2009 Football Game Preview: #11 Virginia Tech vs. #9 Miami

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  • Date: Saturday, September 26th, 2009
  • Time: 3:30
  • TV: ESPN on ABC (coverage
    map
    )

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Last week’s win over Nebraska was big, but it wasn’t nearly as important as
the upcoming game against Miami. This is for bragging rights, and whichever team
wins will hold an early advantage in the Coastal Division race. Not to mention
that this is the continuation of a rivalry that has been dead even since Frank
Beamer took over at Tech in 1987.

It’s impossible for a series to get any more even than this:


Virginia Tech vs. Miami in the Beamer Era

Year

VT Points

Miami Points

Winner

1987

13

27

Miami

1992

23

43

Miami

1993

2

21

Miami

1994

3

24

Miami

1995

13

7

VT

1996

21

7

VT

1997

27

25

VT

1998

27

20

VT

1999

43

10

VT

2000

21

41

Miami

2001

24

26

Miami

2002

45

56

Miami

2003

31

7

VT

2004

16

10

VT

2005

7

27

Miami

2006

17

10

VT

2007

44

14

VT

2008

14

16

Miami

Totals

391

391

9-9 Record

In 18 games against Miami, Frank Beamer has a 9-9 record. In those 18 games,
Virginia Tech has scored a total of 391 points, while Miami has scored 391
points. ESPN likes to hype Miami-Florida State, Ohio State-Michigan,
Florida-Tennessee, Oklahoma-Texas, etc. But the fact is that Virginia Tech vs.
Miami has been the most competitive rivalry in the country recently, bar none.

Both teams have won squeakers, both teams have won blowouts, but all of the
games are hard-hitting, physical, and not for the faint of heart. Expect nothing
less this Saturday.

The Miami Offense

Quarterback Jacory Harris (6-4, 190, So.) will lead the Miami offense into
Lane Stadium on Saturday. Harris is very advanced for a second year quarterback,
and his numbers this year have been very impressive. For the season, Harris has
completed 69.5% of his passes for 656 yards, with five touchdowns and two
interceptions. He looks poised, confident, and he has a lot of time to throw the
football.

Harris is a tall quarterback who can easily see over the line of scrimmage.
He reads the field very well, and he is probably the most accurate passer in the
ACC. He can make things happen with his feet, but he is a pocket passer in every
way. He loves to sit in the pocket and pick defenses apart.


Jacory Harris Career Stats
Year
Comp.

Att.

Perc.

Yards

TD

INT

2008

118

194

60.8%

1,195

12

7

2009

41

59

69.5%

656

5

2

Totals

159

253

62.8%

1,851

17

9

Those are very impressive numbers for a true sophomore quarterback who never
took a redshirt. When you also consider that most of his receivers were freshmen
in 2008, it’s even more impressive. He’s only gotten better since last year, and
he’s the quarterback of the future in the ACC. If he plays well for the third
game in a row this Saturday, it will be fair to say that he’s the quarterback of
the present in the ACC.

Harris has a lot of different weapons to work with. He has completed passes
to 12 different players this year, and he spreads it evenly amongst the wide
receivers, tight ends and running backs.


Miami Receiving Threats

Player

Pos.

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

Rec.

Yds

YPC

TD

Travis Benjamin

WR

5-10

175

So.

7

157

22.4

1

Leonard Hankerson

WR

6-3

215

Jr.

5

107

21.4

0

Dedrick Epps

TE

6-4

253

Sr.

5

83

16.6

1

LaRon Byrd

WR

6-4

215

So.

5

83

16.6

1

Graig Cooper

RB

6-0

205

Jr.

5

56

11.2

1

Javarris James

RB

6-0

208

Sr.

5

47

9.4

0

Aldarius Johnson

WR

6-3

215

So.

3

48

16

0

Thearon Collier

WR

5-9

192

So.

2

28

14

0

Jimmy Graham

TE

6-8

260

r-Sr.

1

14

14

1

Patrick Hill

FB

5-9

255

Sr.

1

14

14

0

Tevaris Johnson

TE

6-3

240

Sr.

1

14

14

0

Mike James

RB

5-11

220

Fr.

1

5

5

0

Totals

41

656

16

5

The big-play threat in the lineup is Travis Benjamin. Benjamin is the fastest
player on Miami’s team. He is a major threat in the open field when he gets the
ball. He is averaging 22.4 yards per catch this year. The Hokies must keep
Benjamin in front of them, and they must tackle well after the catch. He can
score from anywhere on the field.

