2007 Football Game Preview: Virginia Tech vs. Miami

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Saturday, November 17th, 2007, 3:30

TV: ABC (click
here for a coverage map
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Saturday forecast, as of 3:00 pm Wednesday: Mostly sunny, high of 49 degrees.


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Game Preview: #10 Virginia Tech (8-2, 5-1 ACC) vs. Miami (5-5, 2-4)


by Chris Coleman, TechSideline.com

It’s been quite awhile since Virginia Tech and Miami played a football game
that was meaningless in conference play. However, that’s how it is this year.
Miami has been eliminated from contention in the Coastal Division, and the
Virginia-Virginia Tech game on November 24 will decide who wins the division.
Nevertheless, there is still plenty to play for.

This Saturday will be Senior Day at Lane Stadium, and some outstanding
seniors will be honored. Guys like Eddie Royal, Vince Hall, Xavier Adibi and
Chris Ellis will be playing their last game in Lane Stadium.

This senior class has a chance to do something special. They have a chance to
win 10+ games for the fourth year in a row, something no other Virginia Tech
senior class has been able to do.

Their opponent will be the Miami Hurricanes, losers of four of their last
five games. If you think Virginia Tech’s team looks like a M*A*S*H unit, wait
until you see how many major players for Miami are banged up.


Miami Injury List

Name

Position

Year

Injury

Status

Dwayne Hendricks

DT

Jr.

Leg

Out for Season

Romeo Davis

LB

Sr.

Knee

Out for Season

Glenn Cook

LB

Sr.

Foot

Out for Season

Anthony Reddick

S

Jr.

Knee

Out for Season

Shawnbrey McNeal

RB

Fr.

Leg

Out for Saturday

Josh Holmes

DT

Fr.

Leg

Questionable

Carlos Armour

CB

Jr.

Leg

Questionable

Graig Cooper

RB

Fr.

Knee

Questionable

Lovon Ponder

S

Jr.

Leg

Questionable

Antonio Dixon

DT

Jr.

Knee

Probable

Seven of those guys are either full-time starters or part-time starters, and
they all play a lot. Also, notice that most of the injured players are defensive
players, not offensive players, although Graig Cooper’s injury will hurt Miami
quite a bit if he can’t play.

The Miami Offense

Despite not being struck with the injury bug, the Miami offense still lags
way behind the Miami defense. Despite an improved running game, the passing game
has regressed. Did you think Miami would ever have the worst passing offense in
the ACC? Well, they do this year.


The Miami Offense

Category

Stat

ACC Rank

NCAA Rank

Rushing

166.6 ypg

2

44

Passing

162.1 ypg

12

110

Total

328.7 ypg

10

103

Scoring

21.9 ppg

10

98

Pass Efficiency

116.65

9

85

Sacks Allowed

1.7 spg

4

46

3rd Down %

28.9%

12

113

Miami ranks 103 or lower in three of the seven stats listed above, and 85 and 98
in two others. Miami’s offense is beyond bad. This is not fixable this season
for the Hurricanes. They need better talent, up front and at quarterback.

Kyle Wright (6-4, 225, Sr.) is expected to get the start for this game. He is
not completely healthy. He missed the NC State game back on November 3 because
of sprains of the knee and ankle of his left leg.

Wright was a blue chip recruit who was expected to have a big career at
Miami, but he has been a disappointment. So far this season he has thrown for a
solid 59.5% completion percentage, but he has 12 interceptions and just nine
touchdowns, a bad ratio. He threw three interceptions last week in Miami’s 48-0
home loss to Virginia.

Wright has talent, and he can complete the deep ball pretty well. However,
his mechanics break down when he’s under pressure, and he makes bad decision on
top of that. He has a tendency to play scared at times, often dancing in the
pocket and not setting his feet, even when there is no defender around him. That
leads to less velocity on his throws, and more interceptions. Tech needs to get
after Wright. If they do, he’ll likely throw some up to the guys wearing maroon
jerseys.

His backup is Kirby Freeman (6-3, 214, Jr.). Freeman is more mobile than
Wright, and he was actually the starter at the beginning of the season. He
struggled and was benched, but he had to start the NC State game when Wright was
hurt. Against the Wolfpack, Freeman completed just one pass the entire game. He
threw three interceptions. For the season, he has completed just 31% of his
passes for three touchdowns and six interceptions. If he gets in the game on
Saturday, Bud Foster will be foaming at the mouth.

Miami’s passing game is ranked dead last in the ACC, averaging just 162.1
yards per game. Wright and Freeman have combined to complete just 115 passes
this season. Miami’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach is Patrick
Nix, who previously served as Reggie Ball’s offensive coordinator and
quarterbacks coach at Georgia Tech. Ball never completed more than 50% of his
passes in his four seasons.

