It’s back to Blacksburg this weekend for the Miami Hurricanes for another annual showdown with the Virginia Tech Hokies. The Canes enter at 2-2, having just taken down Bethune-Cookman, 45-14, while the Hokies roll in 4-1, having smacked up four patsies before Clemson took them to school last week, 23-3.
Miami and Virginia Tech usually meet later in the year when both teams have shown who they year, but this is another rare early season showdown.
Last time the two met early on was late September 2009, where Miami brought at 2-0 record to Lane Stadium, having beaten Florida State and Georgia Tech back-to-back.
There were (way premature) whispers about Jacory Harris being a Heisman candidate and the Canes potentially being a darkhorse, but all that chatter was quelled by game’s end. 31-7, Hokies as Virginia Tech rolled in the rain, holding Harris to a 9-of-25 passing day, with 150 yards an interception and a fumble.
Graig Cooper and Javarris James carried the load on the ground amassing 90 yards on a combined 25 carries. Miami was held to 209 total yards on the day and was 1-of-11 on third down.
The script for that 2009 showdown was vintage Virginia Tech while the rain and cold fit perfectly into their style of football. Win the field position battle on the first drive, pinning Miami at the sixteen-yard line after a punt. Five plays later, the Hokies’ defense sacked Harris and forced the fumble.
Facing a 1st-and-10 from the Miami eleven, and aided by a pass interference call, Ryan Williams ran it in on 1st-and-Goal from the two.
Miami was held to a quick three-and-out, after a first down pass fell incomplete and back-to-back running plays netted one yard. Tech then ran Williams three straight plays, passed to him on 1st-and-10 – a 23-yard gain – ran twice more and on throwing down (3rd-and-7), Tyrod Taylor hit Jarrett Boykin for a 48-yard touchdown, where a Hurricanes defensive back slipped and fell.
Taylor finished the day 4-of-9 for 98 yards through the air – half of which came on the lone connection with Boykin. Taylor’s legs accounted for 75 yards on ten carries. Williams was the true workhorse that day, carrying 34 times for 150 yards and two scores.
Solid defense and strong ground were two ingredients for success and the third came late in the second quarter when Jacob Sykes blocked a Matt Bosher punt attempt, which Matt Reidy picked up en route to the end zone. 21-0, Hokies, with sound special teams again making a difference.
Miami got an opening drive touchdown early third quarter, forced a three-and-out and had a chance to pull it to 21-14 when the then green Jimmy Graham had a huge drop and sure first down on 3rd-and-13 from the Hokies thirty-three. A fourth down attempt to Dedrick Epps was incomplete and the Canes turned it over on downs.
On the ensuing play, Williams broke off a 44-yard run and Virginia Tech was at the Miami thirty-one, eventually settling for three. The Canes wouldn’t score again, while the Hokies tacked on a fourth quarter touchdown more for good measure and style points.
Miami enters this year’s contest with a better ground game, a senior as opposed to a sophomore at quarterback and a brand new coaching staff who should be able to better plan against Hokies : 101 Football. The fact it will be 75 degrees and sunny is a mere bonus.
The Canes are frustratingly thin at defensive line, having lost Marcus Forston earlier this week. Curtis Porter has already been lost for the year and Miami will also be without Jalen Grimble and Luther Robinson are also sidelined this week.
UM also lost linebacker Ramon Buchanan in last week’s win over Bethune-Cookman, so to say the injuries are piling up is an understatement. Still, the “next man in” mantra applies and Miami will have to try to find a way. The Canes do get a boost from the return of safety Ray-Ray Armstrong, suspended the first four game of the season and welcomed back with open arms to a depleted position.
On the other side, Virginia Tech will be without starting tackle Antoine Hopkins, who tore his ACL last weekend. Hopkins had eight tackles and two sacks on the season.
Offensively, Williams is no longer running for the Hokies, but junior David Wilson has been making his presence felt all season. Wilson definitely got to pad his stats with Appalachian State, East Carolina, Arkansas State and Marshall out the gate, but he still ran hard against Clemson, carrying 20 times for 123 yards. His 6.2 ypc average was his second-best of the season.
Wilson will get his yards. That’s a known-factor as the Canes haven’t been able to stop the run all season. Miami is currently allowing 202.25 rushing yards per game and ranks 104th nationally in run defense. Meanwhile Virginia Tech is averaging 196 yards on the ground every week.
