|College Football: Virginia at Miami Preview & Picks|
|Written by Anthony Rome|
|Wednesday, 07 November 2007 09:14|
Virginia's ability to win close games has it atop the ACC Coastal Division standings and back in the Top 25.
The No. 23 Cavaliers look to remain in both positions Saturday night as they try to spoil Miami's final home game at the Orange Bowl.
Oddsmakers from Bodog have made Miami -3.5 point spread favorites (View College Football odds) for Saturday's game (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 70% of bets for this game have been placed on Virginia +3.5 (View College Football bet percentages).
Virginia (8-2, 5-1) beat then-No. 21 Wake Forest 17-16 at home last Saturday to bounce back from a 29-24 loss at North Carolina State on Oct. 27, which dropped the Cavaliers out of the poll from the No. 21 spot.
Each of Virginia's last three wins have been by one point, and the team is 5-0 this season in contests decided by two points or fewer. The Cavaliers have set a single-season NCAA record for victories by a margin of two or fewer, surpassing Columbia, which had four such wins in 1971.
"I don't have to explain," Virginia defensive end Chris Long said. "We'll take 'em."
Last Saturday's victory gave Virginia a one-half game lead over No. 11 Virginia Tech in the division. After facing Miami, Virginia has a bye before hosting the Hokies on Nov. 24, which could be for a spot in the ACC championship game.
It's quite a turnaround for Virginia, which finished 5-7 in 2006.
Miami (5-4, 2-3) has been unable to pull off a similar reversal following its 7-6 season in 2006. The Hurricanes enter their 468th and final game at the Orange Bowl looking to avoid losing three straight there for the first time since 1996.
Miami, which is 318-142-7 in 71 years at the Orange Bowl, will begin playing at Dolphin Stadium next season. Among the former Hurricanes greats expected to attend Saturday are Bernie Kosar, Michael Irvin and Gino Torretta.
"The future's the future, the past is the past, and I enjoyed it. It was great," current Miami coach and former player Randy Shannon said in August when the announcement was made. "But I look forward to other challenges that were presented to us as a university and we think it's going to be a great situation."
The Hurricanes won three national championship games at the Orange Bowl, and had an NCAA-record 58-game home winning streak from 1985 through 1994.
Virginia lost its only trip to the Orange Bowl, 25-17 in 2005, but got its first win in four all-time meetings against the Hurricanes with a 17-7 victory last season.
Most of the Cavaliers' games lately have been a lot closer.
Running back Mikell Simpson scored the game-winning touchdown on a 1-yard run with 2:18 to play last Saturday. He also had one with 16 seconds left in an 18-17 victory at Maryland on Oct. 20.
Chris Gould's 19-yard field goal with 3:20 remaining was the difference in a 17-16 non-conference win over Connecticut on Oct. 13.
"For some reason, we click at the end," Virginia tight end Tom Santi said. "We've got the confidence that we've done it before, so when we get those situations, nobody's panicked."
While a defense which allows 19.2 points per game is a big reason the Cavaliers have kept games close, the play of sophomore quarterback Jameel Sewell also has keyed the narrow victories.
Sewell is a combined 17-for-20 for 199 yards on the final drive of the Cavaliers' last four victories. Virginia's only loss in its last eight games came when Sewell missed the second half of the fourth quarter at North Carolina State with cramps.
"He plays hard the whole game, but in those last couple minutes, he brings it," said Virginia receiver Maurice Covington of Sewell, who has thrown for 1,689 yards with 10 touchdowns and seven interceptions. "He brings the intensity and he keeps everybody in the game."
Sewell was 23-for-33 for 217 yards and rushed for two scores in Virginia's win over Miami last year.
Virginia again won't have leading rusher Cedric Peerman on Saturday, and he could miss the rest of the season as he remains sidelined with a right foot injury suffered early in the Oct. 6 game versus Middle Tennessee.
Despite rushing for a season-high 314 yards, Miami lost 19-16 to North Carolina State in overtime last Saturday.
"It is definitely tough," said Daren Daly, who made three field goals, but missed on the first possession of overtime to send Miami to its third loss in four games. "All we can do now is focus on Virginia."
The Hurricanes, who are tied for third in the Coastal, need one win to become bowl eligible.
Miami expects to have quarterback Kyle Wright back after he missed last Saturday's loss with a sprained ankle. The only pass his replacement, Kirby Freeman, completed in 14 attempts went for an 84-yard touchdown.
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