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Gameday blog: Virginia at UM

SUN LIFE STADIUM -- The Miami Hurricanes (4-3, 2-2 ACC) play host to the Virginia Cavaliers (4-3, 1-2 ACC) in an 8 p.m. kickoff Thursday night, a game that will be televised nationwide on ESPN. UM is coming off back-to-back wins at North Carolina and at home against previously 20th-ranked Georgia Tech. Virginia knocked off the Yellow Jackets on 24-21 on Oct. 15, but lost last week at home to N.C. State 28-14. The Cavaliers knocked UM off last year 24-19 in Charlottesville. 

> ABOUT THE CAVALIERS: The Cavaliers own one of the best pass defenses in the country, ranking 12th nationally (176.00 yards per game). They also 19th in total defense (314.29) while allowing just 23 points per game. While Virginia doesn't necessarily create a ton of pressure on opposing quarterbacks (10 sacks in 7 games), they are very good in coverage and in creating picks (8 INTs). UM has thrown 7 INTs in its last three meetings against Virginia. Freshman cornerback Demetrius Nicholson and senior Chase Minnifield each have two so far this season. Minnifield has 12 in his career (3rd most actively in FBS). Offensively, Virginia is a run-first team, ranking 34th nationally with 183.43 yards per game on the ground. Junior tailback Perry Jones (5-8, 185) has 576 yards on 113 carries and two touchdowns, but freshman Kevin Parks (5-8, 195) is the guy they like to use near the end zone. He's has seven touchdowns and 386 yards rushing on 74 attempts. If Virginia does decide to pass, UM should be looking to cover Kevin Burd (34 catches, 447 yards, 0 TDs) and going for picks. Freshman quarterback Michael Rocco has thrown eight interceptions in seven starts and just four touchdown passes. His backup, David Watford (6-1, 190) has thrown four INTs himself. Kicker Justin Moore has been unreliable this season going 4-for-8 on field goal attempts with a long of 40 yards and two blocked kicks.

> WHAT TO WATCH FOR WHEN IT COMES TO THE CANES: UM is 15-2 all-time on Thursday night games, but hasn't won three games in a row since it beat Oklahoma, Florida A&M and UCF in Oct. 2009. Starting right tackle Jonathan Feliciano (left ankle) will miss his first start in six games and will be replaced by Malcolm Bunche, who will get his first start of the season and share time with Seantrel Henderson. Aside from that injury, the Canes are getting healthier and deeper. Defensive tackle Micanor Regis is back from his suspension and will backup Darius Smith. Defensive end Olivier Vernon (1 tackle vs. Georgia Tech) figures to see more playing time in his second game back from an NCAA-mandated suspension. Lamar Miller, once fourth in the nation rushing, has slipped to 14th nationally after rushing for just 2.8 yards a carry (122 yards, 43 attempts) over his last two games faces another decent run defense this week (49th, 138.29 yards per game). Jacory Harris has thrown just one interception over his last 18 quarters.

> MANNY'S PREDICTION: Canes 31, Virginia 17. I'm 5-2 picking the Canes this season (Georgia Tech, Kansas State were my losses). Last week, though, I was way off and pleasantly surprised to see the Canes come around and play as good on defense as they did. Virginia isn't a good team on paper. They pounded William & Mary 40-3, won at Indiana by 3, needed overtime to beat Idaho at home and were beaten by double-digit points in both of their ACC losses (North Carolina, N.C. State). Canes should roll here. But I'm apprehensive to pick a blowout based on the fact this is a short week and Virginia's defense isn't so bad. What will kill the Cavaliers in the end is quarterback play (12 INTs in 7 games). UM will score a defensive touchdown this week (my money is on a freshman) and make enough defensive stops in the second half to feel pretty good about themselves. But I could see this being close for a half.

FYI, No Cover It Live this week since I'll be on a late night deadline. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below. Follow me on Twitter at Manny_Navarro.

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