2011 Football Game Preview: Virginia Tech vs. Miami

, TechSideline.com, on October 5, 2011
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  • Date: Saturday, October 8th, 2011
  • Time: 3:30
  • TV: ABC/ESPN


Miami comes to town on Saturday as the Hokies try to get back on track after
suffering their first loss of the season last week against Clemson. The Canes
are 2-2 on the season, and it’s not clear how good the Canes are because of all
their suspensions and a couple of key injuries.

Miami lost to Maryland to open the season, and followed that up with a huge
home win against Ohio State. In their third game, the Canes lost at home to
Kansas State before beating Bethune-Cookman last week.

We know the Canes have talent, they always do. But how good are they as a
team?

The Miami Offense

Miami’s offense has struggled so far this season. They’ve got a huge
offensive line, and a terrific running back, but things haven’t been clicking in
their passing game at all times, and that has hurt their running production.


The Miami Offense

Category

Stat

Rank
Rushing 169.25 ypg 49
Passing 199.75 ypg 88
Total 369 ypg 82
Scoring 29.25 ypg 62
Pass Eff. 145.01 42
TFL Allowed 3.5 per game 8
Sacks Allowed 1 per game 20
Third Downs 46.81% 27

The Canes aren’t allowing much penetration, and they are excellent on third
downs. However, the passing game has been a disappointment behind senior
quarterback Jacory Harris (6-4, 200, Sr.). Harris has always been known for his
interceptions, and he tossed two big interceptions against Ohio State this year
that were costly, but the Buckeyes didn’t have the offensive firepower to take
advantage of it.

Through three games, Harris is completing 69% of his passes for 570 yards,
with six touchdowns and three interceptions. He is a talented player, but he has
always seemed to be a guy who has thrown too many picks, and many times they’ve
come at the exact wrong time.

Travis Benjamin (5-10, 171, Sr.) has terrific speed and ability in the
opening field. After missing the season opener against Maryland, he has 15
catches for 170 yards and a touchdown. He is Miami’s leading receiver, though he
hasn’t had the downfield impact that he was expected to have this season.

Allen Hurns (6-3, 190, So.) is the #2 receiver, and he has 13 catches for 176
yards and two touchdowns in four games. Hurns has talent, but he’s only a second
year player. He’s inconsistent, like the rest of the Miami passing game. Tommy
Streeter (6-5, 217, r-Jr.) is the third wideout, and the biggest. Streeter has
good speed for his size, and is averaging 17.8 yards per catch on the season,
with three touchdowns.

Phillip Dorsett (5-9, 178, Fr.) and LaRon Byrd (6-4, 222, Sr.) round out the
receiving corps. Byrd is Miami’s most experienced receiver, though his playing
time has tailed off this year as a senior. This group of Miami receivers is
talented, but they aren’t operating at maximum efficiency with Jacory Harris as
of yet.

The strength of the Miami offense is running the football. The Miami
offensive line is big, talented and experienced.


Key Offensive Linemen

Pos.

Player

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

GP

GS
LT Brandon Washington 6-4 320 Jr. 29 18
LT Malcolm Bunche 6-7 325 r-Fr. 3 0
LG Harland Gunn 6-2 317 r-Sr. 30 22
LG Joel Figueroa 6-6 317 6th-Sr. 39 16
C Tyler Horn 6-4 305 r-Sr. 42 17
C Shane McDermott 6-4 295 r-Fr. 4 0
RG Brandon Linder 6-6 310 So. 16 9
RG Jared Wheeler 6-5 315 r-So. 5 0
RT Jon Feliciano 6-5 320 r-Fr. 4 3
RT Seantrel Henderson 6-8 345 So. 13 9

Not all of those guys will play against the Hokies, but don’t be surprised to
see the Canes play as many as eight linemen against Tech. Seantrel Henderson is
a future first round draft pick, and he returned from injury in last week’s win
over Bethune-Cookman. His role should increase even more against the Hokies, and
at times he’ll be lining up against J.R Collins, whom he outweights by over 100
lbs.

