The Miami Hurricanes face a very familiar opponent this Saturday at 3:30 p.m. at Hard Rock Stadium — the Virginia Tech Hokies.
The Hokies are 2-2 on the year with wins over Old Dominion and Furman — a G5 school and an FCS program. Their two losses have come against ACC opponents. In week one, they traveled to Chestnut Hill to take on the Boston College Eagles and fell 35-28. Despite losing the turnover battle 5-1, they managed to keep the game within a touchdown.
Virginia Tech actually out-gained the Eagles 442-432, but their defense gave up four scoring plays of 17-yards or more. The unit has been prone to allowing big plays, which has affected them all year.
Their second loss came last Friday night at home against Duke. Despite losing 45-10, the Hokies held Duke to just five yards in the first quarter. A fumble on a handoff exchange between second-string quarterback Hendon Hooker and a running back swayed the momentum in Dukes favor and the Blue Devils never looked back.
They went on to score three straight touchdowns in the second quarter, which put the game away early.
I don’t believe that Virginia Tech is that great of a team simply based on the fact that they are their own worst enemy. If (and that’s a big if) they are able to play a clean game in Miami Gardens, this could be a close one.
By no means do I picture a blowout. I don't know if this Miami team is capable of blowing out anybody based on the product they have put out there thus far. But they need to come out ready to play. There is just so much at stake in this one for both teams.
For the Hokies, falling to 0-3 in the ACC gives them almost no chance to play for anything meaningful in 2019. Charlotte is out of the picture in early October, which isn’t ideal for any program. Especially not a program that has had as much success as Virginia Tech has had in the last decade.
The seat gets awfully hot in Blacksburg for Justin Fuente and that’s an unfamiliar situation for that fanbase and administration. A loss would likely spiral this season out of control and ignite some difficult conversations about what to do with the fourth year head coach, who has a $15 million dollar buyout.
For the Hurricanes, a loss would give the team two losses to teams they beat a year ago. They went to UNC and lost to the Tar Heels after a 47-10 victory last year in Miami and they beat the Hokies on the road 38-14 in ‘18. That is a clear sign of regression and regression after a 7-6 year in Coral Gables is simply unacceptable.
I believe a loss to VT Saturday, fair or not, would cause a good portion of the fan base to begin questioning Manny Diaz. After the hype of the off-season, falling to 0-2 in the conference and under .500 on the year would just be flat out disappointing. Sprinkle in the fact that Virginia Tech was dominated by Duke and that creates a recipe for anger amongst the Hurricane faithful.
Then the recruiting implications, which is likely the most impactful. The Hurricanes currently hold the #14 class in the country in 2020 and hold the nations top class in 2021. A loss to a team like Virginia Tech at home following their last performance would be a huge hit to the program. Not to mention the fact that the Hurricanes are having a hard enough time as it is keeping the elite kids home and out of the hands of Alabama, Georgia, Clemson, etc.
This might not be a clash of titans as this rivalry once was, but what’s on the line for both teams cannot be be ignored.
Miami and Virginia Tech will have their 37th meeting this Saturday and have played each other every year since 1993. The Hurricanes lead the all-time series 22-14, but the Hokies lead 14-8 since 1995.
Manny Diaz and his team will be looking for the programs third straight win over the Virginia Tech — something they haven't accomplished since 2000-2002 during one of the highest points of the programs history.
Ryan Willis has been the quarterback leading the charge for Fuente’s offense. In 2018, he threw for 2716 yards 24 touchdowns and nine interceptions, earning him the starting spot moving forward and causing former star quarterback Josh Jackson to transfer to Maryland, along with 12 other players that are currently playing elsewhere after deciding to take their talents to other programs.
This year, Willis has thrown for 851 yards with eight touchdowns and five interceptions through four games.
But, in a turn of events, Gobbler County, VT’s SBNation affiliate, is reporting that backup quarterback Herndon Hooker will be making his first career start.
The 6 foot 4 sophomore was 1-2 passing for 8 yards in last weeks loss to Duke.
Complimenting the quarterbacks is a running game led by Deshawn McClease and Keshawn King. They’re averaging 148.8 yards per game which ranks 79th in the country. But Hooker should give the Hokies an added dynamic. He took a run 68-yards to the house against William & Mary last season and is extremely athletic.
True freshman wideout Tayvion Robinson leads the team with 18 receptions 190 yards and a touchdown, but Hezekiah Grimsley is their big-play guy, averaging 21.7 yards per catch through four games. Tre Turner is 6 foot 2 sophomore that catches and runs the ball for the Hokies. Sweeps with the receivers are a big part of the offense for them and Turner is often on the receiving end of them. He had 535 yards five touchdowns as a true freshman last year and over 100 rushing yards.
They also have a tight end in James Mitchell that plays a similar role as Brevin Jordan for the Hokies. He’s a talented guy that Fuente moves all around the field.
Defensively, the Hokies, who rank 104th nationally at stopping the run, are going to have to stop a Hurricanes rushing attack that has been up and down all year. If the Cam’Ron Harris and Deejay Dallas run the ball the way they did against Florida and UNC, this is an area that they have a clear advantage.
Last Friday, they gave up 234 rushing yards to Duke, including 100 to their quarterback.
Bud Foster is going to bring pressure and that lunchpail mentality that has brought so much success for Tech defenses of the past. This year, however, they’re allowing 28.5 points per game, but the Hurricanes are only scoring 20.6 points per game, if you exclude the 63-point performance against Bethune-Cookman. Something has to give there.
Dan Enos and the Miami offense have a great opportunity to turn things around in this one, but, ultimately, the Canes offensive line will determine their success.
The Hokies are averaging 2.5 sacks per game and have 27 tackles for loss through four games. Miami is 128th of 130 team in sacks allowed per game with 4.5, so that will be a matchup to lookout for.
Fixing the third down offense, which Miami ranks dead last nationally with 10 conversions in 43 attempts, will also be huge in determining their success. The Hokies have been pretty good defensively in that area, which is worrisome. The Hurricanes inability to move the chains in those situations has been infectious to the offense.
The Hurricanes defense is going to have to do what they have been doing, but better. They rank among the top 10 nationally on third down and at stopping the run. They’re 12th in tackles for loss, tied for 29th in sacks, and are allowing just 16 points per game. They are a good unit, but three man fronts on clear passing downs have been frustrating to watch.
Defensive tackle Nesta Silvera and USC transfer Bubba Bolden are also making their season debut’s so they’re getting some much needed depth at key positions.
If they can continue to get pressure on early downs and get more aggressive on third downs, which defensive coordinator Blake Baker hinted at doing during Mondays press conference, then this defense should be fine. As I mentioned, this is a Hokie offense that is susceptible to turnovers and forcing them early and often is the key to putting them away.
Establishing the north and south running game, converting third downs on offense, and keeping Jarren Williams off the ground are the keys to the game for the offense. Virginia Tech’s sometimes overly-aggressive style of defense should allow for some favorable one-on-one matchups for Hurricanes receivers Jeff Thomas and K.J. Osborn, so give #15 time and there will be plays to be made.
Forcing turnovers and stopping the run are the keys for the Hurricanes defense. Oh, and let Trevon Hill loose. I wanna see #94 have his revenge game.
See you Saturday at The Rock.