2010 Football Game Preview: #16 Virginia Tech at #24 Miami

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  • Date: Saturday, November 20, 2010
  • Time: 3:30pm
  • TV: ESPN

For weather information and a roster card link, see the Info Center to the right.

Just two games remain in the regular season, and this Saturday’s is the
biggest of all. If the Hokies can win at Miami, they will clinch the ACC Coastal
Division title and guarantee their spot in the ACC Championship Game. As usual,
the Tech-Miami game means a lot.

Miami is 7-3 on the season, with losses to Ohio State (36-24), Florida State
(45-17) and Virginia (24-19). Miami quarterback Jacory Harris threw four
interceptions against Ohio State, they were whipped physically at the line of
scrimmage by FSU, and Harris was knocked out of the Virginia game in the second
quarter.

Miami’s best wins on the year have come against 6-4 UNC (33-10), 5-4 Pitt
(31-3) and 7-3 Maryland (26-20). The Canes have a lot of talent, particularly at
wide receiver and in the secondary. Their offensive line has improved, and they
have several talented tailbacks and the opportunity to hit big plays in the
passing game.

However, the Canes have struggled with interceptions, throwing 18
interceptions on the season. That’s second worst in the country, tied with
Middle Tennessee at #118 out of 120 teams. Only Buffalo (21 picks) has thrown
more interceptions. Miami has also had a lot of trouble stopping opponents on
the ground.

The Miami Offense

Miami ranks #1 in the ACC in total offense, though they do struggle to score
points at times.

The
Miami Offense
Category Stat Rank

Rushing
185.8 ypg 32

Passing
239.6 ypg 44

Total
425.4 ypg 29

Scoring
28.8 ppg 52

Pass Eff.
120.46 88

Third Downs
40% 60

Sacks
1.3 per game 30

The Canes have shown the ability to move the ball on just about anybody, but
their tendency to throw interceptions has limited their scoring. Miami has
thrown 18 interceptions: 11 by Jacory Harris (6-4, 200, Jr.), four by Stephen
Morris (6-2, 183, Fr.), two by Spencer Whipple (6-2, 210, Jr.) and one by Alonzo
Highsmith (6-0, 195, So.).

Alonzo Highsmith would be the backup quarterback, but he has missed most of
the season with an injury. When Jacory Harris went down with a concussion
against Virginia, the Canes tried Spencer Whipple (son of offensive coordinator
Mark Whipple), but he threw two interceptions. They finally pulled the redshirt
off Stephen Morris, and he nearly led the comeback after throwing two early
interceptions against the Hoos.

Morris is a smooth, confident player with a good arm and solid mobility. He
is expected to make his third consecutive start against Virginia Tech on
Saturday. For the season, he has completed 52.9% of his passes for 678 yards,
with four touchdowns and four interceptions in four games. He throws a good deep
ball, and he has plenty of receivers to use in the passing game. Virginia Tech
will be a totally different test for him, as the Hokies have the most talented
secondary that he will have faced by a pretty wide margin. More on that later.

Fortunately Miami hasn’t had to put too much on the shoulders of Morris,
because they have a quality running game.

The
Miami Running Game
Player Carries Yards YPC TD

Damien Berry
157 763 4.9 5

Lamar Miller
79 462 5.8 4

Mike James
61 354 5.8 3

Graig Cooper
23 135 5.9 1

Total
320 1714 5.36 13

Those are impressive numbers. Berry (6-0, 215, Sr.) is having a very good
season, and is a possible 1,000 yard rusher. Lamar Miller (5-11, 210, r-Fr.) has
been very good this season, and he had 85 yards in Miami’s rout of Georgia Tech
last week. Mike James (6-0, 217, So.) has gone back and forth between tailback
and fullback. On Saturday, look for him lined up as a fullback in some
situations, with another tailback also in the game. That makes Miami’s running
game very dangerous. In fact, Miami’s running game is so much better this year
that last season’s starter, Graig Cooper (6-0, 205, Sr.) is fourth string in
2010.

Miami’s running game is good because their offensive line is much improved,
despite losing Jason Fox at left tackle. The Canes have some huge players on the
offensive line, particularly at offensive tackle.