The Canes have the luxury of blocking for an outstanding tailback, Lamar
Miller (5-11, 215, r-So.). Miller averages 6.4 yards per carry for his career,
and ran over the Hokies last season to the tune of 15 carries for 163 yards and
a touchdown. He is fast, powerful, and explosive. Miller is probably the best
all around running back in the ACC this season. He has 76 carries for 511 yards
(6.7 ypc) and four touchdowns through four games.

Mike James (5-11, 222, Jr.) is a very talented backup who averaged 5.7 yards
per carry last season, but he has been banged up this year. In fact, Eduardo
Clements (5-9, 195, So.) got his first carries of the season against Bethune-Cookman
last week, and could be Miami’s #2 tailback against Virginia Tech this weekend.
Look for Miller to get the vast majority of the carries.

The matchup with Miami couldn’t come at a worse time. Tech just lost their
biggest and most experienced defensive tackle, Antoine Hopkins, for the season.
He will likely be replaced by true freshman Corey Marshall (right) in the starting
lineup, and Marshall is undersized at 253 lbs. Tech’s starting front seven now
weighs an average of 247 lbs, while Miami’s two-deep on the offensive line
averages 317-lbs. Running behind that big line is an explosive running back who
is bigger than David Wilson, and a little more natural.

This is going to be a tough matchup for the Tech front seven with Antoine
Hopkins out of the lineup. The Hokies need to hope that Jacory Harris tosses up
a couple of interceptions, which he usually does against the quality defenses
that he faces. They’ll also need the offense to step up and score touchdowns
this week, because it’s going to be tough holding a bigger Miami team down for
four quarters.

The Miami Defense

The Miami defense has been a disappointment so far this season. There is
plenty of talent on that side of the ball for the Canes, but for the second year
in a row, they can’t stop anyone on the ground.


The Miami Defense

Category

Stat

Rank
Rushing 202.25 105
Passing 179.75 18
Total 382 ypg 69
Scoring 20 ppg 29
Pass Eff. 116.58 29
TFL 6.5 per game 39
Sacks 3 per game 10
Third Downs 44% 86

Miami allowed 151 rushing yards to Maryland, and it got worse from there.
Ohio State ran for 174 yards on the Canes, while Kansas State gashed them for
265. Even 1-AA Bethune-Cookman had 219 rushing yards against Miami, and averaged
4.8 yards per carry in the process. In fact, Bethune-Cookman outgained Miami by
nearly 100 total yards (422 to 335).

The Canes got bad news earlier in the week, when it was announced that
starting linebacker Ramon Buchanon has blown out his knee and will miss the
remainder of the season. Jordan Futch (6-3, 235, Sr.) will start in his place.
Futch has only played in 26 games, mostly on special teams. He has never made
more than nine tackles in a season, and he is one of the weak spots of the Miami
defense.

Weakside linebacker Sean Spence (6-0, 225, Sr.) is Miami’s best defensive
player. He is a playmaker in the backfield with five tackles for loss, and
despite being suspended for the first game of the season, he still leads Miami
in tackles with 28.

Expect for Spence, linebacker is a weakness for Miami. We already went over
the situation with Jordan Futch. Jimmy Gaines (6-3, 225, So.) starts at middle
linebacker. His redshirt was blown last season to play in six games on special
teams. He is a very young player who is starting for the first time, and he has
no tackles for loss on the year. He also has no pass breakups, no fumbles forced
or recovered, or any other playmaking statistic. Denzel Perryman (6-0, 221, Fr.)
also gets time at linebacker, but he is only a true freshman, and he has no
tackles for loss either.

Overall, with the exception of Spence, the Miami linebackers are the weakness
of the defense. There is too much youth and inexperience.

The defensive line has good talent and good size. Marcus Robinson (6-1, 250,
Sr.) and Andrew Smith (6-3, 248, Sr.) will split time at one defensive end spot.
Robinson plays really hard, but isn’t the most talented player on the field.
However, he does have 4.5 tackles for loss and three sacks, and has been Miami’s
most productive defensive end. Andrew Smith isn’t much of a playmaker, with just
eight tackles for loss and four sacks in his entire career.

