Canes get shot at revenge against Hokies

It was like running straight into a buzzsaw.

Miami was 2-0 headed into Blacksburg last season. The Canes started the season unranked and unheralded, but after coming out on the right side of a shootout in Tallahassee and having crushed Georgia Tech’s triple option in a Thursday night showdown, the bandwagon got very full very fast.

After two games, first-year starter Jacory Harris was being mentioned as a Heisman candidate and the same critics who didn’t rank the Canes in the pre-season were now talking about Miami as a title game darkhorse.

Mark Whipple and his pass-happy offense were shredding defenses. Harris torched Florida State for 386 yards in the season opener; more than any Cane quarterback every laid on a Noles defense. A week later, 270 passing yards while the Miami D held the Yellow Jackets’ option attack to an ineffective 95 yards.

The formula was working and yards were being piled up as Whipple and this new-look Hurricanes offense was an unknown. Florida State came down to a dropped game-winner in the end zone, but Miami put up 38 points and 476 total yards and moved the ball through the air a variety of ways. Same thing the following week when Georgia Tech headed south.

Virginia Tech always plays Miami tough and in the wake of last year’s 31-7 beating, the excuses ran rampant. Fans blamed the rain while the media cited a team with an overinflated ego and big head due to the recent hype and 2-0 start.

At the end of the day, the Canes got worked by the Hokies because of a foolish game plan that simply wasn’t designed to work against a physical team like Virginia Tech. (Weak-armed quarterback, no commitment to the run while facing a hard-nosed defense on the road, in the rain? Bad call.)

Harris was harassed all day, being asked to carry his team as there was little focus on the ground game early last year. 9 completions on 25 attempts for 105 yards and an interceptions, isn’t going to cut it. Graig Cooper rushed for 59 yards, but after a bevy of sacks on Harris, Miami netted 59 rushing yards on the day.

Twenty games later, it appears that Whipple finally gets ‘it’ regarding the Canes ground game, finally relying on a stable of talented running backs instead gambling everything on his quarterback’s arm and accuracy, or lack thereof.

Damien Berry eventually became Miami’s premier back of 2009, but the then-junior didn’t take one snap against Virginia Tech. He didn’t play the following weekend against Oklahoma, nor did he see the field against Florida State or Georgia Tech. Berry was thrust into action week five against Florida A&M, carrying 14 times for 162 yards and a score.

As the year rolled on, Berry saw more carries and had his best overall outing in the season finale at South Florida, rushing 12 times for 114 hard-fought yards.

Berry has still been ‘the guy’ this season, but the emergence of Lamar Miller and Mike James has added another dimension to the Miami ground game, as did the injury sustained by Harris. With No. 12 sideline, Whipple’s hand was forced and in an effort to not pile too much on true freshman Stephen Morris, Miami has become a run-heavy team and the recipe has resulting in two necessary back-to-back wins.

Virginia Tech is the favorite and can lock up the ACC Coastal with a Saturday win at Sun Life, but this isn’t last year’s Miami squad. This isn’t even the same bunch Florida State worked over a month ago. In a matter of weeks UM has found an identity and have a working blueprint for how to succeed.

The Hokies always provide a challenge, but they’ll face a Canes squad that will be able to go toe-to-toe with them today, should the proverbial ‘A’ game be brought.

Tyrod Taylor is the type of quarterback that can give Miami nightmares, but having come off a week where disciplined, assignment football helped the Canes get out of Atlanta with a win, a similar approach is needed this weekend. Taylor can get you with both his arm and legs, but he’s been gotten before and it’s on this Miami defense to buckle down and make plays.

Miami needs to bring Virginia Tech’s game right back at them. Physical. Run-heavy. Set up the occasional big pass. Disciplined defense. Force turnovers. The Canes have morphed into a tougher, grind-it-out team last week against the Yellow Jackets and again, need to channel that vibe again this weekend.

The offensive line has been jelling and faces another challenge today with a tough Hokies front seven. Win the battle up front and the Canes will have three to four quality backs ready to run roughshod over their final ACC opponent.

It’s been another up and down season in South Florida, making it difficult to ‘predict’ where these Canes will wind up four hours after kickoff. If the squad who took on Clemson, North Carolina and Georgia Tech shows up, it should make for a hard-hitting, big play Saturday afternoon at Sun Life.

If it’s the candy Canes who limped through a win at Duke a week after bending over for Florida State, the Hokies are going to smell the weakness and eat ’em alive.

To Miami’s credit, there seems to have been a shift, though. An identity found. Stubbornness put on the shelf in lieu of an attitude of doing what needs to be done for the greater good.

It may be in Coach Whipple’s nature to rely on his quarterback’s arm to win games, but with the current offense he’s coaching, it’s the legs of several capable backs that need to carry the Canes to victory.

Ball control. Move the chains. Quality gains on first and second down, keeping Miami out of third-and-long situations. Success on the ground translating into more deep passing opportunities when opposing defenses are too keyed in on the run.

On the other side, disciplined football. Wrap up ball carriers. Harass the quarterback. Force mistakes.

Had this game been earlier in the season, an identity-less Miami might’ve been in trouble. But this is a new, new-look bunch of Canes; a throwback to more of that pro-style offense which always flourished in South Florida.

Virginia Tech is rolling south undefeated in ACC play, which seems a rarity. The Hokies are a quality bunch, but always seem to slip up somewhere in conference. The Canes are the best team they’ve faced since losing to Boise State in the opener and are bar none the best conference opponent to date.

Two quality opponents will line up Saturday, but Miami seems to have come into its own and at home with the ACC on the line, it’s another must-win game for the Canes and the pieces finally appear to be in play.

