Virginia Tech started practice again yesterday, but the Hokies won’t have any post-practice interview availability until tomorrow night. To get the week started, though, I’ll do the usual post about Tech’s upcoming opponent, taking a first look at Miami.
Here is what’s going on with the Hurricanes …
** Miami comes into the week in a similar situation to Virginia Tech, with a 4-4 overall record and a 3-2 mark in the ACC, a half game ahead of the Hokies in the ACC standings.
The ‘Canes are in a three-game losing skid that coincides with their schedule getting tougher. They’ve lost their last three games to No. 9 Notre Dame (41-3), North Carolina (18-14) and No. 14 Florida State (33-20). The loss to the Seminoles was closer than most thought — I’ve heard they were 20-point ‘dogs — but it was a sloppy game. Still, Miami hung around for three quarters.
** The Hurricanes are an intriguing team, young but talented. Fourteen players listed as starters on the depth chart are sophomores or younger, and that doesn’t include standout freshman running back Duke Johnson. There are only two seniors in the starting lineup — running back Mike James and cornerback Brandon McGee.
That might explain a lot of the teams ups and downs. They’ve won three shootouts with ACC teams, topping Boston College 41-31, Georgia Tech 42-36 in overtime and N.C. State 44-37.
But they’ve lost their three games against ranked teams — Kansas State, Notre Dame and FSU — by a combined score of 126-36. Granted, two of those teams are currently in the top five and the ‘Noles could climb back into the top 10 if they continue winning.
** The offense has a bunch of play-makers. Start with quarterback Stephen Morris, who has thrown for 2,219 yards and 10 touchdowns to seven interceptions this year. Half of those touchdowns came in a 566-yard performance against N.C. State. He’s followed it up with one touchdown and three picks in the last three games. Injuries and a tougher schedule probably factor into that.
Johnson is the real deal. The 5-foot-9, 183-pound freshman, who was Rivals’ No. 1 all-purpose back last year, is fourth in the ACC in all-purpose yards, averaging 137.9 per game. He has 470 rushing yards and five touchdowns and 215 receiving yards and another score. He’s also averaging 27.9 yards per kick return and took one back 95 yards for a touchdown.
James has 442 rushing yards and five touchdowns. Receivers Phillip Dorsett (34 catches, 523 yards, 3 TD) and Rashawn Scott (32 catches, 462 yards, 3 TD) are also threats.
Johnson suffered a foot injury against FSU and Morris had an ankle sprain that he played through. Both were practicing earlier this week.
Overall, Miami is better passing it (289 ypg, 23rd nationally, 3rd ACC) than running it (127.4 ypg, 92nd nationally, 8th ACC).
** The defense has been a train wreck. This is nothing like you’d imagine the ‘Canes to be. They are 114th nationally in total yards, giving up 499.1 per game. The last time that happened in Miami is …. never. In fact, the most yards per game the Hurricanes have ever allowed during the course of a season is 397.2 in 1997. For you non-math majors, this season is nearly 102 yards a game worse than that.
The fewest yards the ‘Canes have allowed against FBS competition this year was 419 against Georgia Tech. They’ve allowed 486 yards or more in five games, including 537 to Boston College, 592 to Notre Dame and 664 to N.C. State.
Miami has been its worst at stopping the run. Teams are running for 249.3 yards per game against the ‘Canes this year (this is 117th nationally but only second to last in the ACC, somehow ahead of Boston College). This too would shatter the school mark. Miami’s previous worse again came in 1997, when it allowed 219.9 yards per game on the ground.
The struggles stopping the run aren’t a product of the schedule. The ‘Canes have played eight games. Seven times opponents have topped the 200-yard mark. Notre Dame ran for 376. Kansas State ran for six touchdowns; Georgia Tech and Notre Dame both ran for five. For comparison’s sake, as down as Virginia Tech’s run defense has been this year, Miami has allowed 657 more yards and 13 more touchdowns this season.
And it’s not like the passing game has been good and that’s why people are running the ball. The ‘Canes are 83rd nationally in passing defense, allowing 249.9 yards per game. They’re 109th nationally in sacks, with 1.13 a game.
** As I’ve been saying all along, this game will probably decide the Coastal Division champion. Win and the ‘Canes are 4-2 in the league, with a game at Duke probably all that’s standing in their way to winning the division. If Tech wins and can just win the games it’s supposed to the rest of the way (BC, UVa), it will finish 5-3 in the league with head-to-head wins against Duke, Miami and Georgia Tech (UNC is ineligible).
With Duke having to face Florida State and Clemson the next two weeks and bound to come back to earth, it’s looking more and more likely that five league wins will give a team the conference title. Tech or Miami can take a big step in that direction next Thursday.