2008 Football Game Preview: Virginia Tech at Miami

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Thursday, November 13, 2008, 7:30

TV: ESPN

Forecast (from WeatherBug.com):

Click the “Miami, FL Weather” link to the right.
Game day forecast, as of 1:00 pm Wednesday: Partly sunny with a 20 percent
chance of showers. Highs in the mid 80s. Southeast winds 10 to 15 mph.


Click here for TechSideline.com’s VT/Miami roster card


Game Preview: Virginia Tech (6-3, 3-2 ACC) @ Miami (6-3, 3-2)


by Chris Coleman, TechSideline.com

Last week at this time, Virginia Tech was facing a four game season. As a
result of their win over Maryland, they now face a three game season. Next up is
long-time rival Miami, who despite a tough start in ACC play, has climbed back
into a tie for first place in the ACC Coastal Division standings. Both teams
have a lot riding on this game, and neither can afford a loss.

These two teams are very similar. Both have young offenses that have
struggled mightily at times, but they’ve been able to fall back on strong
defenses. This could be the most evenly matched game the Hokies play this year.

The Miami Offense

Before we get into Miami’s personnel, let’s take a look at how their offense
is faring this year in the rankings.


The Miami Offense

Category

Stat

ACC Rank

National Rank

Rushing

134.56 ypg

6

74

Passing

187.56 ypg

9

87

Total

322.11 ypg

8

98

Scoring

29.78 ppg

3

40

Pass Efficiency

115.31

8

85

Sacks Allowed

2.11 per game

7

60

Average

6.83

74

They have a lot of youth on the offensive side of the ball, particularly at
quarterback and wide receiver. The offensive line talent is also not up to Miami
standards.

The ‘Canes have struggled against the three very good defenses they have
faced this year. Check out what they’ve done against Florida, Florida State and
Wake Forest.


Miami Offense vs. Good Defenses

Opponent

Opponent
Def. Rank

Yards
Gained

Florida

14

140

Florida State

5

256

Wake Forest

31

296

Average

16.67

230.67

Miami is having a lot of trouble moving the ball against good defenses. That’s
exactly what they’ll face on Thursday night when Bud Foster’s unit comes to
town. Against their other six opponents, the ‘Canes are averaging 367 yards per
game. However, those defenses only average 62nd nationally in the rankings.
Throw in a 1-AA opponent in Charleston Southern, and Miami has gotten most of
their yards against average to bad defensive teams.

That being said, Miami played their best offensive game in their last game.
They put up 448 yards against a decent UVA defense that ranks 47th in the
national rankings. Are they getting better, or was it just a matchup issue?
We’ll find out.

The Miami offense is led by two freshmen quarterbacks. The starter is Robert
Marve (6-1, 210, r-Fr.). Marve looked pretty good early in the season, but as
the competition has gotten better he has looked increasingly uncomfortable. He
struggles reading defenses, and his subpar play has led to a drop in confidence.
For the season he is completing 54.5% of his passes for 920 yards, with seven
touchdowns and 10 interceptions.

The other quarterback is Jacory Harris (6-4, 185, Fr.). Harris doesn’t start,
but Miami likes to get him involved in the game plan. At this point he is
probably their best option at quarterback. He has entered the game facing
deficits at Duke and Virginia, and he’s led the team back to victory on both
occasions. He has completed 59.3% of his passes for 698 yards, with seven
touchdowns and just three interceptions.

Harris is lanky and badly needs an offseason to fill out. He has an odd
throwing motion, and he doesn’t really pass the eye test as a quarterback.
However, he’s gotten it done late in games for Miami. Both Marve and Harris are
mobile, so the Hokies will have to account for that. The Miami quarterbacks will
likely face their biggest challenge of the season against Bud Foster, a man
known for mixing up his coverages.

Unfortunately for Miami, they’ll face that challenge with a number of young
receivers. Five of their top eight receivers are true freshmen. Here is a quick
look at their performance this season.


Miami Wide Receivers

Name

Year

Ht

Wt

Catches

Yds

TDs

Aldarius Johnson

Fr.

6-2

205

24

238

3

Thearon Collier

Fr.