The ‘Canes have a lot of size at wide receiver to complement Benjamin’s
speed. Leonard Hankerson, LaRon Byrd and Aldarius Johnson are all at least 6-3,
and all are strong players. Johnson led the team in receiving last year. He was
Jacory Harris’ favorite target at Northwestern High School in Miami. Hankerson
is perhaps the most improved of all the Miami receivers.

Open House This Saturday,
Noon to 2:00!

Miami tight end Dedrick Epps is very good, and he should challenge for
All-Conference honors this year. Epps is a Richmond, VA native, and you know
he’ll be fired up to play in his home state. Tight end Jimmy Graham is Miami’s
former starting power forward. At 6-8, he could be a major threat in the red
zone. He scored his first touchdown last Thursday night against Georgia Tech.

Miami tailbacks Graig Cooper and Javarris James are both featured in the
passing game, with five catches each this season. They are both every-down
running backs. They are quicker and shifter than Roy Helu, Jr., who basically
ran right over the Hokies last week.

Cooper has 24 carries for 124 yards and a touchdown this year, an average of
5.2 yards per carry. James has 25 carries for 108 yards and two touchdowns.
James is a little stronger in short yardage situations, but Cooper is a little
quicker and more capable of hitting the big play.

Harris’s passing, plus the dual threat of Cooper and James, gives Miami a
very balanced offense. However, none of it would be possible without an
offensive line that is much improved over last season.


Miami Offensive Line

Pos.

Name

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

Exp.

LT

Jason Fox

6-7

314

Sr.

38 Starts

LG

Orlando Franklin

6-7

318

Jr.

16 Starts

C

A.J. Trump

6-3

300

Sr.

12 Starts

RG

Harland Gunn

6-2

315

So.

2 Starts

RT

Matt Pipho

6-7

307

Sr.

2 Starts

Miami’s most experienced offensive linemen are on the left side. Jason Fox has
been starting at left tackle since he was a true freshman. He allowed zero sacks
as a true freshman, and it was easy to see he had quite a future at Miami. He is
the best offensive lineman in the ACC, and probably the most underrated
offensive tackle in the country.

Orlando Franklin has been starting since he was a freshman as well, and he
combines with Jason Fox to give Miami a very strong duo on the left side of the
offensive line. A.J. Trump is an experienced center, with 12 career starts. From
center to left tackle is the

strong point of Miami’s line.

Matt Pipho is a senior who is making just his third career start. However, he
has played in 28 games in his career, and he’s capable of playing guard or
tackle. Harland Gunn is the least experienced player on the line. He was on the
practice squad in 2008 and saw action in just one game.

As good as Jacory Harris has been, and as dangerous as Miami’s receivers,
running backs and tight ends are, it’s the offensive line that makes things go.
The Hurricanes will use a lot of max protection, which gives Harris all day to
throw. He’s such an accurate passer that he has no trouble picking apart a
defense when given a lot of time to throw.

Last week, the Nebraska offense put up 343 yards of total offense against the
Hokie defense. They did so with an average group of wide receivers, and a
quarterback who had an off game. The Miami offensive line isn’t quite as
physical as Nebraska in the running game, but they are more effective in pass
protection. That’s a tough pill to swallow, considering the Hokies got zero
sacks against the Cornhuskers.

The main difference between Miami and Nebraska is that the ‘Canes are much
better and much more explosive at wide receiver. Nebraska was physical in the
trenches, as is Miami, but the ‘Canes will bring the added dimension of having
speed on the outside. Not to mention a deadly accurate quarterback who probably
won’t have the off game that Zac Lee had this past Saturday.

The good news for the Hokies is that they have the best pass defense that
Miami has faced this year. Check out Tech’s stats against the pass thus far.


Virginia Tech vs. the Pass

QB

Team

Comp.

Att.

Yards

Pct.

TD

INT

Greg McElroy

Alabama

15

30

230

50%

1

1

Brian Anderson

Marshall

15

31

116

48.40%

0

0

Zac Lee

Nebraska

11

30

136

36.70%

0

2

Totals

41

91

482

45.10%

1

3

The completion percentage of opposing quarterbacks has gone down each week since
Tech’s opening game against Alabama, and no quarterback has completed more than
50% of his throws on the Hokies. That’s despite top cornerback Stephan Virgil
missing two games with an injury, and Rashad Carmichael being forced to switch
to boundary corner. Virgil should be back this week, and it will boost the Tech
secondary.

Everyone is making a big deal about the Tech pass rush this week, and it
shouldn’t be overlooked. But Tech’s ability to stop Miami will come down to the
Hokie defensive backs matching up with the talented Hurricane receivers.

