Here it is.
While the Miami Hurricanes may never have played in the ACC Championship game, the team’s stated pre-season goal to reach Charlotte this year is so close you can almost taste it. In what is arguably the most important game for the program since the Hurricanes joined the ACC back in 2004, the battle for the ACC Coastal comes down to one game tomorrow night against the Virginia Tech Hokies...
...well, two games actually. A Virginia loss to Georgia Tech coupled with a UM victory on Saturday would officially clinch the division in the Canes’ favor. But you know what I mean.
The Canes are undefeated at 7-0, 5-0 in the ACC, and owners of the nation’s longest current winning streak at 12 games dating back to last season. However, they have been narrowly escaping the jaws of defeat lately, with their last four wins coming by an average of 4.5 points. The Hokies (7-1, 3-1) have won three in a row and have allowed just 51 total points in their four conference games.
In this clash of titans on Saturday, something’s gotta give.
"This is what we want," UM wide receiver Braxton Berrios said. "It comes down to this...that's the moment you want as a team and as a player, you want to be able to control your own destiny. That's exactly what we have. We have it all in our hands. If we go out there and win, it's all in our hands. If we go out there and we don't play right and we lose, we got to hope, like all the years previous that something happens. They beat them – they lose to them – and then maybe we can squeak in. We don't want to do that. It's finally in our hands, it's right here. It all comes down to Saturday, this is what you play for."
"Personally, this is the game you dream of, playing for something big," UM defensive back Michael Jackson said. "This is a game we'll remember for a long time."
The two schools have been rivals dating back to their days in the Big East. Miami leads the overall all-time series, 20-14, but Virginia Tech put a 37-16 beatdown on UM last season in Blacksburg on their way to a Coastal Division title. In fact, Miami has struggled since both schools left the Big East to join the ACC, while the Hokies have thrived, winning six Coastal Division titles and four ACC titles since the league split into divisions in 2005.
After a few down seasons, second year head coach Justin Fuente was the main reason for resurgent Virginia Tech’s ACC Coastal title last year. His high-flying offensive system electrified a long-dormant scoring attack and, paired with longtime defensive coordinator Bud Foster’s always steady unit, has made for a lethal combination on game days. This season, the Hokies lead the ACC and are second in the NCAA in scoring defense (11.5) and their offense is second in the ACC and 29th overall in scoring offense (35.4).
"Justin Fuente has done a really outstanding job -- not just a good job, a great job -- of putting his team together," Miami head coach Mark Richt said. "He has got a great place to coach, and I'm sure he inherited some wonderful players. He has done great with them and is recruiting well. The job they're doing there is outstanding."
Miami’s offensive line play will be key yet again in a game in which they struggled a season ago, when the Hokies racked up 8 sacks and 12 total tackles for loss. After a relatively good start to the season, Miami’s oft-beleaguered O-Line has floundered in recent weeks, leading to little to no space for the running game and UM QB Malik Rosier having to speed up throws. It is imperative that the unit brings their A-game against the ferocious Hokies front seven, or this game could get out of hand a second straight year.
"They're so aggressive," UM defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said of Foster’s defense. "They're going to put a bunch of people right by the line of scrimmage and make it very hard for you to run the football just by the sheer volume of numbers of humans that they've devoted to stop it. At the same time, they're going to deny everything in the throwing game. Like any defense would want to do, what's easy to do they do a good job of taking away and they force you to try to beat them in low percentage-type plays. They've been doing it a long time and recruiting to that system for a long time. Bud Foster is obviously as good as they come as defensive coordinators."
Behind center, both programs are starting first year quarterbacks, and both have fared pretty well so far on the year. For the Hokies, redshirt freshman quarterback Josh Jackson is averaging 266.5 yards passing per game to go with a 17-4 TD-INT Ratio. His favorite target is Cam Phillips, who is VT’s all-time leading receiver in terms of catches and has added 51 receptions for 692 yards and 6 touchdowns to his totals in 2017. They go against an improving and opportunistic Miami secondary that has 7 interceptions in its past 2 games.
On the other sideline, Rosier has taken over the reigns to the Miami offense and done a bang-up job overall, and certainly better than most thought coming into the season. He’ll look for more consistency this week against VT, both in starting fast and accuracy-wise, one game after completing 42% of his passes and being shut off the scoreboard in the first quarter yet again at UNC. To help him out, Rosier has a trio off weapons in the form of Berrios, Ahmmon Richards, and Chris Herndon, and will look to them early and often.
Miami. Virginia Tech. One game at Hard Rock Stadium for all the marbles. Time to silence some doubters.