5-8

180

17

233

1

Travis Benjamin

Fr.

5-10

162

16

276

3

Kayne Farquharson

Sr.

6-2

188

15

194

2

Laron Byrd

Fr.

6-4

211

13

113

2

Sam Shields

Jr.

6-0

186

10

101

0

Leonard Hankerson

So.

6-3

210

9

86

1

Davon Johnson

Fr.

5-11

186

4

67

1

Totals

108

1308

13

Hankerson is listed as doubtful for this game, but the rest should play. Keep an
eye on Travis Benjamin. He is slight of build, but he has blazing speed and a
lot of big play ability. He can change the momentum of a game in one play.
Overall, that’s a lot of receivers to account for, but the Tech defense should
be up to the challenge.

The strength of the Miami offense is in the backfield. Tailbacks Javarris
James (6-0, 215, Jr.) and Graig Cooper (6-0, 202, So.) are a formidable combo.
James has missed most of the season with his injury, but he recently returned.
He has rushed for 159 yards on the season, and is averaging five yards per
carry. He is a traditional, between the tackles runner.

Cooper is more of a big play guy, though he’s developing into more of an
all-around runner in his second season. He has carried 126 times for 634 yards
on the season, which is also an average of five yards per carry. The Hokies will
get a look at both James and Cooper on Thursday night.

Miami’s offensive line hasn’t done the offense any favors this year, though
they were much better last week against Virginia. The best player on the line,
and perhaps the best player on the entire team, is left tackle Jason Fox (6-7,
306, Jr.). He has started since he was a true freshman. However, he was injured
against Virginia and is listed as doubtful for Thursday night’s game.

If Fox can’t play, he’ll be replaced by Reggie Youngblood (6-5, 313, Sr.).
Youngblood has injury problems of his own. It was thought he was out for the
season after he was hurt against UNC, and Miami coach Randy Shannon went so far
as to declare him out for the season. However, he has continued to play. He
doesn’t matchup particularly well with Virginia Tech’s talented defensive ends,
Orion Martin and Jason Worilds.

The rest of the line looks like this: left guard Orlando Franklin (6-7, 334,
So.), center Xavier Shannon (6-1, 302, r-Sr.), right guard A.J. Trump (6-3, 300,
r-Jr.) and right tackle Chris Rutledge (6-5, 311, r-Sr.). This group isn’t
likely to have a lot of success blocking Tech’s rapidly improving defensive
line.

Miami’s best strategy in this game is to rely on their running game and not
put their quarterbacks in a position to lose the game. They might not put up
many yards or points this way, but the quickest way to lose to Virginia Tech is
to turn the ball over.

The Miami Defense

The Miami defense is solid across the board, though they don’t have any
stars. They are one of the better defenses in the ACC this season.


The Miami Defense

Category

Stat

ACC Rank

National Rank

Rushing

109.89 ypg

4

24

Passing

177 ypg

5

15

Total

286.86 ypg

3

15

Scoring

21.89 ppg

9

45

Pass Efficiency

114.51

7

36

Tackles for Loss

6.78 per game

3

22

Sacks

1.89 per game

7

60

Average

5.43

31

The ‘Cane defense is solid, but let me say this. Despite what the stats say,
this unit is not as good as the Virginia Tech defense. They don’t have as much
star power as the Hokies, and they have more youth in the playing rotation (two
true freshmen starting). Just a couple of weeks back, the Tech defense held the
explosive Florida State offense to 248 yards. Earlier in the season, when FSU
was still struggling on offense, the ‘Noles dropped 41 points and 440 yards on
Miami.

Miami has a lot of talented youth at defensive end. There is experience at
defensive tackle, but the talent level is only above average, nothing special.
The Miami defensive line was hurt by the loss of their best player, defensive end
Eric Moncur, for the season due to an injury.

The starting defensive ends are Steven Wesley (6-3, 266, r-So.) and Adewale
Ojomo (6-3, 248, r-Fr.). Ojomo is a playmaker who has four tackles for loss and
three sacks on the year, while Wesley has just two tackles for loss. Backing up
Wesley is Allen Bailey, who might be the best overall defensive end. He has six
tackles for loss and three sacks. True freshman Marcus Robinson (6-1, 242, Fr.)
backs up Ojomo, and he has two tackles for loss on the year.

