2006 Football Game Preview: Virginia Tech at Miami

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Saturday, November 4th, 2006, 8:00 pm

TV: ABC (click
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Click the “Miami Weather” link to the right.
Game time forecast, as of 2:30 pm Wednesday: Partly cloudy with a 10 percent
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Game Preview: #23 VT (6-2, 3-2 ACC) vs. Miami (5-3, 2-2)


by Chris Coleman, TechSideline.com

The Miami game is big every year. When the upcoming football schedule is
announced each winter, one of the first things that many of us do is look for
the Miami game and circle it. Who do the Hokies play before Miami? Who do they
play after? Does either team have a bye week before the game? Does that give
either team an advantage? Well, the time has finally come. There aren’t
National Championship implications like last season, but there’s a lot of
pride on the line in this one.

Well, I think there’s a lot of pride. But is there? Miami is 5-3 and
2-2 in the ACC. They are currently below Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech and UVA in
the Coastal Division. For Miami, that’s nothing to be proud of. In fact, that’s
something that makes you bury your head in the sand.

Miami started off the season dropping a hard hitting game to Florida State
13-10. Two weeks later they lost to Louisville 31-7 after stomping on the
Cardinals’ midfield logo before the game. And last weekend, with first place
in the Coastal Division on the line, the ‘Canes lost to Georgia Tech 30-23 in
a game that wasn’t quite as close as the final score indicated. Miami scored
the first and last touchdowns and got dominated in between.

Breaking with our traditional type of recap, let’s first take a look at the
entire Miami season to date.


Miami Opponents

Team

Record

Result

Florida State

4-4

13-10 L

Florida A&M

1-AA

51-10 W

Louisville

7-0

31-7 L

Houston

6-3

14-13 W

UNC

1-7

27-7 W

Florida International

0-8

35-0 W

Duke

0-8

20-15 W

Georgia Tech

6-2

30-23 L

Four of Miami’s five wins have come against teams that do not have a victory
over a 1-A football team this year. Florida A&M is a 1-AA team, Florida
International and Duke are winless on the year, and UNC’s only victory came in
a nailbiter over 1-AA Furman. Don Strock’s Florida International team has been
close to winning many times, but haven’t been able to get over the hump.

Miami’s best win came against 6-3 Houston. The ‘Canes slipped by the
Cougars by the skin of their teeth, 14-13 at home. However, even that victory
has a black mark. Houston went on to lose to Louisiana-Lafayette of the Sunbelt
Conference, a conference devoid of talent that probably doesn’t even deserve
an automatic bowl bid to its champion. Several years ago North Texas represented
the Sunbelt in the New Orleans bowl despite finishing with a 5-6 record!

Even in Miami’s victories over their weakest opponents, they have not been
that impressive. They only put up 324 yards against North Carolina and led just
17-7 at one point in the fourth quarter before pulling away. 1-AA Furman
shredded the UNC defense for 521 yards and 42 points.

Everyone remembers the Miami-Florida International game for the famous brawl.
What most people don’t realize is that the score was just 14-0 Miami when the
brawl broke out late in the third quarter.

And finally, against the Duke Blue Devils, the poster boy school for football
futility for the last decade (Editor’s Note: cough – Temple!
cough), the Hurricanes could only manage to win 20-15. And that’s after Duke
quarterback Thad Lewis threw four interceptions. Lewis was picked off in the end
zone as the Blue Devils were throwing for the game winning touchdown. The
Hurricanes ran for just 30 yards on Duke and averaged 1.2 yards per carry.

You know it’s a down year for the ‘Canes when they are barely beating
Duke. Now let’s take a look at what Miami looks like on both sides of the
ball.

The Miami Offense

Miami’s offense has some big play ability, but overall they haven’t been
especially good because of subpar play of the offensive line. In eight games
this year, Miami has allowed their opponents to make 55 tackles for loss, 18 of
which were sacks. By comparison, Virginia Tech has allowed 40 tackles for loss
and 16 sacks, and the Hokies’ offensive line hasn’t exactly been the
strongest in the world, though it has been coming on lately.

Like Virginia Tech, Miami began the season with question marks up front
because they were replacing four starters from last year’s line. Unlike
Virginia Tech, the Hurricane offensive line hasn’t improved very much
throughout the year.

