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Miami Hurricanes 2020 Game Preview: Virginia Tech Hokies

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A key ACC contest against a long time rival, can determine if Miami will play for their right to be called ACC champions

Virginia Tech at Miami
Miami Hurricanes quarterback N’Kosi Perry (5) evades a Virginia Tech defender in the game against the Hokies at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens on Saturday, October 5, 2019.
Daniel A. Varela/Miami Herald/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Over the last decade, the Miami Hurricanes have made a name for themselves by losing to teams they should easily defeat, and in year one of the Manny Diaz era, the trend continued. Of the inexplicable losses in 2019, one of the most difficult to comprehend was a home loss to an ACC Coastal rival, Virginia Tech Hokies team. One of the reasons the loss was so frustrating for everyone involved, was because the Hokies were fresh off an embarrassing 45-10 loss at Lane Stadium, to the Duke Blue Devils the week prior.

A year later, with a new offensive staff and new faces at key positions, Miami looks to reverse their fortunes from 2019 by making amends for losses that should not have been. Only this time around, for Miami to leave the field victorious against the Hokies, they must do so on the road, in Blacksburg, Virginia, during the middle of November.

Virginia Tech Hokies

Although the program is in year five of the Justin Fuentes era, there will be a new feel around the team, at least defensively. Long time defensive coordinator Bud Foster has retired and although his successor Justin Hamilton, a Foster protege, had extensive time learning from him, four other defensive coaches (Tracy Claeys, Bill Teerlinck, Darryl Tapp and Ryan Smith) are new hires. Ten returning starters on defense may help ease the transition for the new defensive coaches, but the strength on that side of the ball comes from the back seven.

Pittsburgh v Virginia Tech
Long time defensive coordinator and associate head coach Bud Foster of the Virginia Tech Hokies has moved on. The defense will now be led by first time defensive coordinator, Justin Hamilton.
Photo by Michael Shroyer/Getty Images

The Hokies boast a solid linebacker room led by Rayshard Ashby and his 225 tackles in two years as a starter. Junior Dax Hollifield (21 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 FF, 3 INT in 2019) also returns, but the x-factors of the linebacking core reside with two rangy players in Alan Tisdale and 6’6” Amare Barno, both of which are very athletic.

The secondary should be dependable, however the unit suffered a huge setback when cornerback Caleb Farley decided to opt out of the 2020 season, and start preparing for next April’s NFL Draft. Farley and Jermaine Waller could make an argument for being the best, or one of the best cornerback duos in the ACC last season as they combined for 29 passes defended and seven interceptions. Divine Deablo is a former wide receiver that made the transition to safety in 2017, and former four-star recruit Devon Hunter (#3 safety in 2017 by 247) has yet to record an interception in his career.

The biggest concern for new defensive coordinator Justin Hamilton, will be on the line where the Hokies were non existent in terms of applying pressure to opposing quarterbacks. The hope is that Youngstown State grad transfer Justus Reed (12.5 sacks in 2019) is able to provide a spark to a unit that returns three seniors. As a team, the Hokies totaled 38 sacks in 2019 (17th), allowed 224 pass ypg (63rd), and yielded 139.3 ypg on the ground (46th). Overall, their defense finished the season ranked 42nd in all of college football, giving up 363.3 ypg.

However, for VT to get back to national prominence, where they were at the turn of the century, “Beamer Ball” must come full circle. One blocked kick and zero blocked punts in 2019 will not do the trick if the once proud special teams juggernaut looks to become a complete team in 2020.

Offensively for the Hokies, their fortunes took a turn for the better once Hendon Hooker took the reigns at the quarterback position in week five last season versus Miami. His athleticism helped the ground game, and his ball security/decision making proved to be vital as the Hokies went 6–2 and averaged 36.1 points in games he started. They fared 2–3 and averaged 22.6 points in games he did not start. Last season at Hard Rock stadium, Hooker passed for 184 yards, with three touchdowns, and zero interceptions on 10 of 20 passing, while running for 76 yards and a rushing score. Although he seems to be the incumbent, he will be challenged by Oregon transfer Braxton Burmeister and redshirt sophomore Quincy Patterson.

