It has been almost a year since Miami Hurricanes quarterback Jacory Harris had his college career temporarily derailed at the hands of the Virginia Cavaliers. Suffering a concussion in the second quarter of a Miami loss in Charlottesville, Harris did not return to action for almost a month. Miami's ACC title hopes vanished as he lay unconscious on the field at Scott Stadium.
Harris enters Miami's Thursday night home date with Virginia a different quarterback, though. He's seemingly shaken his interception-prone tendencies and transformed into one of the most efficient passers in the NCAA. His team is riding high off a two-game winning streak against conference rivals North Carolina and Georgia Tech.
Don't expect the Canes to use last year's loss in Charlottesville as motivation, though. "I'm not a revenge guy," Al Golden said earlier this week. Harris did admit "it's a motivating factor," but added "the only thing we're worried about is going out there and playing our brand of football and coming out with a W."
When the Canes have the ball: Harris will face one of his toughest challenges yet this season. UVa's pass defense is ranked 12th in the nation, giving up a scant 176 yards per game. That stat could be a little misleading, though. UVa has only played one ranked team this season, and that was Georgia Tech, who rarely throws the ball.
Miami will look to Harris to provide some big plays early in order to slow down what should be an energetic Cavaliers defense at the outset. RB Lamar Miller has slowed down the past two weeks after gaining 100 yards in each of the Canes' first five games. He'll get plenty of opportunities to carry the ball and set up the play-action passing game.
Harris' high school teammate, Tommy Streeter, has emerged as one of his favorite targets following three years spent in former coach Randy Shannon's doghouse. Harris hit Streeter 3 times for 96 yards last week, and he has nine receptions of 25 yards or more on the season. Look for Harris to throw Touchdown Tommy's way more tonight.
When the Cavaliers have the ball: Virginia rotates two quarterbacks, sophomore Michael Rocco and freshman David Watford. Rocco sports the highest completion percentage of the two, but has thrown 8 interceptions against only four touchdowns.
UVa depends instead on its running game, which averages a solid 4.6 yards per carry. RB Perry Jones is UVa's best weapon on offense, averaging 5.1 yards a carry with 27 receptions out of the backfield. Teammates Kevin Parks and Clifton Richardson also average over 5 yards a carry.
Miami defensive coordinator Mark D'Onofrio was effusive with his praise of the defense's performance against Georgia Tech last week, calling it gratifying. The Canes held Georgia Tech, the country's second-best rushing team, to 134 yards on the ground. That could spell trouble for UVa, who is loath to depend on the passing game.
Who has the edge? Miami is a heavy favorite for a reason: the Canes simply have more talent than UVa and both offense and defense are jelling nicely. If UM plays the way it has been for the last two weeks, there is no way the Cavaliers can keep up.
The Pick: Miami 31-UVA 14
Kickoff is at 8 p.m. on ESPN