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Virginia-Miami matchup will feature two of ACC's top defensive lines

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Virginia Georgia Tech Football

Georgia Tech quarterback Jeff Sims (10) loses the ball as he is tackled by Virginia defensive lineman Aaron Faumui (94) during the first half of last Thursday’s game in Atlanta.

With Virginia having already played and won last Thursday, Kam Butler had the rare chance to begin assessing the Cavaliers’ next opponent in real time this past Saturday.

And though the UVa defensive end primarily concerned himself with studying Miami’s offense, Butler couldn’t help but notice how the Hurricanes’ defensive front resembles that of the one Butler starts for.

Miami visits the Cavaliers on Saturday for a 12:30 p.m. bout at Scott Stadium.

“I was watching the [Miami-]Duke game live,” Butler said, “and that’s what stood out to me. They all can go and then they’ve got a bunch of guys they can rotate up front as well.”

For the Hoos and the Canes, they each can say they deploy one of the better defensive lines not only in the Atlantic Coast Conference, but in all of college football.

The units have commonalities, too. Both UVa and Miami feature deep hordes of defensive linemen to keep players fresh, and those athletes can absolutely create havoc and panic in the opposition’s backfield.

Miami’s 24 team sacks are the second most in the ACC and tied for the eighth most in the FBS. UVa’s 23 team sacks are the third most in the league and tied for the 11th most in the country. The Cavaliers have logged multiple sacks in five of their seven contests, while the Hurricanes have tallied multiple sacks in all seven of their games.

“Particularly last game [against Georgia Tech], the amount of pressure they put on the quarterback,” first-year Miami coach Mario Cristobal said about what he’s seen from UVa’s defensive front, “and the amount of pressure they put up front in the way they disrupted the line of scrimmage and the run game, they shut down their opponent completely.”

Said first-year UVa coach Tony Elliott regarding Miami’s D-Line: “They can push the pocket. They can collapse the pocket from the inside and they’ve got speed off the edge.”

The groups are built similarly as well, with transfers like Butler contributing immediately. In his first campaign with the Hoos after departing Miami (Ohio), he has tallied 2.5 sacks, two quarterback hurries and four tackles for loss. Columbia transfer Paul Akere has three sacks, while senior Aaron Faumui has three and second-year Georgia Tech transfer Chico Bennett Jr. leads UVa with six sacks and 6.5 tackles for loss after racking up two sacks in the Cavaliers’ eight-sack performance and victory against his former team.

“We’ve gotten better each week,” Butler said. “I think since the beginning of the year, we were seeing how we fit with each other, especially on third down. Third down is hard, because you’ve got to get specific packages out there and specific fronts, and you’ve got to understand how the guy next to you is rushing the passer and what he likes to do. So, the cohesion and more the chemistry within the group has improved each week and I think everybody is just doing their job and trusting the guy next to them. We’ve built on that each week and it’s been good.”

The Hurricanes feel similarly about their defensive front. Fourth-year sophomore defensive end Jahfari Harvey told reporters in Miami this week that even the less experienced players on his line like Maryland transfer defensive tackle Darrell Jackson and sophomore Leonard Taylor III, “keep getting better and better every week just learning more every week, like the rest of the guys.”

Harvey has 2.5 sacks to go along with 3.5 tackles for loss, while Jackson has three sacks. The most productive of the bunch, defensive end Akheem Mesidor, a transfer from West Virginia, tops the team with five sacks and eight tackles for loss.

Mesidor was the Walter Camp National Defensive Player of the Week earlier this month for his 3.5 sacks against Virginia Tech.

UVa’s Bennett is a two-time ACC Defensive Lineman of the Week already this season.

“They’re in a similar situation to us from a D-Line standpoint,” Elliott said. “They’re playing a lot of guys. Playing guys that are quality depth for them, so that you don’t see much of a change.”

To this point, the Miami front has helped the Canes’ defense be a tad more effective against the run than Virginia’s. Miami’s 112.7 yards on the ground per game allowed are the second fewest in the ACC, and the Cavaliers are giving up 147.7 rushing yards per game.

“They play with great fundamentals,” UVa offensive coordinator Des Kitchings said about the Miami defensive line. “They do a great job playing with their hands and separating from blocks, and pass rushing with their edge guys. We’ve just got to do a great job fundamentally in the run game, the passing game and blocking.”

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