The only returning starter up front is senior center Anthony Wollschlager. He
is very experienced, but he is the only player up front for Miami with such
experience. Starting right tackle Jason Fox is only a true freshman. That should
give you some idea of the problems with depth and experience that Miami is
having on the offensive line.

Thanks in part to the play of the offensive line, Miami is ranked just 80th
nationally in rushing offense. The Hurricanes are averaging 121.3 yards per game
on the ground. If not for the emergence of true freshman running back Javarris
James, they would be even worse.

James (6-0, 202) is the cousin of former Miami standout tailback Edgerrin
James. At this point it looks like he will be the next great Hurricane running
back. He leads Miami in carries (91), yards (529) and yards per carry (5.8). He
has three 100 yard rushing games on the season, with 148 against Houston, 115
against UNC and 116 against Georgia Tech (49 of which came on one run).

But James has had other games where he has struggled, including performances
against Florida International (11 carries for 36 yards) and Duke (9 carries for
19 yards). How well Miami’s offensive line can block Virginia Tech’s front
seven will decide how well the Hurricanes can run the ball. It won’t matter
who is playing tailback. Miami will also use Charlie Jones, who rushed for over
100 yards against Tech last season, and Tyrone Moss. But James is likely to be
the workhorse.

Miami has three main threats in the passing game. Lance Leggett (6-4, 188) is
the team’s leading receiver with 32 catches for 467 yards and two touchdowns
on the year. Leggett has height and speed and could potentially give Virginia
Tech trouble, though he only has two catches for 20 yards in his career against
the Hokies. Leggett has an injured knee, but he is expected to play on Saturday.

True freshman Sam Shields (6-0, 177) has developed into a very dependable
receiver. He has 26 receptions for 364 yards and three touchdowns this season.
Shields has speed to burn and is very dangerous after the catch. Both of Miami’s
standout true freshmen, Shields and James, are arguably their most consistent
offensive players.

Tight end Greg Olsen is one of the nation’s best tight ends, although the
inconsistency of Miami’s offense as a whole limits his numbers. He has 23
catches for 276 yards and one touchdown on the season.

Junior Kyle Wright is the starting quarterback for the Hurricanes, and only
Larry Coker draws more criticism from the Hurricane faithful. Just looking at
his stats, Wright is a solid quarterback. He has completed 62.4% of his passes
this season for 1,571 yards, with eight touchdowns and five interceptions.

But Wright just hasn’t proven to be a clutch quarterback in his 1.5+ years
as Miami’s starting quarterback, and he still has a ways to go to get his
consistency to a good level. Until he does that, he won’t be a popular guy in
Coral Gables.

Miami’s offense can make big plays, but they have trouble putting drives
together. Because of sub par offensive line play, the Hurricanes often find
themselves in third and long situations. As a result, they rank just 10th in the
ACC in third down conversions at 33.7%. That’s a great matchup for the Hokies,
whose defense is second in the ACC in opponents’ third down conversion. Tech
allows opposing teams to convert just 29.7% of third downs.

The Miami Defense

The one thing that keeps Miami in games, and allowed them to win squeakers
over Houston and Duke, is their defense. Miami’s defense is perhaps the
fastest in college football. They are tough up front and have a lot of
playmakers in the secondary. They will present a huge challenge for the Virginia
Tech offense on Saturday night.

The Miami defensive line is experienced and athletic, and they will be a big
matchup problem for Tech’s offensive line. Hokie fans already know the names
Baraka Atkins and Bryan Pata. Virginia Tech offensive lines have had many
battles with those two players. Atkins has six tackles for loss and three sacks
from his defensive end position.

Pata is a 6-4, 280 defensive tackle whose counterpart on the Tech defensive
line would be Barry Booker. Pata can run from sideline to sideline and make
plays. He has 3.5 tackles for loss and two sacks on the season.

Two other defensive tackles who can make an impact on the game are Kareem
Brown (6-4, 315) and Teraz McCray (6-1, 300). Both players have three tackles
for loss on the season.

Miami’s defensive lineman with the best statistics is someone you may not
have heard of before. Sophomore defensive end Calais Campbell is a physical
specimen at 6-8, 265. He is third on the team in tackles with 29. He leads the
team in tackles for loss (10) and sacks (4). He plays right defensive end for
Miami, so Brandon Frye will have his hands full on Saturday night.

