It was a matter of the Hurricanes not scoring one last touchdown that would have sent the ballgame to overtime for them to possibly pull off a stunning, come-from-behind victory. Some of the 53,000 fans in attendance at Hard Rock Stadium began to file out at halftime, with Miami in a dreadful 28-7 hole against ACC foe Virginia Tech last October.
The ‘Canes were nowhere near the point of throwing in the towel, however. Scoring on a tipped Hail Mary pass from redshirt sophomore quarterback N’Kosi Perry, sophomore wide receiver Mark Pope sent his team to the locker room with seven points on the board. More importantly, a fire was ignited for something that few had expected: a roaring second half comeback.
Perry had fueled Miami’s execution on offense, which all started with an 88-yard drive for a touchdown scored by sophomore tight end Brevin Jordan. That cut the Hokies’ lead in half with what felt like an eternity left in the game.
It was 35-29 with barely five minutes remaining. Junior wide receiver DeeJay Dallas broke a handful of tackles and sprinted 62 yards for another ‘Canes touchdown. Anyone who had doubted their comeback was more than likely astounded.
The stage was set for another Hurricanes comeback win, until Hokies running back Deshawn McClease put his team back on top 42-35 with a three-yard run, leaving only a minute on the clock. Miami did not score another point that afternoon, falling to 2-3 on the season.
“No one wanted the start of our season to go the way it has, but I think the guys respect the work that they put into each other,” Hurricanes head coach Manny Diaz said. “That should have been a comeback that gets talked about forever.”
Eight months have blown by since their bitter loss to Virginia Tech, and Hurricanes football has now landed three highly sought-after transfer players by head coach Manny Diaz and his staff. That trio includes quarterback D’Eriq King (Houston) and offensive tackle Jarrid Williams (Houston), as well as defensive end Quincy Roche (Temple). Miami looks to integrate these new pieces with the young talent on its roster and potentially catapult itself toward the top of the ACC.
What comes far before any thought of an ACC Championship game, let alone a possible berth in a New Year’s Six bowl game like the 2021 Orange Bowl, is a rematch against Virginia Tech at Lane Stadium (Blacksburg, Va.) on Nov. 14. This is arguably one of Miami’s toughest matchups despite having one of their easier schedules in recent years.
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Last season, the Hokies held an 8-3 overall record and were 5-3 in the ACC. Miami was only 4-4 in the conference and will likely have to win at Lane Stadium if they want a realistic shot at winning the Coastal Division, or even competing for an ACC crown.
Virginia Tech has its rising star in quarterback Hendon Hooker returning for his redshirt junior season. The Greensboro, N.C., native eventually became the team’s starting quarterback by mid-season, throwing for 99 completions while tallying 1,555 yards and 18 touchdowns total on the season. His performance against the Hurricanes last October was one that included three passing touchdowns, 184 passing yards, and a 67-yard pass over Miami’s secondary before one of those touchdowns. The dual-threat Hooker looks to lead the program to the next level this season.
Besides their blossoming quarterback, the Hokies have brought in running back Khalil Herbert, a graduate transfer from Kansas. With the Jayhawks, the Coral Springs, Fla., native ran for 384 yards in 2019, including a career-high 82-yard rush, and 499 yards the season prior. Herbert looks to fill the gap in rushing after the early departure of running back Deshawn McClease.
Running back Keshawn King is another young and budding star for Virginia Tech. Totaling 340 yards and two scores last year, the Orange Park, Fla., native is primed for another year alongside Hooker in the backfield. The Hokies hope to continue improving their offensive production, as they ranked 49th in points per game (30.8) by the season’s end.
On the other hand, Miami ranked only 90th nationally in scoring offense at 25.7 points per game and only averaged 367.2 yards per game, something that is expected to improve this fall. Under new offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee, the Hurricanes look to boost their scoring offense to the 35 to 40 points per game range. The team also hopes to attain near 489 yards per game as Southern Methodist (Lashlee’s former team) did in 2019, with D’Eriq King leading the offense.
Defensively, Virginia Tech allowed only 17 points or less in six games last season. The majority of their pass rushers will return along with senior linebacker Rayshard Ashby, who tallied 120 tackles in 2019. Ashby, a 2019 Second Team All-ACC nominee, led the conference in tackles and will likely bolster the program’s defensive line once again this year.
Hokies redshirt junior cornerback Caleb Farley, a First Team All-ACC honoree in 2019, led the team in interceptions with four last season. He, along with anyone else who recorded an interception, will be heavily relied upon again to produce similar results.
With most defensive forces returning, the Hokies will have to continue to improve their scoring defense in order to compete with Miami for the Coastal Division title. They ranked 46th nationally (24.7 points per game) and allowed 469 passing yards to the Hurricanes in their last meeting, something they can ill afford this year should Miami show early improvement on offense.
The Hurricanes were quite ahead of Virginia Tech at No. 23 nationally (20.2 points allowed per game) and look to make another leap defensively with new additions in Quincy Roche and freshman safety Avantae Williams. Their defensive coordinator Blake Baker got the program to 13th nationally in yards allowed per game and sixth in sacks, resulting in four ‘Canes (cornerback Trajan Bandy, linebackers Shaquille Quarterman and Michael Pinckney, and defensive end Gregory Rousseau) receiving All-ACC honors.
Nov. 14 will certainly be circled on the Hurricanes’ calendar given Lane Stadium’s traditionally exuberant atmosphere. It can be a rigorous venue to play in for visiting teams like Miami, especially with the Hurricanes’ quest for revenge after their blown comeback last October.
Neither team will play Clemson—ACC champions over the past five years—this season, which will only increase the meaning of this conference duel.