Virginia Tech v Virginia
Miami will have to account for the rushing threat from the quarterback position that is Hendon Hooker, #2 of the Virginia Tech Hokies. He is seen here rushing in the first half during a game against the Virginia Cavaliers at Scott Stadium on November 29, 2019 in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Photo by Ryan M. Kelly/Getty Images

The Hokies return every single starter from last year’s offensive line, and their best lineman may be left tackle Christian Darrisaw, who is entering his junior year after starting every game in 2019, and 25 games over his career.

The running back room welcomes five new players, with transfer and former Kansas Jayhawk, Khalil Herbert leading the way for the newcomers. In four seasons at Kansas he ran for 1,735 yards and 14 touchdowns. Junior college transfer Marco Lee (225 lbs.) is expected to see time in short yardage situations and is the team’s biggest back. Jalen Holston and Keshawn King return for the Hokies and hope to provide consistent production in the ground game

Tre Turner and Tayvion Robinson are two very dynamic athletes for VT, and Hendon Hooker is expected to get them the ball often. Depth may be a concern as the Hokies suffered from a number of transfers in the offseason, including red zone target Damon Hazelton. Rutgers transfer Raheem Blackshear could thrive as a back or slot receiver if he is granted immediate eligibility. Tight end James Mitchell will be a prime target for Hooker this season as well coming off a five touchdown season.

Miami Hurricanes

What came as Miami’s undoing versus the Hokies last season, were three first quarter interceptions by Jarren Williams, who has since transferred out of the program. That, coupled with the defense having zero answers against Virginia Tech tight ends Dalton Keene (drafted 3rd round, 101 overall to NE), and James Mitchell, the Canes faced an uphill battle after falling 21-0 early, and eventually losing 42-35 despite a valiant comeback by backup quarterback, N’kosi Perry. Both VT tight ends combined for eight catches, 148 yards, three receiving touchdowns, and one rushing score. Miami looked lost defensively in that game, one that saw safety Bubba Bolden make his first appearance in a Miami uniform.

Virginia Tech at Miami
Miami Hurricanes wide receiver Mark Pope (6), who caught a Hail Mary pass for a touchdown in the second quarter last season versus Virginia Tech, will be relied upon heavily in the match up at Lane Stadium this year.
Al Diaz/Miami Herald/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

For Miami to win what is sure to be a highly contested game that may very well determine if they play in the conference championship game in December, they must test the Hokies defensive front that could not pressure opposing quarterbacks last season. To do that, Miami must rely on improved play from their offensive line which struggled in 2019, allowing 51 sacks, the most among power 5 teams. Miami can also benefit from cutting down on the turnovers that put them in a 21-0 hole to end the first quarter last year at Hard Rock Stadium.

With the Hurricanes ushering in a new era in terms of a style of offense this program has never seen, led by former Houston signal caller D’Eriq King and new offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee, the Canes will look to score, and score quickly in this uptempo offense that can easily see 80 plays per game. The last meeting between these two teams was decided by poor quarterback play on the part of Miami early in the ball game, and defensive miscommunication that led to Hokies tight ends running free all throughout. Virginia Tech did nothing special to beat Miami, and if the Canes showed up for four quarters rather than three, Miami comes away a winner.

Virginia Tech v Miami
Bubba Bolden #21 of the Miami Hurricanes reacts against the Virginia Tech Hokies during the second half at Hard Rock Stadium on October 05, 2019 in Miami, Florida.
Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Like every big game, the Canes must win the turnover battle and aim for zero turnovers. The defense must keep tabs on James Mitchell while accounting for the rushing threat of Hooker. However, the key to the game will be Miami’s defensive front versus the VT offensive line. If Miami is successful with containing Hooker from using his legs, not turning the ball over, and keeping James Mitchell at bay, they will come away victorious. Much like last year, the Canes should be able to score north of 30 points.

Intangibles will be a factor. Will the weather be an issue? Will the Hokies be playing for a right to represent the coastal in Charlotte? Will COVID cause key players to be out? Only time will tell, but on paper, at full strength, the Canes are the better team.

Prediction

Miami 37

Virginia Tech 24