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Miami Hurricanes Matchup Preview: Virginia Tech

The Canes attempt to get that elusive sixth win of the season in the unfriendly confines of Lane Stadium.

Virginia Tech v Miami Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

This week’s matchup preview features two programs coming off the heels of devastating losses last weekend. Miami and Virginia Tech were projected to be the leading candidates to win the ACC Coastal. Instead the Hurricanes and the Hokies enter Saturday’s matchup each sporting a multi-game losing streaks. For one team, a win will provide an exhale of mounting frustration. For the loser, it’ll be the next line in the obituary of the 2018 season.

Iron Sharpens Iron (One vs One)

CB Caleb Farley vs WR Lawrence Cager/Brian Hightower

Florida State v Miami Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

The injury bug has bitten Virginia Tech hard on defense. Promising sophomore cornerback Bryce Watts suffered a fractured forearm a couple of weeks ago. The Hokies have rotated other players in his absence, so redshirt freshman CB Caleb Farley has even more pressure thrusted upon him to deliver in the second half of the season. A 6’2”, 202 pound defensive back, Farley has the length to really blanket receivers down the field, as well as the recovery speed to get a hand on the ball if he is beaten early in the route.

Having missed the 2017 season due to a knee injury, Farley made a triumphant debut on the college stage with two interceptions and a sack against FSU opening week. The Hokies’ top corner has 24 tackles, one TFL, five pass breakups and two interceptions this season. Although he’s young, this DB should pose an intriguing challenge for the Hurricanes on Saturday.

Lawrence Cager leads all Hurricanes with six touchdown receptions. The redshirt junior is first on the team with 17.2 yards-per-catch. With that kind of production, it feels odd to be asking for more from the Hurricanes’ second biggest target in the passing game. Yet, here we are.

As Miami tries to pull themselves out of the pit of obscurity on offense, it’s always nice to play jump ball with your bigger targets on the team. Speaking of jump balls, it’s been a while since freshman WR Brian Hightower has been featured. Hightower has not recorded a reception since catching a pass for seven yards against Florida State last month. The offense has gone through upperclassmen targets such as Darrell Langham and Lawrence Cager, who have combined for five receptions and 76 receiving yards in a span of three games.

Head coach Mark Richt has emphasized his mantra of going with the players who give his team the best chance to win games. That still remains true, yet perhaps some more diversification with the personnel would be an aid as well.

Positional Matchup of the Week

Miami’s Defensive Backs vs Virginia Tech’s Wide Receivers

Georgia Tech v Virginia Tech
Limiting WR Damon Hazelton on Saturday will be of top priority for the Canes defense.
Photo by Michael Shroyer/Getty Images

Virginia Tech’s passing offense currently ranks sixth in the ACC in yards per game. This is despite the loss of their incumbent QB early in the season.

The Hokies relied on their running game to beat up defenses last year, allowing their own defense to remain fresh and composed on the sideline. In 2018, head coach Justin Fuente’s offense relies more on the passing game. This is likely due to the weapons the team has at their disposal. The featured receiver for the Hokies is sophomore wide receiver Damon Hazelton, who has caught 40 passes for 687 receiving yards, leading the team with eight touchdowns. The Pippen to Hazelton’s Jordan is junior WR Eric Kumah, who is second on team in all the major categories: 28 receptions, 357 receiving yards and three touchdowns. Sophomore TE Dalton Keane has been the Hokies’ checkdown option on short and intermediate routes.

The Hurricanes’ defensive secondary has been playing on its head in 2018. UM has been able to keep each of their opponents below their season passing average. However, with the final score resulting in far too many losses than any Hurricane fan can bare, the numbers are of little consolation. Michael Jackson has been one of the better cover corners in the conference with sophomore Trajan Bandy following not too far behind him in pace. Between Jackson and Bandy, the Hurricanes have eight pass breakups and three interceptions — Muddy B accounting for each of the interceptions.

Caneseye Players to Watch

QB Ryan Willis

Incumbent starting quarterback Josh Jackson went down earlier in the season against Old Dominion with a broken fibula. In his absence, junior quarterback Ryan Willis has taken the reigns of the offense over since.

Virginia Tech v North Carolina
With 282 rushing yards and three TDs on the ground, Miami finds themselves once again tasked with limiting a mobile QB in Ryan Willis.
Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

The scouting report on Willis reads as an athlete who possess enough of the intangibles to be a capable dual-threat QB. As a passer, Willis doesn’t get to his second or third read when going through his progressions in the pocket. He’s at his best when his first read is open immediately after the snap. Has shown explosiveness when he tucks the ball and scrambles out of the pocket. Possesses the ability to make defenders miss on the first tackle. As a passer, Willis has a tendency to stare down his targets, especially his primary target. He’s at his best when he can connect with short throws and checkdowns that allow a talented receiving crop to create yards after the catch. Expect to see Willis take advantage of his mobility by rolling out of the pocket to provide more time to scan his options down field.

Willis has thrown one interception compared to eight TDs during the Hokies’ losing streak. Sporting a 60% completion percentage on the season, the Hurricanes are going to need to keep Willis as stationary as possible to generate success Saturday.

S Reggie Floyd

With 59 total tackles, Reggie Floyd is the second leading tackler for the Hokies in 2018. Floyd is a throwback to your old man’s type of safety. Blasting in the box to make tackles on the run, Floyd is excellent when coming in for run support, often making the tackle on his own.

VT will blitz the junior safety off the edge, which can be an issue for running backs who stay in to block. With a sturdy 220 pound frame, Floyd can displace the RB, creating pressure on the QB to release a errant throw or to take the sack.

S Jaquan Johnson

From one safety to another, senior Jaquan Johnson’s time as a Hurricane is dwindling. Despite missing two games this season, The Franchise’s 65 tackles is just one behind LB Shaq Quarterman for the team lead. It’s yet another week where the threat of a QB taking off after the initially pass rush will be an issue for the Canes. This should be a double-digit tackle effort with Jaquan Johnson bringing his own lunch pail to Lane Stadium.

RB DeeJay Dallas

NCAA Football: North Carolina at Miami Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

DeeJay Dallas has long been a fan favorite because of his attitude and production. So when times are tough, you stand by the guys you admire. Dallas has lost three fumbles in the past two games, yet has also found the endzone a few times in the same span. If Dallas can just brush up on his carrying technique, the sophomore tailback should find success in the run game. That vaunted Bud Foster defense could be ripe for the picking, having given up an average of 392 rushing yards during the team’s three-game losing streak.

One Last Thing

Miami has bested the Hokies in 21 of the 35 meetings between these two rivals, dating back to their days in the Big East.

There’s plenty at stake in this game. Although fans would like to put this season out of its misery, a win will gives the Hurricanes a bowl berth. For Virginia Tech, they need to win this week and next week against rivals UVA to become bowl eligible.

The last time the Hurricanes did not qualify for a bowl was in 2007 under former head coach Randy Shannon.

For Virginia Tech, a loss means they won’t be going bowling for the first time since 1992!

The home team in this series sports a 7-3 record over the past 10 meetings.