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Three things to watch: Georgia Tech

Can Miami build on the success of the past two weeks against the Yellow Jackets?

NCAA Football: Miami at Pittsburgh
Miami Hurricanes quarterback Tyler Van Dyke (9) scrambles with the ball as Pittsburgh Panthers defensive lineman Calijah Kancey (8) and defensive lineman Deslin Alexandre (5) chase during the fourth quarter at Heinz Field. Miami won 38-34.
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

After back-to-back victories over ranked teams, the Miami Hurricanes will return to action on Saturday when they host Georgia Tech at Hard Rock Stadium at 12:30 p.m.

The Hurricanes (4-4, 2-2) need to keep winning if they want to have any chance of playing in the ACC Championship game in December while the Yellow Jackets (3-5, 2-4) are fighting for bowl eligibility.

Keep reading for three things to watch in Saturday’s game.

Miami’s passing offense against a subpar defense

Tyler Van Dyke has burst onto the scene these last two weeks and has become the obvious leader of Miami’s offense. He has passed for 753 yards in Miami’s last two games and already has compiled statistics in two games better than some ACC quarterbacks have compiled all season.

Van Dyke has ignited this Miami offense and given the entire Hurricane program new life heading into the month of November. Arguably what was most impressive about what Van Dyke did in October was that he was so successful against North Carolina State and Pittsburgh—two of the top defenses in the ACC.

Well, Georgia Tech is, uh, NOT the top defense in the ACC. In fact, the Yellow Jacket defense isn’t even close. Tech ranks No. 108 of 130 in passing yards allowed this season and that has to have Van Dyke and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee licking their chops after the tough tasks they drew these past two games.

Georgia Tech can get pressure on the quarterback (it sacked Sam Howell eight times in one game in September) but Miami will be facing a significantly less talented defense this week compared to the past two weeks.

What that means for Van Dyke and company remains to be seen. It’s tough to improve on 428 yards passing and three touchdowns like he had against Pittsburgh. But if the offensive line continues to protect Van Dyke as well as it has, Miami should continue to expect big numbers from the freshman quarterback, especially this week against the Yellow Jackets.

Can Miami get Jeff Sims on the ground?

It’s no secret that Miami’s defense has struggled to tackle the ball carrier all season, although it does seem improvements were made during the month of October.

Georgia Tech quarterback Jeff Sims is a slippery, quick athlete who can make you pay if he can get in open space with the football. Miami completely failed to tackle Howell consistently when he broke the pocket on October 16 and it resulted in a loss. That can’t happen again with Sims on Saturday.

It seems like it has been 15+ years since Miami has done a good job defending a true dual threat quarterback. I am sure I am forgetting an instance here or there but it seems like traditionally the Hurricanes struggle to defend quarterbacks who can beat them with both their legs and arm.

Sims is definitely that type of player. He hasn’t rushed for less than 34 yards in a game all season and rushed for 128 yards and three touchdowns when the Yellow Jackets upset North Carolina in September. He averages about 10 carries per game and right around 63 yards rushing per game this season.

To be honest, I am concerned for the matchup of Sims against Miami’s linebackers in space. It will be a long day for Miami on defense if he gets going running the ball.

How will the Hurricanes handle success?

I hate being negative in this space. There’s been so many reasons to be negative this year and Miami is finally on a mini winning streak. But this final point has to be made and this question has to be asked.

When has Miami handled success well under Manny Diaz? This is Diaz’s third season as Miami’s head coach. Can you recall an instance where the team/program took its successes in stride and built on them for the future? I cannot.

It did not happen in Diaz’s opening season in 2019—a 6-7 disaster complete with losses to Florida International and Louisiana Tech. You could argue it happened in the middle of the 2020 season but that was all lost on that fateful December day at Hard Rock Stadium when North Carolina shellacked Miami and rushed for 550+ yards.

So here we are in 2021 and Miami has won consecutive games against ranked opponents. It now has four games left in the regular season that it will likely be favored in. If the Hurricanes can handle their success well and build on the wins from the past two weeks, they should finish the season at 8-4 and 6-2 in ACC play.

But, I would be remiss if I didn’t point that this has not happened yet under this coaching regime. And I am on board with believing that the renaissance can start now, but every time it seems like Miami is about to turn the corner under Diaz, something pops up and gets in the way.

That can’t happen this time around. No excuses. No road blocks. Continue the momentum that was gained from the two victories over ranked teams and defeat Georgia Tech soundly on Saturday as several less talented ACC teams already have this season.

Losers make excuses, winners make it happen.