The Miami Defense

The Virginia Tech offensive line will have to come to play this week. They
found out the hard way last year what happens when you don’t show up to play
against this Miami defensive line. The ‘Canes stunted and twisted their way to
eight tackles for loss and six sacks against the Hokies.

The Marcus Robinson stat line is the perfect example of how one-sided this
game was in the trenches. Robinson (6-1, 237, So.) was a true freshman defensive
end at the time. He entered the Virginia Tech game with nine tackles, two
tackles for loss and zero sacks. There wasn’t much happening on the field for
Robinson as a true freshman, until he played Virginia Tech.

Against the Hokies, Robinson looked like Corey Moore coming off the edge,
finishing with seven tackles, four tackles for loss and three sacks. After the
Tech game, Robinson had just three tackles for loss and one sack the rest of the
season. It was the ultimate embarrassment for the Tech offensive line, and
perhaps the pinnacle of poor offensive line play over the past several seasons.

It’s unlikely that Robinson will have a huge game like that again this year,
but the rest of Miami’s defensive line is very effective as well. Eric Moncur
(6-2, 250, 6th-year Sr.) is the other defensive end, and he has had an
injury-plagued career. Moncur is athletic and can make plays in space. Though
Tech blew out Miami in 2007, Moncur did have two tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks
in that game.

(On a side note, it was Moncur who had the cheap, intentional headshot on
Sean Glennon back in 2007. See the video here.)

Miami also has solid depth at the defensive end position, with Steven Wesley
(6-3, 250, Jr.) getting 11 starts in 13 games as a sophomore last season. He
will play a lot against the Hokies. Olivier Vernon (6-3, 250, Fr.) is a talented
freshman who has seen a lot of action this far. He has four tackles for loss,
which is tops on the team.

Open
House This Saturday at Kent
Square Condominiums, Noon to 2:00!

The ‘Canes have talented defensive tackles, though nothing like the Hokies
saw last week in Nebraska’s Ndamukong Suh. Marcus Forston (6-3, 310, So.) was a
freshman All-American last season who had 4.5 tackles for loss and three sacks.
His first career sack came against Virginia Tech last season. Next to him is
Allen Bailey (6-4, 288, Jr.), an athletic defensive tackle who used to play
defensive end. He had five sacks last season, including one against the Hokies,
along with seemingly the rest of the Miami defense.

Josh Holmes (6-0, 280, Jr.) and Joe Joseph (6-3, 304, Sr.) will also play at
defensive tackle. They are experienced players, but they don’t have the talent
of Forston or Bailey. However, every single one of Joseph’s sacks in his career,
all 1.5 of them, have come against Virginia Tech. These Miami defensive linemen
always seem to have career games against the Hokies.

Miami has a good trio of linebackers playing behind their talented defensive
line. Darryl Sharpton (6-0, 235, Sr.) is the most experienced linebacker on the
team. He mans the middle linebacker spot, and he has started 20 games throughout
his career at Miami. He’s a good player with 16 career tackles for loss.

Two more playmakers man the other linebacker spots for the ‘Canes. Colin
McCarthy (6-3, 242, Jr.) is a very good strongside linebacker. McCarthy is a
good athlete, he has good size for the position, and he can run. He has two
tackles for loss on the year so far. The weakside linebacker is Sean Spence
(6-0, 212, So.). Spence was the ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2008. He
started nine games and led the team with 9.5 tackles for loss.

Miami’s secondary is the weakness of their defense. Left cornerback Brandon
Harris (5-11, 195, So.) is a very talented true sophomore. He is Miami’s best
overall defensive back. Harris is a physical player on the edge who leads the
team in tackles. He has also broken up five passes, which is tops on the team.
He is a future NFL cornerback.

The starting right cornerback is Sam Shields (6-0, 190, Sr.), who was a wider
receiver during his first three years at Miami. He was once Miami’s most
promising receiver, and he has a lot of speed. He’s still inexperienced as a
corner.

Miami free safety Randy Phillips (6-1, 210, Sr.) fired the first salvo of
trash talk this week, when he made the following comment to the media:

“(Beamerball) don’t mean nothing to me. I don’t even know what it
is,” Phillips said. “They are good in special teams, I can say that.
If that is what they call Beamerball then they are good in special teams, but
last year we beat them in special teams and every year we have played them we
beat them in special teams, so I guess it is coach Shannon Ball.”

Phillips is Miami’s most experienced defensive back. He has made 15 starts in
his career, though he is coming off a season during which he had to take a
medical redshirt. He’s joined in the secondary by free safety JoJo Nicolas (6-1,
200, Jr.). Nicolas isn’t a big playmaker in the secondary, with just two passes
defended and no interceptions last year.

Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder threw for 294 yards against the
Miami defense. The Hurricanes are susceptible to the pass, as they were last
year. In 2008, Sean Glennon and Tyrod Taylor combined to go 12-of-20 for 170
yards. That doesn’t count what would have been a long touchdown pass, if not for
a drop by Dyrell Roberts. The Hokies had success against Miami through the air
last year, despite their freshmen receivers. However, Taylor and Glennon were
sacked six times, and Darren Evans was held to just 43 yards in the 16-14 loss.

Virginia Tech is capable of doing better in the passing game than they showed
against Nebraska. If Tyrod Taylor gets protection, he’ll have his opportunities
through the air against this Miami defense.

Miami Special Teams

Virginia Tech faced a great kicker/punter last week in Alex Henery. They will
face another this week in Matt Bosher (6-0, 205, Jr.), Miami’s returning starter
at kicker and punter. Bosher was 18-of-20 on his field goal attempts in 2008,
with a long of 52. So far this year he has been inconsistent. He is only 2-of-4,
and one of his misses has been inside 30 yards.

Bosher is averaging 41.2 yards per punt on the year, and Miami’s opponents
haven’t even been able to return a punt as of yet. Jayron Hosley, Virginia
Tech’s true freshman punt returner from just north of Miami, will be looking
forward to proving himself against his hometown team.

Miami’s kickoff team has shown signs of having weaknesses, but despite one
return of 51 yards, they still rank 66th nationally. Teams average 21.8 yards
per return against them. However, Dyrell Roberts could have his chances. Roberts
ranks second nationally in kickoff return yardage, averaging 48.3 yards per
return.

Miami’s return men are very dangerous. Travis Benjamin is a major threat in
the open field. He is only averaging seven yards per return on his punt returns
this year, but he’s a threat to score on any play. Virginia Tech’s gunners, Zach
Luckett and Alonzo Tweedy, need to get down the field quickly and force Benjamin
into fair catches. He is the type of player who can turn an otherwise even game
into a Miami win.

Graig Cooper is Miami’s primary kick returner, and he is very dangerous. He
is averaging 34 yards per return, with a long of 63.

Overall, the special teams battle looks pretty even. If either team can
manage to get a big play on special teams, it can mean the difference between a
win and a loss.

Conclusion

The Hokies are anywhere from 2 to 3 point underdogs in this game. The Hokies
have been home underdogs just three times this decade. The first time was in
their 26-24 loss to #1 Miami in 2001, and the other two times were 31-7 and 24-7
whippings handed down to Top 10 Miami and Clemson teams in 2003 and 2006. The
Hokies always show up and play well when they are underdogs at home. I
didn’t take that into account when Clemson strolled into Lane in 2006, looking
like the real deal while Virginia Tech was slipping. I picked Clemson 24-16, and
Will picked them 30-10. We were both pretty wrong that night.

I like the fact that Virginia Tech is playing at home. I like the fact that
they should be emotionally charged following the dramatic win against Nebraska.
I like the fact that they played poorly for most of the game against Nebraska,
and they still came out on top. They can play better than what they showed on
Saturday, and I think they will play better against Miami.

I like the fact that Miami is getting all the hype heading into this game.
All we hear on ESPN (when they aren’t talking about the SEC, Notre Dame or USC)
is that “The U is Back!”, and that Jacory Harris is a Heisman
candidate after just two games. The Hokies are being disrespected in this one.
Most folks are going to pick Miami in this game, and that’s a slap in the face
to the Hokies, who are a good football team playing at home. Tech always plays
better in the underdog role. For all I care, ESPN can pick against Tech all
year.

There are certain things I don’t like about this game as well. I don’t like
the fact that John Graves has an injured ankle, and that Jason Worilds was in a
blue jersey on Tuesday with back spasms. Stephan Virgil will be back, but is he
100%? His backup, Eddie Whitley, is also nursing a pec injury. I also don’t like
the fact that the Hokies haven’t been able to stop the run. Miami has two very
good backs, and if they can get some balance in their attack, it’s going to be
tough for Virginia Tech to stop them.

This is it, as far as I’m concerned. This is the make or break game of the
season, and it’s the rivalry game of the season. If Miami wins this game, it’s
going to be hard for the Hokies to beat them out in the Coastal Division. The
‘Canes would have to lose two ACC games before the end of the season, and the
Hokies would have to win out. If Miami starts off 3-0 with wins over FSU, GT and
VT, take a look at their schedule and tell me which two teams are going to beat
them down the stretch? No more than one, and that would be an upset. The Hokies have
to win this game, or their chances of winning the Coastal Division are very
slim.