That’s a solid group of defensive ends, but they are young. The defensive
tackles are another story. Seniors Dwayne Hendricks (6-4, 300, r-Sr.) and
Antonio Dixon (6-3, 322, Sr.) are the most experienced players, along with
junior Joe Joseph (6-3, 302, r-Jr.). Hendricks was a Super Prep All-American who
is not as talented as the hype suggested. Dixon has struggled with weight issues
in the past.

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The most talented defensive tackle is Marcus Forston (6-2, 308, Fr.).
However, he’s only a true freshman. None of these defensive tackles would start
for Virginia Tech. In fact, none of their players on the entire defensive line
would start for the Hokies. The Tech offensive line should be able to get some
push against this group.

The Miami linebackers are solid, though they are without playmaking weakside
linebacker Colin McCarthy, who is out for the season with an injury. In his
place, Miami is starting highly-touted true freshman Sean Spence (6-0, 211,
Fr.). Spence has 47 tackles and 4.5 tackles for loss on the season. He is a
playmaker who forced the game-clinching fumble against Virginia in Miami’s last
game.

Two seniors, Glenn Cook (6-0, 228, r-Sr.) and Spencer Adkins (5-11, 240,
Sr.), see action at the middle linebacker spot. Cook is a good player who leads
the team with 55 tackles and seven tackles for loss. Adkins, a former Top 100
player who never panned out, has finally made some plays as a senior, with 4.5
tackles for loss and three sacks.

At strongside linebacker, Miami starts Darryl Sharpton (5-11, 235, r-Jr.).
Sharpton is another solid linebacker for the ‘Canes. He is third on the team
with 50 tackles, including 5.5 tackles for loss.

Miami’s pass defense has been good this year, but there isn’t exactly a lot
of competition through the air in the ACC. The ‘Canes don’t give up much yardage
in the passing game, but they don’t make a lot of plays either. Miami has
intercepted just three passes this year, which is pretty unheard of in Coral
Gables, and only one of those interceptions was by a defensive back! They don’t
have the athletes that they used to.

Bruce Johnson (5-11, 182, Sr.) is another highly-touted player who never
turned out to be quite as good as expected. He does have the only interception
by a Miami defensive back this year. He’s a solid football player, but he
generally doesn’t stand out when he’s on the field.

The other starting cornerback, Brandon Harris (5-10, 185, Fr.), is expected
to be the next great Miami defensive backs. He was one of the top 50 recruits in
America coming out of high school, and it didn’t take him long to break into the
starting lineup.

Miami safety Anthony Reddick (6-0, 212, r-Sr.) had a terrific start to his
career in 2004. However, knee injuries have limited ever since. He is probably
the most natural football player on Miami’s defense, but he’s not quite the same
athletically as he was as a freshman back in 2004. Still, he’s a player the
Hokies must be aware of on Thursday night. He is second on the team with 50
tackles on the season.

The other Miami safety is Ryan Hill (5-11, 203, Jr.). Hill is in his first
season as a safety. He has played wide receiver for the ‘Canes for the past two
seasons.

If you look at this Miami defense, they are good statistically, but how
many of their players would actually start for Virginia Tech’s defense? I don’t
see any of their linemen starting. I don’t think either of their cornerbacks
would start for the Hokies, nor would their wideout-turned-safety. Perhaps
Anthony Reddick at rover, or one of their linebackers. But overall, this defense
doesn’t match Tech’s in talent.

Special Teams

Special teams could be the great equalizer in this game. Travis Benjamin, whom
we mentioned earlier, could potentially burn Tech’s up and down coverage teams.
Benjamin is averaging 11.5 yards per punt return and 23.4 yards per kick return.
He doesn’t have a return touchdown yet, but that’s only a matter of time.

Miami can also match the Hokies in field goals. Matt Bosher (6-0, 205, So.)
is 13-of-15 on the season, with a long of 52 yards. He’s an excellent kicker who
also doubles as Miami’s punter. He averages 41 yards per punt, a great mark
considering he has had two blocked. If Frank Beamer sees a weakness on Miami’s
punt team, he’ll go after a punt or two.