Miami doesn’t quite have the playmakers at linebacker that they have
possessed in the past. Weakside linebacker Jon Beason is the best player in the
group. He has 32 tackles on the year, which ranks second on the team. He also
has four tackles for loss. He did not play very much against Georgia Tech
because of a sprained knee. He is expected to start against the Hokies, but it
is unknown exactly how healthy he is. Beason has been practicing with a brace on
his knee.

Beason’s backup at weakside linebacker is Spencer Adkins, who is also
banged up. He has an injured leg and did not practice on Tuesday. His status for
Saturday’s game is doubtful.

Undersized Glenn Cook (6-0, 215) starts at middle linebacker for Miami. Cook
returned a fumble for a touchdown on the opening play from scrimmage against
Georgia Tech last week. He has 27 tackles on the season, including 1.5 for loss.
The other middle linebacker, Romeo Davis, is out for the season, so Cook will
have to play the rest of the season on his own.

The strongside linebacker is Tavares Gooden, who has 22 tackles on the
season.

Miami’s linebackers are good, and they can get from sideline to sideline,
but as a group they don’t make a lot of tackles. Relatively speaking, they are
the weakest link of the Miami defense.

The Hurricanes are loaded with talent and depth at the safety position. The
biggest name is free safety Brandon Meriweather. He can make plays all over the
field. Meriweather has 29 tackles, two for loss, a sack, an interception and six
passes broken up on the season. This week Meriweather is listed as a starting
cornerback in place of Randy Philips.

It’s unclear how much Meriweather will play at each position, but don’t
expect a dropoff at free safety when sophomore Lavon Ponder is in the game.
Ponder tied for the team lead with three interceptions last season. This year
Ponder has 2.5 tackles for loss and an interception.

Kenny Philips starts at strong safety for Miami. He leads the team in tackles
with 46, including 4.5 for loss. He also leads the team with four interceptions.
Generally it isn’t good when a strong safety leads the team in tackles, but
that’s not the case with Miami. They play the strong safety near the line of
scrimmage and he makes a lot of plays.

Miami’s starting cornerbacks are Glenn Sharpe and Randy Philips, though it
appears that Meriweather will replace Philips in the starting lineup for this
game. Sharpe has broken up eight passes this season, which ranks fifth in the
ACC. (Virginia Tech’s Brandon Flowers is first in the conference with 10
passes defended.)

Despite their flash and star power in the secondary, the Hurricanes are just
53rd nationally against the pass, allowing 194.9 yards per game through the air.

The Miami defense is going to be a tough nut for the Hokies to crack. The key
is staying patient and taking what you can get. The offensive line didn’t play
as poorly against Miami last year as some would like to think. Marcus Vick had a
very tough time making adjustments and setting protections at the line of
scrimmage.

After watching that game film, the Tech coaches should be able to prepare
Sean Glennon for what he is going to see on Saturday night. He is a quick
learner, and he’ll likely do a better job managing the offense against Miami
than Marcus Vick did last season. But will he be able to protect the football
and make enough plays to win the game?

The Miami Special Teams

Remember when Miami always seemed to have a guy who was capable of going the
distance on kick returns and punt returns? Devin Hester is doing just that for
the Chicago Bears now, but Miami has no one that has shown the ability to match
his production on special teams.

The Hurricanes rank 11th in punt returns in the ACC and 10th in kickoff
returns. The special teams not providing good field position is another reason
why the Miami offense has struggled this year.

Brian Monroe is one of the ACC’s top punters. He is averaging 42.8 yards
per punt this year, and the Hurricanes are third in the ACC in net punting. He
hasn’t had a punt blocked this season. Meanwhile, the Hokies must watch out
for Miami’s punt blocking unit. The Hurricanes are one of the best kick
blocking teams in the nation, and they blocked a punt against VT in the Orange
Bowl in 2004 which led to their only touchdown of the game.

Jon Peattie is Miami’s kicker. He is 8-of-12 on the season. He is very good
from close range, but he has struggled from beyond 40 yards this season, going
just 2-of-5.

Conclusion

I think one of the biggest keys in this game that not many people are talking
about is how Virginia Tech acts on the field on Saturday night. If they get
caught up in a trash talking battle with the Hurricanes, then that will show
that the Hokies aren’t 100% focused, and it could be a long night. If you don’t
see a lot of yapping from Tech, then that’s a very good sign.