Darnell Jenkins (5-10, 188, Sr.) is Miami’s top receiver. He has 25 catches
for 570 yards and two touchdowns this season. He averages 22.8 yards per catch.
Jenkins is the top deep threat on Miami’s team. He had a 97 yard touchdown
reception earlier in the season against UNC.

Jenkins is the only Miami receiver who has caught more than 16 passes, which
is hard to believe. Sam Shields (6-0, 175, So.) has 16 catches for 226 yards and
two touchdowns, and Lance Leggett (6-3, 192, Sr.) has 15 receptions for 238
yards and one touchdown. After Jenkins, Shields and Leggett, the top targets are
running backs.

If Miami didn’t have two very good running backs, they wouldn’t have much to
turn to offensively. Graig Cooper (6-0, 192, Fr.) and Javarris James (6-0, 211,
So.) are the only consistent performers in Miami’s offense. James starts, and he
has rushed for 572 yards and four touchdowns on the season.

Cooper has been more productive and leads the team in rushing with 664 yards
and four touchdowns. He averages a very impressive 5.5 yards per carry. He was
banged up a bit in the loss to UVA, but he’ll be fine to play against VT on
Saturday. If Miami wants to beat the Hokies, they’ll have to establish something
on the ground with James and Cooper. They won’t be able to beat Tech through the
air.

Unfortunately for the Canes, Cooper is banged up. He didn’t practice much on
Tuesday, and was spotted on the sideline with a brace on his left knee. Randy
Shannon says whether or not he plays on Saturday will depend on how much he gets
done in practice on Wednesday (today).

Shawnbrey McNeal (5-11, 190, Fr.), who is listed as Miami’s #3 tailback, will
miss Saturday’s game. He is on crutches and has a cast on his leg.

Virginia Tech should be able to handle Miami up front. Although Miami returns
four starters up front, this is not a dominant offensive front. The best player
is probably left tackle Jason Fox (6-6, 290, So.). He started last season as a
true freshman. Both guards and the center are seniors, so the Canes have
experience up front. Right guard Derrick Morse (6-4, 320, Sr.) is a very scrappy
player, but not overly talented.

Look for Virginia Tech to shut down Miami’s running game and force the Canes
to beat them through the air. Miami is a simple offense to defend right now, and
Bud Foster shouldn’t have much trouble game planning this week. The most
important thing for the Hokies on Saturday is to not give up the big play,
because the Canes should not be able to drive the length of the field. Miami
ranks 113 in the nation in third down conversion percentage, at 28.9%, while the
Hokie defense is second in the nation in third down conversion defense at 25.5%.

The Miami Defense

As noted above, Miami has a lot of key injuries on the defensive side of the
ball. As a result, their performance has suffered quite a bit.


The Miami Defense

Category

Stat

ACC Rank

NCAA Rank

Rushing

133 ypg

8

44

Passing

200.1 ypg

2

24

Total

333.1 ypg

6

27

Scoring

24 ppg

8

43

Pass Efficiency

122.58

9

53

Tackles for Loss

7.5 pg

3

17

Sacks

2.7 spg

4

27

3rd Down %

38.80%

10

59

Miami is ranked in the bottom half of the ACC in four of the eight categories
above. It’s rare for a Miami team to be ranked that low in any major defensive
category, much less half of them.

Miami’s defense has taken some major hits, especially in the front seven.
They are missing two senior linebackers who both have starting experience. Romeo
Davis and Glenn Cook would have either been starting or a major part of the
rotation defensively.

Perhaps Miami’s biggest loss, literally and figuratively, has been defensive
tackle Antonio Dixon (6-3, 331, Jr.). He is Miami’s biggest and best run stuffer
inside. He suffered a very bad knee sprain against North Carolina back in early
October and missed a few games. He played in a very limited role against NC
State two weeks ago. He tried to go against UVA last week, but could only manage
two plays. If he does play against the Hokies, he won’t be anywhere near 100%.

Miami’s best defensive lineman is defensive end Calais Campbell (6-8, 280,
Jr.). Campbell is a freak of nature. He has tremendous reach and great
athleticism. He hammered the Hokies in Coral Gables last season. Injured Tech
offensive lineman Brandon Frye could not handle him. Duane Brown and Ed Wang are
healthy right now, and they’ll fare better than Frye did, but it will still be
an immense challenge.

Campbell has 11.5 tackles for loss and six sacks on the season. He and Eric
Moncur (6-2, 255, Jr.) make an impressive combination at defensive end. Moncur
has seven tackles for loss and four sacks. Starting defensive tackle Teraz
McCray (6-1, 286, Sr.) has nine tackles for loss and four sacks.

The utility man up front for Miami is Vegas Franklin (6-3, 255, Sr.). He can
play defensive end and defensive tackle. With Miami’s injuries, he is a very
valuable member of the team. He has stepped up his play as a senior, recording
eight tackles for loss and six sacks. He only had one career sack coming into
this season.

