And off to Miami we go. It’s a full day of travel, hopefully one without complications, as we head down to South Florida via Greensboro and Charlotte. South Beach on Halloween night? Should be interesting to say the least.
First, here’s a link to today’s story about Frank Beamer reacting to Todd McShay‘s assertion the Hokies’ offense is out-dated (and whether there’s any truth to McShay’s assessment).
Second, here’s look at the matchups. Feel free to offer your own thoughts on the game in the comments section below. Be sure to leave your predicted score and reasons for it.
Virginia Tech at Miami
- Where: Sun Life Stadium, Miami Gardens, Fla.
- When: Thursday, 7:31 p.m.
- TV: ESPN
- Records: Virginia Tech 4-4, 2-2 ACC; Miami 4-4, 3-2 ACC
- Series: Miami leads 17-12
- Last meeting: Hokies won 38-35 last year in Blacksburg
- Line: Virginia Tech by 1.5
When Virginia Tech passes
After two strong games, quarterback Logan Thomas took something of a step back against Clemson with his passing, throwing for 207 yards and a touchdown but also two picks, one of which was returned for a momentum-turning touchdown. There might be some movement with his receivers — or at least the threat of it to motivate the starters. Corey Fuller and Demitri Knowles are co-No. 1′s with Marcus Davis and Dyrell Roberts, respectively, probably a move to make Davis and Roberts give a little more effort in their blocking (which has been lacking lately). I’d still be shocked if Knowles got significantly more reps than Roberts. Fuller, who is second on the team with 25 catches for 503 yards and is tied with Davis for the team lead with four receiving touchdowns, is essentially a starter anyway.
Miami has its issues on the back end. The Hurricanes have allowed at least 440 passing yards twice this season (at Boston College and vs. N.C. State), but they somehow won both games. They’re still 10th in the ACC, allowing 249.9 yards per game in the air. Deon Bush, one of seven true freshman to start games this year for Miami, starts at safety and has 28 tackles and an ACC-best three forced fumbles. Safety Kacy Rodgers II has 41 tackles, fourth on the team. The ‘Canes have six interceptions this year, in the lower half of the ACC. They’re also not putting much pressure on the quarterback, with nine sacks in eight games, tied for 109th nationally.
Edge: Virginia Tech
When Virginia Tech runs
The much-hyped paring down of the running backs appears to just be a continuation of what Tech has done the last couple weeks, with a more focused split of reps at practice. J.C. Coleman and Tony Gregory should get the majority of snaps, like they have the last two weeks. Coleman had 25 carries for 202 yards against Duke and Clemson. Gregory has 13 carries for 62 yards. (Michael Holmes had only seven carries for 27 yards in those games and Martin Scales six carries for 27 yards). Expect a similar split but for all four to still have a role. Thomas remains a threat. He ran for a career-high 99 yards against Clemson. The line gets some help. Center Caleb Farris is back after missing two games with an ankle injury. That will allow Tech to go with a rotation of Michael Via, Brent Benedict and David Wang at the guard spots. Still, the Hokies have only run for 157 yards a game, 70th nationally, which would look bad, if not for …
Miami’s porous rushing defense. Of all 120 FBS teams, only Eastern Michigan has allowed more yards per game on the ground this year than the ‘Canes’ 249.3. This is how bad Miami’s rushing defense has been: after giving up just 96 yards on the ground to Boston College in the opener, the ‘Canes have given up more than 200 yards in all seen games since. That includes 233 yards to FCS Bethune-Cookman. It includes 288 yards to Kansas State, 287 to Georgia Tech, 282 to North Carolina and 376 to Notre Dame. That includes 24 rushing touchdowns, 13 more than Virginia Tech has allowed this season. Linebacker Denzel Perryman (47 tackles, 6 TFL) and defensive end Shayon Green (50 tackles) have a nose for the ball, but far too many people in Miami’s front don’t. If Virginia Tech can’t run the ball against this defensive front, it might be time fold things up for the season.
Edge: Virginia Tech.
When Miami passes
Quarterback Stephen Morris has been hobbled by ankle and hip injuries, but when healthy, he’s been on point. The 6-foot-2, 214-pound junior has 2,219 passing yards and 10 touchdowns to seven interceptions this year. That includes a 566-yard, five-touchdown performance in a win against N.C. State. But he’s only completed 52 percent of his passes for 579 yards and one touchdown to three interceptions since. Receivers Phillip Dorsett (523 yards, 3 TD) and Rashawn Scott (462 yards, 3 TD) are threats, but so are the backs. Mike James has 24 catches for 214 yards and true freshman Duke Johnson has 21 catches for 201 yards. Seven ‘Canes have at lest 14 catches this year in a passing offense that ranks 26th nationally, averaging 288.4 yards per game.