What Miami cannot do is let quarterback Logan Thomas be this week’s Collin Klein, the Kansas State quarterback who ran, passed and willed the Wildcats to victory in game three. Klein was an effective 12-of-18 for 133 yards with two touchdowns and no turnovers. On the ground Klein picked up 93 yards on 22 carries and ran one in for a score.
At 6-foot-6, Thomas isn’t as mobile as Klein. Against Clemson, Thomas was 15-of-27 for 125 yards and an interception. On the ground he carried 12 times for 39 yards. The Tigers’ defense also sacked Thomas four times, though Clemson’s front seven is far more effective than Miami’s, as of late.
Regardless of the defensive holes the Canes will sport this Saturday, it must find a way to turn the Hokies into a one-dimensional team. If Wilson is going to get his yards, Thomas can’t – or vice versa.
Thomas also has five interceptions to four turnovers, so even a lesser Miami secondary should be able to capitalize, taking something away from the Virginia Tech offense.
Red zone defense is also another must – and is an area where Miami has been strong this year. Holding the Hokies to field goals is a must in what should be a lower scoring affair.
Clemson, potent offense and all, only put up 23 points last weekend after scoring 35 against Florida State and 38 against Auburn while Miami scored 24 against Maryland, Ohio State and Kansas State before putting up 45 against Bethune-Cookman.
Cliche as the phrase might be, this truly is a “statement game” for Miami and will go a long way in determining how the next few weeks play out.
Stopping the run is something head coach Al Golden and defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio must solve, but it’s also something these kids need to pride themselves on. The current statistics are embarrassing and had Miami tightened up this area of its game, the Canes would be 4-0 entering this weekend.
The bleeding must stop this weekend as the next three foes are also run-happy. North Carolina is third in the ACC averaging 178 yards-per-game on the ground while Georgia Tech leads the nation with 378. Miami must also stop Virginia on a late October Thursday night nationally televised contest and the Cavs are fourth-best in the ACC with 177 per game on the ground.
Both Miami and Virginia Tech are currently 0-1 in conference play and a safe bet the loser of this Saturday’s showdown is out of the running for the ACC Coastal crown. Early October and this game already has a “must-win” feel for both, which ups the ante and means that sloppy play or boneheaded mistakes are even less acceptable that normal.
This is a winnable game for Miami, with the caveat that Miami must show up. As far as Virginia Tech goes, this is not one of the better Hokies teams in recent memory. No true dual-threat quarterback, no two-headed monster at running back, no fully loaded and swarming defense and even special teams isn’t as reliable as its been in the past.
For Miami, it all starts with Lamar Miller and a commitment to the run. Miller has rushed for 100+ yards in all four games this season – the first Hurricanes back to accomplish the feat since Willis McGahee in 2002. Mike James and Eduardo Clements will have to help pick up the slack behind Miller, which more fullback play from Maurice Hagens will help in short-yardage situations.
As for Harris, another game where he has to atone for past since, much like he did against Ohio State in September, making up for awful play in Columbus last season. Harris’ performance in Blacksburg two years back was putrid and with one last crack at an ACC rival that has been a thorn in the Canes side since the mid-nineties, J12 needs to make good reads and put his team in position to win.
Don’t be the hero. But don’t be the goat, either.
There really is no conventional wisdom when “predicting” how Miami will fare week in and week out this season. Every game is as winnable as it is losable. It’s simply a matter of execution. Not just knowing what you need to do, but doing it. Stick to your assignments, use your heads, rely on your conditioning and take care of business.
Miami already got a break in a rain-free, mid 70s afternoon weather-wise and here’s hoping the Canes get a few more come game time. Kansas State recovered all three of their own fumbles two weeks back. Maryland got a gift touchdown when a James fumble squirted into a defender’s mitts just before halftime, resulting in a touchdown.
Law of average-wise, four games in it seems like it’s Miami’s time to get a few bounces. A better Virginia Tech team would bounce back after that Clemson loss, but a lesser one doesn’t seem as threatening.
Slow down Wilson, shut down Thomas, protect the football, run Miller hard and make sure Harris throws to the right guys. No reason Miami can’t win this slugfest if it plays up to its potential. At 2-2 that’s a big “if”, though. – C.B.