Despite posting some impressive individual statistics, Miami has struggled to
stop the run since the UNC game. That was the game where Antonio Dixon went down
with his knee injury.


Last 5 Miami Games vs. the Run

Opponent

Rushing Yards

100 yard rusher?

200 yard rusher?

Result

UNC

183

No

No

33-27 L

Georgia Tech

264

Yes

Yes

17-14 L

Florida State

158

Yes

No

37-29 W

NC State

110

No

No

19-16 L

Virginia

130

No

No

48-0 L

Miami is allowing 169 yards per game on the ground over the last five games.
That’s a very un-Miami like number.

Part of the problem is that the Canes don’t have a standout linebacker. They
have some solid guys, but there are no Dan Morgans or Jonathan Vilmas. Middle
linebacker Tavares Gooden (6-2, 238, Sr.) is the most experienced. He leads the
team in tackles with 91, but he doesn’t play in the backfield much.

Strong side linebacker Colin McCarthy (6-3, 223, So.) is athletic and has a
knack for making plays. He has 57 tackles on the year, with eight tackles for
loss and two sacks. He returned a fumble for a touchdown against Florida State,
the only game Miami has one in their last five games.

Darryl Sharpton (5-11, 240, So.) will get the start at weak side backer. He
has 28 tackles and six tackles for loss. Spencer Adkins (5-11, 230, Jr.) is the
primary backup at strong side and weak side linebacker, and he’ll see quite a
bit of action. This is a solid linebacking unit that will make some plays.
However, they’ll give up some plays as well.

Miami’s secondary is also banged up. Expected starting safety Anthony Reddick
is out for the year, and Lovon Ponder (6-0, 209, Jr.) and Carlos Armour (6-3,
204, Jr.) are banged up.

Miami has had to rely on a true freshman cornerback for much of the season.
DeMarcus Van Dyke (6-1, 170, Fr.) is a talented player, but he’s still only a
freshman. He needs to fill out and add strength. The Hokies will probably go
after him quite a bit on Saturday. They’ll attack him deep if the Canes decide
to leave their cornerbacks out on an island like Florida State did.

The top player in Miami’s secondary is safety Kenny Phillips (6-3, 210, Jr.).
He and defensive end Calais Campbell are the top defensive players on the team.
Phillips is second on the team in tackles with 71. He is aggressive and has also
posted six tackles for loss, along with an interception. He likes to hit. He’s
forced three fumbles on the year, the highest number on the team.

The other starting safety will likely be Willie Cooper (6-1, 214, Sr.).
Cooper has bounced around his entire career, playing a little safety and
linebacker. Most of his action has come on special teams. He is probably the
least talented member of Miami’s secondary.

Bruce Johnson (5-11, 174, Jr.) will start at the other cornerback spot, and
Glenn Sharpe (6-0, 185, Sr.) should see plenty of action as well. This is not
the playmaking Miami secondary that we are used to seeing. The Canes have just
11 interceptions on the season, and only seven of those have come by members of
the secondary.

Although they are banged up, this is still a talented Miami defense that is
capable of making plays. The Virginia Tech offense will have trouble moving the
ball consistently against this defense, if the Canes come to play.

Miami’s defense is fairly similar to Florida State as far as their philosophy
goes. However, I would expect the Canes to alter their strategy somewhat this
week. They won’t leave their cornerbacks out on an island as much as Florida
State did, because Tyrod Taylor will burn them.

Special Teams

These are the worst Miami special teams we’ve seen in awhile.


Miami “Special” Teams

Category

Stat

ACC Rank

NCAA Rank

Net Punting

33.94 ypp

11

81

Kickoff Return

20.24 ypr

8

84

Punt Return

8.61 ypr

8

60

Kickoff Return Defense

22.5 ypr

8

80

Punt Return Defense

9.54 ypr

8

71

Miami ranks in the bottom half of the ACC and the NCAA in every category listed
above. The Canes have been completely devoid of big plays on special teams this
year, which is very surprising.

Their coverage teams have also been bad, and their net punting is almost the
worst in the ACC. The Hokies should be able to easily win the field position
battle this week.

Miami has used two placekickers this year. Francesco Zampogna (5-11, 200,
Sr.) is 9-of-14 overall. He is just 4-of-8 from beyond 30 yards. The other
kicker is Daren Daly (6-1, 179, Jr.). He is 4-of-6 on the season.

Miami has had two punts blocked this year, including one last week against
Virginia. Frank Beamer is studying their punt protection unit hard this week,
and the Hokies will likely go after a few on Saturday.

