At third Music City Bowl in four years, Gophers will take on ACC’s Virginia

Matt Perkins

Initial projections pitted Minnesota’s football team against Georgia Tech in the Music City Bowl on Dec. 30 in Nashville, Tenn.

Instead, the Yellow Jackets accepted an invitation to the Emerald Bowl, leaving Music City to mail an alternative Christmas card.

Virginia received the late invitation, and as the Gophers prepare for battle with the Cavaliers, here’s a breakdown of the roster.

Quarterback

Virginia’s offense starts, and has been stopped, at the quarterback position this season.

Senior Marques Hagans runs the Cavaliers offense, sometimes quite literally. Hagans is an agile back with the ability to tuck the ball and run for the first down in any situation.

Hagans has completed better than 60 percent of his passes this season for 12 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. He averaged 194 passing yards and 25.8 rushing yards per game during the regular season.

Running backs

Virginia had four running backs carry the ball 50 times or more this season, and only one of those backs averaged less than 4 yards per carry.

Wali Lundy was the Cavaliers number one option over the regular season, carrying the ball 128 times for 515 yards and eight touchdowns.

Virginia ran the ball 90 times more than they passed the ball, so expect that trend to continue as the Cavaliers try to keep Minnesota’s rushing attack off the field.

Wide receivers

Each of Virginia’s top three receivers averaged more than 13 yard per catch, and they had 15 players with a reception this season.

But Deyon Williams is Hagans’ top target.

Williams had 52 receptions this season, tied for second-most in the ACC, for 679 yards and six touchdowns.

The Gophers can’t overlook Virginia’s depth at the wideout position though, as Fontel Mines and Jonathan Stupar helped the Cavaliers top then-No. 4 Florida State back in October, with a combined 10 receptions for 115 yards and a touchdown.

Defense

Virginia’s defensive performance this season was less than spectacular.

They are susceptible to both the run (10th in the ACC, allowing 146.9 yards per game) and the pass (11th in the ACC, allowing 221.1 yards per game).

But their performance has been below their potential, as they boast a couple of the best defensive players in the ACC.

Linebacker Kai Parham was named first-team All-ACC and cornerback Marcus Hamilton was named to the second team.

Parham, a junior inside linebacker, pairs with Ahmad Brooks to pose a threat over the middle for Minnesota’s passing game. Brooks missed time earlier this season. Parham is ranked 26th in the nation in pass rushing, with 8.5 sacks in 11 games.

Marcus Hamilton emerged as a shutdown corner this season for the Cavaliers, and is tied for the ACC lead with five interceptions.

Kicking game

Virginia’s senior place-kicker Connor Hughes was selected as first-team All-ACC, and is acknowledged as one of the better kickers in the nation.

Hughes was perfect on 32 extra point attempts this season and made 19 of 22 field goals for an ACC-best .864 field goal percentage. Hughes was five of six this year on field goals 40 yards or longer.

Sophomore Chris Gould averages 39.9 yards punting for the Cavaliers, with a long of just 53 yards.

Turnovers

Because both Virginia and Minnesota sport lackluster defenses, the game could come down to holding onto the ball.

Virginia has 20 takeaways this season to 16 turnovers, a plus-4 turnover margin. The Gophers have a minus-3 turnover margin.

So the team that doesn’t give away the ball most likely will come away with a win.