The other defensive end spot is manned by true freshman Anthony Chickillo
(6-4, 255, Fr.). He has 2.5 sacks on the season, and was one of the highest
ranked recruits in the country coming out of high school last season. His
presence has allowed Miami to move Adewale Ojomo (6-4, 265, r-Jr.) to defensive
tackle to get more depth at that position.

Ojomo is undersized for a defensive tackle, and he splits time with Marcus
Forston (6-3, 300, Sr.), Miami’s best defensive lineman. Forston combines with
Micanor Regis (6-3, 300, Sr.) to form a very good combination of defensive
tackles. Miami’s inability to stop the run this season stems more from their
inexperience at other positions in the front seven.

Miami will get back the services of one of their most physically gifted
players on Saturday. Ray-Ray Armstrong (6-4, 215, Jr.) is finished his
suspension, and will play his first game against Virginia Tech. He isn’t slated
to start, but expect him to play, which means that JoJo Nicolas (6-1, 195, Sr.)
could see action at cornerback this game, where is was projected to start at the
beginning of the season.

Vaughn Telemaque (6-2, 202, r-Jr.) is a returning starter at safety and one
of the most experienced Miami defenders. He has one of Miami’s three
interceptions this season, and he can also be used around the line of scrimmages
as an effective run defender.

Miami’s starting corners are slated to be Brandon McGee (6-0, 185, Jr.) and
Mike Williams (6-1, 182, r-Sr.). This is a dropoff from what the Canes had a
cornerback last season (Brandon Harris and JoJo Nicolas), so look for Miami to
play Ray-Ray Armstrong at safety if possible, so they can get Nicolas some reps
at cornerback.

This is a solid Miami defense, and they’ve got athletes who can run. That
being said, with the exception of Ohio State, which has a terrible offense, all
of Miami’s opponents have had plenty of success moving the football this year.
That might bode well for Virginia Tech, or it might not … the Clemson defense
was statistically bad, but that didn’t stop them from shutting the Hokies down.

Special Teams

The kicking game has gone well for Miami this year. Starting placekicker Jake
Wieclaw is 4-of-4 on the season, though he hasn’t kicked a field goal from
beyond 39 yards. How accurate is he from a deeper range? Dalton Botts is
averaging 41.6 yards per punt so far this season, and eight of his 13 attempts
have resulted in fair catches.

Opposing teams are averaging just 17.4 yards per kickoff return against
Miami, and except for one 27 yard punt return, the Canes have been very good on
their coverage teams.

Miami uses the elusive Travis Benjamin on punt returns, and he is averaging
21.2 yards per return. Benjamin and Lamar Miller are the kickoff returners, and
both guys are capable of taking it the distance on any given play.

As usual, Miami will have plenty of good athletes on special teams, and the
Hokies will face them with a special teams group that hasn’t been good this
year. On paper, it seems that Miami has the advantage in this part of the game.

Final Thoughts

Miami is a wild card. The Canes are talented enough to do what Clemson did to
Virginia Tech on Saturday night. This is a team that can play with most anyone,
but they are also undisciplined enough to lose to just about anyone. I’m really
not sure how much the Miami players care about winning these days, because they
never seem to play up to their ability.

That being said, if their coaches put together a good game plan (and against
the Tech offense, I’m sure they will) and the players feel like executing it,
they definitely stand a good shot of beating Virginia Tech on Saturday. I know
the Miami defense hasn’t been very good this year, but the Tech offense is easy
to defend right now, as Clemson proved. The Hokies have to stop the silly, drive
killing, self inflicted mistakes. So far, they haven’t. If anything, they’ve
gotten worse as the year has progressed.

Virginia Tech’s defense is better than Miami’s defense. I think the Miami
offense is better than the Tech offense. As far as special teams go, I wouldn’t
bet on the Hokies gaining the upper hand against anyone. I give Miami a
50-50 shot of showing up and playing a good game. Who knows what to expect from
those guys?