Conclusion

It’s amazing how far Miami has fallen offensively. Their defense is still
pretty good, when they want to be. So many key injuries have obviously not
helped them. But Miami’s offense has stayed healthy for the most part, and they
are just plain bad, even worse than last year, if that’s possible.

Kyle Wright and Kirby Freeman have got to be the least confident quarterbacks
in college football right now. Wright threw three interceptions in his last
game, a 48-0 loss to Virginia. Freeman threw three interceptions and completed
just one pass in his last game, a 19-16 loss to NC State. Both of those losses
were at home in the Orange Bowl.

This week Miami must travel to Lane Stadium, and they appear to have the
makings of a team that is packing it in. If you believe this
article
, the Canes have virtually no chance of coming into Lane Stadium and
winning.

Still, this game concerns me. Branden Ore and Kenny Lewis both suffered
sprained ankles against Florida State, and Lewis has been looking quicker in
practice than Ore. That’s not good. Lewis is not the type of running back that’s
going to be very effective against Miami, especially if he’s not quite 100%. He
needs all of his speed. Maybe this is the week that we’ll finally see Jahre
Cheeseman, who has been impressive in limited work the last two games. However,
I’ll believe that when I see it.

With banged up tailbacks, I think the Hokies’ offense will struggle on the
ground. Their offensive plays will come through the air, or via Tyrod Taylor’s
legs.

However, VT probably won’t need much offense to win this one. Miami’s offense
is really, really bad. Their special teams don’t compare to Tech’s, and the
Hokies should be able to win the field position game. Bad offense and bad
special teams play is not a formula to beat Bud Foster and Frank Beamer.

I think the Hokies will force several turnovers, and get some easy scores off
of them. They won’t physically dominate the Canes, but they’ll outplay them and
coast to a pretty easy win.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 27, Miami 7

Will Stewart’s Take: I don’t usually crunch a lot of stats in my portion
of the game previews, but I found myself thinking that the Canes are fading
fast, and I wondered if the stats reflected that. Here’s what I found.


Hurricanes Falling Fast

Stat

First 6 Games

Last 4 Games

Change

Record

4-2

1-3


Total Offense

358.5 ypg

284.0 ypg

-74.5 ypg

Scoring Offense

25.3 ppg

16.8 ppg

-8.5 ppg

Total Defense

308.7 ypg

369.8 ypg

+61.1 ypg

Scoring Defense

21.2 ppg

28.3 ppg

+7.1 ppg

Scoring Margin

+4.1 ppg

-11.5 ppg

-15.6 ppg

Turnover Margin

Even

-5

Every major statistic has taken a hit for the Canes in the last four games, as
they fell hard from a 4-2 start to their current 5-5 record. The one bright spot
is Miami’s 37-29 road win over FSU, a game in which they were outgained by the
Seminoles 366-326 but won the turnover battle 5-4.

Of more concern for the Hurricanes are the items that don’t show up on the
stat sheet: motivation, leadership and momentum. In the wake of Miami’s 48-0
whipping at the hands of Virginia in the Orange Bowl finale came reports of
recruits criticizing
the motivation and dedication
of the current Hurricane players. (That link
is the same article Chris linked above. It’s one of the more interesting reads
I’ve come across in a while.)

Both statistically and otherwise, Miami is free-falling, and Lane Stadium is
no place to visit when you’re free-falling. Especially not when the Hokies,
after sputtering for the first half of the season, are gelling and picking up
steam. (Of the ACC’s Final Four — Clemson, BC, UVa, and Tech — all but BC are
playing their best football of the season right now.)

All signs point to the Hokies smacking Miami silly Saturday.

But as we know, college football is a highly fluid situation, and past
performance doesn’t guarantee future results. What if the Hurricanes come into
Lane Stadium and play better?

My answer to that lies in examining the Miami offense versus the Virginia
Tech defense. All else being equal, the Hurricane offense is in big trouble
going up against the Hokie defense. Miami’s QBs are playing poorly, and Bud
Foster’s crew is not kind to quarterbacks who are struggling. A shutout is a
distinct possibility.

Speaking of shutouts, if I were Bud Foster, I would hang this sign inside the
Tech locker room: “The Miami Hurricanes haven’t been shut out twice in a
row since 1964.” And I wouldn’t say anything else to my defense about it.

It’s rare that I predict blowouts in this space, in either direction, when
the Hokies are playing a historically strong rival. I can think of two instances
in which I’ve done it, and I’ve been hugely wrong both times. I picked Clemson
to beat Virginia Tech 30-10 last year (the Hokies won 24-7), and I picked VT to
beat Miami 31-10 back in 2005 (the Canes won easily, 27-7).

I don’t think the Canes will completely lay an egg like they did in Miami
last weekend, but if the Hokies come motivated and play their game, I can’t see
Miami seriously threatening VT in this one.

Will’s Prediction: Virginia Tech 27, Miami 6

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