Miami 27

Virginia Tech 23

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13 thoughts on “Canes get shot at revenge against Hokies

  1. Two keys and we win. 1. No turnovers (or at least have the same turnover margin at Tech) 2. Tackle well. Do these two things and we win. Will we? Depends if we want to do the dirty work..the little things it takes. Tech isn't a team that beats itself. They wait for you to make the mistake and capitalize. Miami has been beating itself with turnovers all year, so I hope they stay focused and make good decisions and value the ball.
    -Columbus Cane

  2. I just got home from deployment and this is the first UM game I get to watch. With 6:25 left, it's 31-17 in a game that UM should have won. Missed opportunities let an inferior VT team probably win the game. This is a sad game on a disappointing year.

  3. It is now obvious to all…we have superior talent to virtually every team but have vastly inferior coaching…Whipple was all over the place…we could have won this game with Miller/James/Berry on the ground every down…love RS as a man but he is way out of his league; worse, the fan base has completely given up on him…the attendance was pathetic…he cannot motivate the broader community and doesn't care to! we have regressed and in four years he is barely over .500…it is time to acknowledge the obvious…he can't take us to the next level no matter how much we want him to be the man to do so! Let the process begin now!

  4. I like how we have finally decided to run the ball. We should have done that from Game 1. Once again, however, turnovers and dropped passes killed us (and of course some weak penalty calls – at home no less). Tech is a team that merely capitalizes on your mistakes and we continue to make too many. Another sub par year. At least we have some competition at QB now. I believe to be the best we can be, all positions need to be up for grabs. We haven't had that at the QB position.

    One quick question….On 3 and 19, with a cold, back-up QB in, why do we not blitz? The guy had all damn day to throw a casual ball to a wide open WR with absolutely no pressure in his face at all. Then on the 80 yard run by Williams, all he does is break through the initial line and there is NOBODY within 20 yards of him, and certainly not between him and the endzone.

    I hope these coaches all take a look at themselves in the mirror and decide what kind of team they want to have, because I don't know what they hang their hats on.

    Pretty much all groups aside from the RB's have underperformed this year. This team has a core of juniors still making the same mistakes they did as freshmen…blown assignments, missed tackles, dropped passes, holding penalties, turnovers, missed FGs. We make it so easy on other teams when they know it's just a matter of time before we shoot ourselves in the foot. There was no team we faced this year that we could not have beaten if we executed. Yet another year of what might have been.

    Columbus Cane

  5. "Twenty games later, it appears that Whipple finally gets 'it' regarding the Canes ground game, finally relying on a stable of talented running backs instead gambling everything on his quarterback's arm and accuracy, or lack thereof."

    You were right on with this post. But midway in the third quarter, after a drive when we quickly ran the ball down there throats, he gave up on the run and put it on Morris' arm. No dig on Morris,he is going to be excellent if Whipple doesn't do the same thing he has done with J12. 6.2 yards per carry and he starts throwing on first down. I just don't get it.

  6. It's hard for me to pinpoint what is so frustrating about this performance.

    Morris? I can't blame a true freshman QB too much. He was sharp early when the run was going well. The first INT was bad, but again, a true freshman. The other picks were desperation to make plays.

    Oline?…262 yds rushing, allowing Miller's beastial effort. But SENIOR tackle Orlando Franklin's 3 holding calls, 2 of which negated big gains, frustrated me to no end.

    D? We dominated in the 1st half and were all over Taylor. One blown coverage and one run up the middle were really the only big mistakes. They came up big after Benji's gaff on the return.

    We had so many opportunities to win this game, and almost refused to take them.I really feel like we had something going after that fumble recovery early, and that brilliant flea-flicker call. I felt like Whipple finally got 'IT'

    Then, Shannon goes for it on 4th and 1. Sure, had we succeeded and scored a TD, he'd be praised for a gutsy call, but this is VT, who always brings it on D, and in this series, you TAKE THE POINTS, and more importantly, keep the momentum by going up 10-0. Instead, VT drives 6 minutes and scores to make it 7-7.
    Bad call.

    I can't help but question the coaching in this one. I like Cooper a lot, but he's not Miller or Berry. WHY is he taking hand-offs on the crucial drive after VT goes up 24-17? Where's Berry? Aren't we platooning so our big guns are fresh for the 4th?

    I am also fed up with the lax play by some of these WRs. Benjamin should have been benched after that lame effort on those long passes.

    There was a pass play in the 4th when the game was still in question, where Aldarius Johnson literally JOGGED through his route. I had to rewind the DVR just to make sure I wasn't seeing things. No wonder he's not cracking the starting lineup.

    If some of these WRs gave half the effort Lamar Miller did, maybe j12 wouldn't be on the hot seat so much.

    I think I'm done now.

    oh, wait…our special teams really suck. When was the last time we blocked a kick or got a decent return?? Anyone? If we think we have kicking issues now, wait until Bosh is gone.

  7. We all wonder what went wrong …..but think about it people. Too many turnovers. If this team simply didn't turn it over, they would be undefeated. That is the problem with this team . I an so frustrated right now with them beating themselves with these turnovers.

  8. People will find a millions different places to place the blame on this loss…but the plain and very simple fact is you will never win with 5 turnovers and 2 dropped td passes….it doesn't take a rokcet scientist to figure this out…there is no way of spinning this one:the season is a failure,end of story…

  9. Jack – Yes it is coaching. The Juniors and Seniors are still making the same dumbass mistakes they made their freshman year and they are not being held accountable. Benjamin, Aldarius Johnson and Orlando Franklin should have been riding the pine after their screw ups yesterday. We have all kinds of talent and no one to coach it up. 4 years of excuses and mediocre football from a program that has produced so much in the last 30 years. I'm tired of it….

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