Virginia nose tackle Donte Wilkins is among the fourth- and fifth-year seniors that will be honored before Virginia’s final home game Saturday against Miami, and also part of a class with some notoriety.
Wilkins and his classmates will be the first in a long time to leave Virginia without ever having participated in a bowl game, but also the key components in what they believe is a burgeoning transformation.
He hopes that any emotions that surface don’t arrive until after the game.
“Maybe after the season when I think about it, but it’s more we got work to do, we’ve got an 80-play game that we’ve gotta play, so that’s what I’m focused on right now,” Wilkins, one of three Virginia captains, said.
While the Cavaliers (2-7, 1-4 Atlantic Coast Conference) hoped a major turnaround would happen in Bronco Mendenhall’s first season, the Hurricanes (5-4, 2-3) looked like they were making it happen early in the season with new coach Mark Richt in charge. They started the season with four straight wins and reached No. 10 in the Top 25.
However, just as quickly as Miami rose, it fell, losing four games in a row, assuring the program that once lived near the top of college football that it would again fall short. The Hurricanes have never played for the ACC championship since joining the league in 2004, and have lost six of 10 ACC meetings with the Cavaliers.
Richt, though, cautions against reading too much into this years’ results, for either program.
“The first season is always one of change, one of everybody learning each other and all that kind of thing,” he said. “There’s a lot of really good teams that don’t have a winning record around the country.”
That would include Miami if not for a 51-28 victory last weekend against Pittsburgh.
“If we didn’t win this last one, we’d be in the same boat,” Richt said.
Instead, they are one victory from becoming bowl-eligible for the ninth consecutive season.
Here are some things to look for when Miami visits Virginia:
RECORD CHASING: Virginia senior Taquan “Smoke” Mizzell is 10 receiving yards shy of becoming the first player in ACC history at accumulate 1,500 rushing yards and 1,500 receiving yards in his career. Mizzell has 1,742 rushing yards and would be the ninth 1,500-1,500 player at the Bowl Subdivision level since the 2000 season. … Senior WR Keeon Johnson needs 17 receiving yards to become the 36th Cavalier with 1,000 receiving yards for his career.
BUILDING BLOCKS: Miami and Virginia have started the most freshmen this season among ACC schools. The Hurricanes lead with five, and the Cavaliers and Florida State are tied for second, each having started four.
ORANGE CRUSH: Miami ranks second nationally with 81 tackles for a loss this season, and that will be a point of great concern for the Cavaliers. Since getting pounded early in the second half against Pittsburgh three weeks ago, Cavaliers quarterback Kurt Benkert has been skittish in the pocket and too quick to start scrambling. Against the speed of Miami’s defense, that could expose him to taking hits on his still-ailing non-throwing shoulder.
RED ZONE: One of Virginia’s positives despite its record has been its red zone productivity. The Cavaliers have scored on 27 of 30 trips inside the red zone, and are third nationally with an 80 percent touchdown conversion rate. Their only failures inside the opposing 20? A lost fumble and missed field goals from 20 and 30 yards.
BEST EVER BRAD?: Hurricanes junior quarterback Brad Kaaya, coming off a 356-yard effort against Pittsburgh that included four touchdown passes and a rushing touchdown, has played his way into the top five of most quarterbacking career lists for Miami. He ranks third in yards, total yards, touchdowns, completions and attempts.
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