Here’s a quick look at Miami’s overall special teams.


Miami Special Teams Rankings

Category

Stat

National Rank

Net Punting

36.04 ypp

45

Kick Returns

22.09 ypr

45

Kick Return Defense

19.85 ypr

39

Punt Returns

12.5 ypr

23

Punt Return Defense

9.8 ypr

73

Average

45

Miami is pretty solid across the board, with the exception of their punt team.
They have given up two blocked punts this year, and only rank 73rd nationally in
punt return defense. Either punt returner Macho Harris or Frank Beamer’s punt
block team could take advantage of this.

Conclusion

This is a huge game. If Virginia Tech knocks off Miami on Thursday night, I
don’t see much of a chance of Duke or Virginia derailing the train to Tampa.
Likewise, if the Hokies lose to Miami, they don’t stand a great chance of making
it to the ACC Championship Game.

There are a few of things in this game that favor the Hokies. First off,
freshmen quarterbacks don’t fare very well against Virginia Tech’s defense. Bud
Foster does a great job of mixing up coverages and giving different pre-snap
reads. That’s a tough task for any quarterback, much less a freshman. Miami has
not one, but two freshmen quarterbacks. If one doesn’t make a mistake, the other
likely will.

Secondly, I do think the Hokies can have a little more success on Miami’s
defense that most people would expect. The ‘Canes are playing well this year,
but I don’t think Tech will look inept against them like they have against so
many other teams this year. Throw out the second half of the Florida State game,
when the Hokies played their third string quarterback. In the first half against
FSU, Tech gained 205 yards, their best output in a half this year. Against
Maryland, Tech gained 400 yards for the game, their best number of the season.

Point being, Tech’s offense looks like it’s starting to show some signs of
life in six of the last eight quarters of play. Had they not been down to their
third quarterback for a time, it might be eight of their last eight quarters of
play.

Third, the Hokies have won nine of their last 13 games against Miami,
including four of the last five. Tech has Miami’s number. You simply can’t argue
that point.

Finally, check Virginia Tech’s November record since joining the ACC. The
Hokies are 14-1 in the month that matters most since joining the conference in
2004. They know how to get it done when it counts. They’ll get it done yet again
on Thursday night.

Chris’ Prediction: Virginia Tech 24, Miami 13

Will Stewart’s Take: This one is shaping up to be like the
2006 defensive slugfest
in the Orange Bowl. The Hokies won that one 17-10 by
taking care of the football and capitalizing on a Miami turnover late. Both
offenses could struggle mightily.

I don’t expect the score to be that low, though. Virginia Tech’s propensity
for giving up big plays on defense and special teams has been leading to cheap
points for the opposition, and the Hokies have the potential to strike via the
return game or blocked punt, as well. In short, this could be a defensive
grinder with a few heart attack moments that decide the outcome.

I think Bud Foster’s defense, which as I pointed out in Monday
Thoughts
has been playing at the level of the #3 defense in the nation for
the last month, could shut down Miami’s offense in the same fashion as they did
Maryland. If that happens, and the Hokies run the ball well on offense, Miami is
toast. It might not be a blowout score-wise, but like the Maryland game, the
Hokies could control the flow and close out strong for the win.

With both defenses so superior to the offenses statistically, turnovers could
play a huge role, as they did in 2006, and you’ve got to like the Hokies’
advantage here. VT is 9th in the nation in turnover margin (+1.11 per game),
while the Hurricanes are 85th (-0.44). If the Hokies can run the ball with any
sort of success, they’re in good shape on turnovers, because Hokie tailbacks
don’t fumble the football. Virginia Tech has just eight fumbles on the year
(losing four of them), and only one of those fumbles has come from the
tailbacks. Josh Oglesby lost one against Florida State, but the stat to remember
is that Darren Evans has 162 rushing attempts and zero fumbles. If the
Hokies can grind it out on the ground with Evans, Tech can control the football
and field position, and win a tough defensive struggle on the road.

Throw all this together, and I see it coming out …

Will’s Prediction: Virginia Tech 23, Miami 17

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