As far as the rivalry goes, this is the rivalry game of the season for
the Hokies. Virginia doesn’t show any signs of life, so if Tech fans want a
major, competitive rivalry game this year, this is it. This game will be
emotional, and it will be physical. The Hokies understand what they are facing.
Miami looks very good, and it will take a great effort by Tech to beat them.
Tech will have to play harder than they’ve played all year, and they have to
play with desperation. Even though it’s only September, the ACC Championship is
on the line.

And as fans, bring it. This is the game to go all out for. This will
be the loudest environment that Jacory Harris has ever played in. Tech fans have
a chance to make a definite impact on this game.

I think the Tech defense will do a pretty good job on Jacory Harris. Bud
Foster will throw two or three times as many different coverages as he saw
against Florida State and Georgia Tech, and maybe more. Foster will also have
two games of film to study of Miami under new offensive coordinator Mark
Whipple. FSU and Georgia Tech didn’t have that luxury.

I believe we’ll see the Hokies play with intensity, toughness and desperation
on Saturday. They’ll match Miami blow for blow, and we’ll all see a great game
in Lane Stadium. However, I think the Miami defensive front will be too much for
the Tech offensive line to handle. Since the ‘Canes have more talent at the
skilled positions than Nebraska did, the Hokies won’t be able to steal this one
in the fourth quarter.

Chris’s Prediction: Miami 20, Tech 17

Will Stewart’s Take: I have spent a lot of time thinking about this one,
and I don’t think it looks good for the Hokies, folks. Here are the things
working against VT:

  • Miami’s quarterback is 22% more accurate than VT’s. That’s a lot of extra
    yards and completions.
  • VT’s defense has not gelled yet, and the Hokies are even thinking of
    giving more playing time to a linebacker with almost no experience (Lyndell
    Gibson, in place of Jake Johnson).
  • VT has multiple injuries on defense. The defense will need to be
    bulletproof against the ‘Canes, but John Graves, Jason Worilds, and Stephan
    Virgil are all nicked up or slowed down.
  • Miami offensive coordinator Mark Whipple has an impressive coaching resume
    and will challenge Tech’s defense.
  • Virginia Tech’s running game is solid, but the passing game is sputtering.
    The Hokies don’t have a balanced offense, and Miami does.
  • Last year’s ‘Cane defense gave VT fits, and the cast of characters is
    almost unchanged.
  • Miami has played two games in the first three weeks of the season and is
    well-rested, fresh, and has momentum. Tech has played three games, including
    two knockdown-dragouts (Alabama and Nebraska), and the Hokies are dinged up.

Here are the things working in VT’s favor:

  • Lane Stadium (though that didn’t bother the Canes in 2005).
  • Jacory Harris has piled up his stats without being pressured (but can VT
    pressure him?).
  • Bud Foster is one of the best in the business and will give Jacory Harris
    all he can handle.
  • Miami has not faced a pass defense as good as Virginia Tech’s.
  • VT’s special teams units are smoking hot up and down the board: kick
    returns, punt returns, punting, and placekicking.
  • This current group of Virginia Tech players is a never-say-die outfit that
    won’t quit fighting until the very end.

I’m not sure that’s enough. I’ve been critical in the past about Miami’s
young head coach (Randy Shannon) and their revolving-door-coordinator situation.
This is Miami’s fourth defensive coordinator in four years, and their third
offensive coordinator in four years, if memory serves. It’s hard to have
consistency when you’re changing coaches at that rate, and your head coach is
still so wet behind the ears.

But in the early going in 2009, the Canes appear to have hit upon a nice
formula with Mark Whipple directing Jacory Harris, who is throwing the ball with
remarkable accuracy. Never mind the completion percentage; he’s hitting guys in
stride with very well-thrown balls. VT can’t say the same. The running game
could be a wash in this one, but when it comes time to pass, Miami has the far
superior offense right now. It’s not even close.

On the other side of the ball, Miami’s got an athletic group, the type of
defense that gives the Hokies fits, and did so just last year, in 2006, and
2005, and … you get the idea.

For Virginia Tech to win this game, the Hokies are going to need to win the
special teams battle, the Tech defense is going to have to take a big step
forward and pressure Jacory Harris, and the Tech offense is going to have to
execute much, much better than they did against Nebraska.

Those three things could happen, but based on the data at hand — as limited
as that data may be this early in the season — I give the advantage to the
Canes in this one.

I hope I’m wrong, and things do change when teams take the field and go head
to head, but Miami’s holding most of the cards here.

Will’s Prediction: Miami 24, Virginia Tech 10

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