Tech has been up and down in its pass defense this year. The Hokies, for the most part, held Clemson’s DeAndre Hopkins and Sammy Watkins in check last week, although Hopkins finally broke through in the third quarter with a 37-yard touchdown catch over the top of Kyle Fuller. Fuller is battling shoulder and groin injuries, although the bye week helped him rest up. The secondary has been helped out by the pass rush, which has gotten in gear lately. Led by tackle Luther Maddy and end James Gayle, the Hokies have 10 sacks the last two weeks after having only eight the first six weeks. Miami has been adequate at pass protection (13 sacks allowed in eight games). If it keeps Morris upright, it’ll have a chance to make some plays.
When Miami runs
James and Johnson are two gamebreakers here. Johnson, who’s shifty at 5-foot-9, 188 pounds, has 470 yards and five touchdowns. James, the bruiser at 5-foot-11, 220 pounds, is about the same, with 442 yards and five scores. Still, Miami’s overall rushing numbers are suspect. The ‘Canes are averaging only 126.7 yards per game on the ground, 93rd nationally. Like the Hokies, they’ve had some duds. They ran for only 55 yards at Kansas State and 29 yards against Florida State. Two other times, they failed to top 100 yards. Miami hasn’t had many big runs (only 30 over 10 yards, compared to Tech’s 45), which might be a function of an offensive line that starts two juniors and three redshirt sophomores.
That’s not to say that the Hokies have been strong against the run. They’re still allowing 157 yards a game on the ground, 70th nationally and fifth in the ACC. But an increasingly active defensive line and surer tackling by the linebackers and safeties have helped. Against Clemson, safeties Kyshoen Jarrett and Detrick Bonner were asked to do plenty of run support. They combined for 14 tackles and two TFLs and Clemson, which was averaging 200 rushing yards a game, finished with just 135. Miami might not necessitate a similar look. Facing a more conventional scheme, it could mean the most the Hokies will use whip linebacker Ronny Vandyke, who has been sidelined while Tech has utilized a nickel package against spread teams.
Edge: Virginia Tech.
Virginia Tech hasn’t made a game-changing play on special teams in a few weeks — at least not a positive one — but the threats remain. Jarrett is fourth nationally in punt returns (18.1 avg.). Knowles is 18th nationally in kick returns (27.8 avg.). Kicker Cody Journell (10-11 FG) is consistent and A.J. Hughes (40.2 avg.) isn’t too far back from the ACC pack, although he’d do himself some favors by catching the snap cleanly. The biggest concern is kickoff coverage (22.38 avg., 82nd nationally) and the once-a-game special teams blunder that seems to pop up from a new source each week (Christian Reeves unintentionally touching a punt and turning it over against Clemson was last game’s).
Johnson is a game-breaker at kick return for the ‘Canes, averaging 27.9 yards per return. He took one back 95 yards for a touchdown against Bethune-Cookman. The punt return team has been average. Kicker Jake Wieclaw is 10-for-15 on field goals this year. Punter Dalton Botts (40.5 avg.) is a hair better than Hughes. Miami’s kick return team has been great (15.2 avg., 3rd nationally), but the ‘Canes are allowing 15.6 yards per punt return, 117th nationally.
Edge: Virginia Tech.
Al Golden has things going in the right direction in Miami. He might be .500 overall there, but the ‘Canes have recruited well (they had the ninth-best class in the nation last year) and have committed to playing those younger players. He resurrected Temple’s dormant football program, so he knows what he’s doing, even his record against MAC teams with winning records was 0-14 in his four years. Frank Beamer is suffering one of his worst seasons in years at Virginia Tech, having lost four games before the start of November for the first time since 1992. Still, Beamer has rallied the troops before. The Hokies are 25-2 in November in league games since joining the ACC in 2004.
Edge: Virginia Tech.
The edges would suggest a fairly lopsided Virginia Tech win, but nothing about this Hokies team would make me think that they could win going away, especially on the road. Clemson’s defensive numbers heading into last week made it seem like the Hokies would have offensive success. That, obviously, didn’t happen. But Miami is even a step below Clemson when it comes to defense, especially at stopping the run. The Hokies should — let me emphasize that again, should – be able to move the ball on the ground in this game. When that’s happened this year, they’re fared pretty well. Miami has a bunch of very young, very skilled athletes who are capable of big things, especially Johnson, a threat in every phase who has three plays of longer than 50 yards this year and a long kick return as well. But this is a young group, one with 14 starters who are sophomores or younger. Then again, it beat N.C. State and took North Carolina to the wire. I think it will be close, but Virginia Tech — mostly thanks to its improving defense — will win its first road game this season against a Miami team that’s still a year or two away.
Prediction: Virginia Tech 24, Miami 17.