I don’t have a good feeling about this one. I love the Tech defense, but
losing Antoine Hopkins before this game is a serious blow. I think the Tech
offense will be able to run the football, but will the passing game be good
enough to help sustain drives? I doubt it.

Both of these teams are 0-1 in the ACC. The loser of this game is done in the
Coastal Division. Finished. Whoever loses this game, plan on seeing them in
Charlotte, Nashville or bright and sunny El Paso in December.

I don’t have a great feeling about this one. I think the defense will have a
good effort, despite the loss of Hopkins, but I don’t think Tech will score
enough to win.

Chris’ Prediction: Miami 20, Virginia Tech 17

Will Stewart’s Take: What did I learn last week? I learned that the
opponent’s defensive rank doesn’t matter. Clemson came into last week’s game
with the #85 rushing defense in the nation, #90 overall. I thought Virginia Tech
would be able to exert their will rushing the football against that defense. I
was wrong.

Clemson’s rushing defense did a pretty good job against the Hokies, holding
Tech to one yard or less on 11 of the Hokies’ 35 rushing attempts (excluding
four sacks and a kneeldown). Put another way, nearly a third of Tech’s rushing
attempts went almost nowhere or backwards.

I learned that an athletic defense, regardless of their “ranking”,
can give the Hokies fits. Clemson didn’t respect the Hokie passing game and
didn’t have to worry about misdirection, and they could sell out to stop the
run. They didn’t necessarily load the box, but once the ball was snapped and the
Hokies looked like they were running it, Clemson defenders went after the ball
carrier without hesitation.

That forces the Hokies into 2nd-and-long and 3rd-and-long situations, and
when this year’s Hokies are forced to rely on the passing game in long-yardage
situations, they have a low percentage of success.

So I’m not encouraged by Miami’s low defensive ranking (#105 against the run,
#69 overall). I think this is going to be an uphill battle for the Hokie
offense, because Miami has athletic players on defense.

Switching to the other side of the ball, it cannot be emphasized enough how
big the loss of Antoine Hopkins is. It means that the Hokies are going to have
either a 253-pound true freshman defensive tackle (Corey Marshall) or a
283-pound true freshman defensive tackle with a gimpy ankle (Luther Maddy) on
the field most of the time, next to Derrick Hopkins.

Miami center Tyler Horn is 6-4, 305. He is the smallest starting offensive
lineman for the Canes. Unless they are complete idiots, they’ll go right up the
pipe on the Hokies, right at the true freshman defensive tackles.

Of course, Miami can be complete idiots at times. Last year, despite
piling up 262 yards rushing on the Hokies, the Canes still put the ball in the
air 33 times with a freshman quarterback (Stephen Morris), and — you’ll never
believe this, but it’s true — he threw three interceptions and the Canes lost.
Miami has changed coaching staffs since then, but they are still something less
than the sum of their parts. Perhaps Al Golden, THE MAN WHO WON AT TEMPLE, just
needs some time to get his guys in there, and get the Nevin Shapiro types out of
the program.

Before you go thinking that the Hokies will automatically bounce back from
the Clemson beatdown, that’s not a given. In the five seasons from 2006-2010,
the Hokies lost two games in a row every season but one (2007). So while they
have bounced back nicely in each case to still rack up 10-win seasons and some
ACC championships, the losses aren’t always isolated.

We’ve still got limited data to make judgments with, but here’s how I think
the rest of the season will go: I see a loss in Atlanta to Georgia Tech on
November 10th, so I think it’s doubtful that the Hokies will win the Coastal
this year. But the only other possible loss I see (before the bowl game) is this
game. I don’t think it will be a 23-3 whooping like what Clemson gave Tech, but
I do think the Hokies will struggle with the Canes, if Miami decides to show up
and play. Only Miami’s advanced knuckleheadery makes me doubt the outcome of
this one.

Will’s Prediction: Miami 17, Virginia Tech 13

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