, Bronco Mendenhall probably would like to duplicate some aspects of his first trip.
The Cavaliers jumped out to a 14-0 lead, saw the margin remain intact at 28-14 in the third quarter and then watched the Hurricanes blow past them for a 44-28 victory in 2017.
The Miami defensive coordinator that day was Manny Diaz, now in his first year as the Hurricanes’ head coach.
It almost didn’t happen that way. Diaz was named on Dec. 12, 2018, as the new head coach at Temple. Less than three weeks later, previous Miami head coach Mark Richt announced he was retiring.
Within hours, Diaz, the son of a former Miami mayor, had resigned at Temple and taken the Miami job.
On Saturday, he’ll be facing a 20th-ranked Virginia team that upset Diaz and then-No. 16 Miami last year in Charlottesville, 16-13.
The Cavaliers will come into Saturday’s game as a two-point underdog. In its last outing, then-No. 18 Virginia dropped a 35-20 decision at 10th-ranked Notre Dame on Sept. 28.
While UVa was idle last week, Miami hosted Virginia Tech and quickly fell behind 28-0 with 9:30 remaining in the second quarter.
It was somewhat reminiscent of the 2017 UVa-Miami game, with one main exception. The Hurricanes rallied and forced a 35-35 tie with 3:16 left, only to watch the Hokies score with 1:03 remaining and pull out a 42-35 victory.
“Everybody knows we’ve got issues,” said Diaz, whose Hurricanes dropped to 2-3 overall and 0-2 in the ACC as they prepare to meet Virginia (4-1, 2-0) at 8 p.m. Friday at Hard Rock Stadium.
“Some people are just not doing their jobs. It all comes back to accountability. It’s not a matter of effort, but we’re confusing activity with achievement. …
“You talk about adjustments — the issue on Saturdays is not a game of adjustments. If there were no adjustments being made, how did we come back from 28 points down [against Tech]? We three-and-out’d them for four straight drives in the second half. Then what we do is we don’t cover our guys in crucial situations down the stretch.”
In their previous two meetings, Miami had beaten the Hokies 28-10 in Miami Gardens and 38-14 in Blacksburg.
“Miami is dynamic,” Mendenhall said. “I’ve been in the league long enough now [that] some of the players are players we have had exposure to before.
“On any given play, a ball could be handed off to someone that goes the whole way. The ball could be thrown to someone that can go the whole way. That’s always an inherent threat that’s just in the background of your preparation.”
Virginia mostly cruised through the first third of its schedule, going 4-0 before traveling to Notre Dame, where the Cavaliers couldn’t keep the Irish pass rushers off quarterback Bryce Perkins. He was sacked eight times.
The fact that UVa outgained the Irish 338-322 suggests that the outcome could have been different if the Cavaliers had been able to insolate their QB from Notre Dame’s pressure.
“Our offensive front is really the position group right now that’s controlling the speed in which we can progress,” Mendenhall said. “There’s really no offensive play where that can be a workaround. It has to go through the offensive line.”
An open date could help Virginia . UVa’s victory over Miami last year followed an open date, as did a win over Duke in 2017.
“It’s much like you’re at a carnival and going into one of the rides,” Mendenhall said. “We’re going into five straight Coastal [Division] games and now here is the Coastal Ride. You never know what’s going to happen when you’re on that ride.”