Don’t expect a lot of points in this game from either team. Even if there
are turnovers in the red zone, that doesn’t necessarily mean there will be a
lot of points put up. Miami’s red zone offense ranks just ninth in the ACC,
while Tech’s is seventh. This will be a game dominated by the defenses.

We all know Miami is a talented football team, especially on defense. What I’m
here to tell you is that they aren’t a good football team. I’m not going to
call them a bad team, but I can’t call them anything above average.

Their talent has gotten them wins over four very bad football teams, and one
of those wins came by just five points. Their talent got them a home win over a
solid Conference USA school. But their team has gotten beat by just about
anyone with a pulse, including a home loss to the worse Florida State team I’ve
ever seen.

I’m not sure how confident Miami is. How confident would you be after a
five point win at Duke, when your offense can’t move the ball very well, and
everyone has been calling for your head coach to be fired since last season?
They may talk some smack, talking about their swagger and about “The U”, but
inside, their confidence has to be hurting.

Meanwhile, Virginia Tech’s confidence is at a high-water mark after blowout
wins over Southern Miss and #10 Clemson. The Hokies physically dominated the
Tigers on both sides of the ball, and have a couple of extra days to rest up and
prepare for the ‘Canes since they played on Thursday.

I’ll take momentum, confidence and team play any day of the week.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 17, Miami 13

Will Stewart’s Take: We like to call this the “predictions” section
of the preview, but I’ll be up front with you: for me, this is more of a guess.
Both of these teams are unpredictable, making it difficult to, um, predict
a score.

Miami has enough talent that they can get it together and lay a whipping on
almost anybody when properly motivated and focused. The Hurricanes have put up
some serious stinkers in the last couple of years, including a 40-3 whipping at
the hands of LSU in last year’s Peach Bowl, but every Hokie fan remembers the
gem they played in Lane Stadium last season. So you can’t count them out. I
counted them out in last year’s game, and I counted FSU out in the championship
game prediction, and look what it got me.

Virginia Tech has also been all over the map. VT’s last two games have been
very encouraging, as the Hokies have put together two dialed-in efforts that
have seen the attitude and mistakes mostly disappear, while the offensive line
seems to have finally started to gel.

But … the last two games have been at home, in Lane Stadium, and the
schedule-makers did VT a favor when they ordered Clemson to come to Blacksburg
five days after a critical night game against GT. Everything the Hokies seem to
have accomplished in the last couple of games will be put to a severe test in
the Orange Bowl. I can see Tech passing with flying colors, but I can see them
coming apart at the seams, as well. We won’t know until about 11:00 Saturday
night.

The other thing that gives me pause is that the Hokies have won at Miami
three times since 1996, and every time, Tech has done it with a senior QB, a
luxury they don’t have this season. (Insert gratuitous Marcus Vick cheap shot
here.) The counter-point to that fear is that the two losses (2000 and 2002) in
the last ten years were products of bad defense, not necessarily non-senior QB
play.

Round and round we go. Despite all the uncertainty, I don’t think the Hokies
will get waxed in Miami. I think VT’s defense will rise to the test, keeping the
Canes scoring total low. I think the Tech offense will go conservative; based on
their two other road games this year (UNC and BC), you have to assume that,
until the Hokies show otherwise.

Chris just about stole my score prediction, but only just about. Three
Brandon Pace field goals will make the difference.

Will’s Prediction: Virginia Tech 16, Miami 14

Hokie fans: Join us at Champs
Sportsbar
in Blacksburg for our Miami game-watching party! Beginning at 6:00
p.m., the first 50 people to arrive will receive a free TechSideline.com
T-shirt. See you there!

2006 TSL Football Game Predictions
(Through Clemson; Closest Prediction Highlighted)

Game

Chris’
Prediction
(2 wins)
Will’s
Prediction
(2 wins)
Phil’s
Projection
(5 wins)

Result

N’Eastern 65-0 63-7 49-3 38-0
UNC 23-10 27-10 24-9 35-10
Duke 34-0 30-3 37-0 36-0
Cincinnati 34-6 31-3 38-3 29-13
GT 13-16 10-17 24-9 27-38
BC 30-17 27-20 20-17 3-22
S. Miss 24-6 23-10 27-6 36-6
Clemson 16-24 10-30 22-21 24-7

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