From left to right, it goes like this: Orlando Franklin (6-7, 312, Sr.),
Harland Gunn (6-2, 315, Jr.), Tyler Horn (6-4, 295, Jr.), Brandon Washington
(6-4, 330, So.) and the mammoth Seantrel Henderson (6-8, 355, Fr.). Henderson
was one of the highest recruited players in the country, and he splits time at
right tackle with the also mammoth Jermaine Johnson (6-6, 330, r-Fr.).

That right side of the Miami offensive line is particularly big, and they
will also line up an offensive tackle at tight end to create bigger, unbalanced
formations. That’s something they have done in the past, so it shouldn’t be
anything new for the Hokies. However, Tech will have to deal with more size and
strength from the Miami offensive line than usual.

Miami hits a lot of big plays down the field because of a talented and deep
group of wide receivers.

The
Miami Wide Receivers
Player Rec. Yards YPC TD

Leonard Hankerson
51 879 17.2 11

Travis Benjamin
35 627 17.9 3

LaRon Byrd
32 355 11.1 1

Aldarius Johnson
13 141 10.8 0

Totals
131 2002 15.3 15

Hankerson (6-3, 205, Sr.) and Benjamin (5-11, 176, Jr.) are the big play
threats. Benjamin in particular is one of the fastest players in the ACC. Byrd
(6-4, 215, Jr.) and Johnson (6-3, 200, Jr.) are more of the possession type of
receivers. All four players have starting experience.

Running backs Damien Berry, Lamar Miller and Mike James have combined for 25
catches this season. Miami doesn’t throw to the tight end often, as starter
Richard Gordon (6-4, 265, Sr.) only has five receptions on the year.

As good as Virginia Tech’s secondary is, and with their performance last week
against the experienced T.J. Yates fresh on film, I doubt the Miami coaches will
ask true freshman Stephen Morris to challenge the Hokies downfield very often on
Saturday. You can bet that Bud Foster will give him more types of coverages than
he’s ever seen before.

Look for Miami to try to establish the run behind their big offensive line,
and then work the playaction passing game. If the Hokies can limit the Canes on
the ground, they should be fine defensively.

The Miami Defense

Miami’s defense is #2 in the ACC, trailing only Boston College in total
defense and Clemson in scoring defense. The Canes are one of the best teams in
the country in defending the pass and getting after the quarterback. However,
they have struggled up front against the run this season.

The
Miami Defense
Category Stat Rank

Rushing
166.4 ypg 77

Passing
147.9 ypg 3

Total
314.3 ypg 19

Scoring
18.2 ppg 15

Pass Eff.
93.39 ypg 2

Third Downs
34.44% 18

Sacks
2.9 per game 9

The Canes are ninth in the country in sacks, and averaging about 18 yards per
game in sack yardage. That means opposing teams average over 180 yards per game
with their traditional running game. With the talent in the Miami secondary,
expect the Hokies to give the Canes a heavy dose of Darren Evans and Ryan
Williams.

Last year Williams ran for 150 yards, and Tech ran for 272 yards as a team,
and that was against a Miami defense that was better against the run than their
defense this year has been.

Opposing running backs have been very successful against the Canes. Running
backs that have gotten extensive work against Miami (8 or more carries) have
combined for 237 carries for 1,247 yards, 5.3 yards per carry and 11 touchdowns.
That includes Ohio State quarterback Terrell Pryor and his 113 yards (he’s
basically a running back), but it also doesn’t include Georgia Tech because they
run a non-traditional offense.

Bottom line: Miami is not particularly good against the run, and we can
expect to see the Hokies lean on the ground game. Last season they were
successful against the Canes both in the power running game and the read option.

Miami has a lot of talented athletes on defense who can make plays. Defensive
end Allen Bailey (6-4, 285, Sr.) is projected as a first round draft pick, and
he has 11 tackles for loss and seven sacks on the year. He is a versatile player
who can line up inside our outside for Miami.

He’s joined up front by Olivier Vernon (6-4, 250, So.), Miami’s best
playmaker at defensive end. Vernon might not start against the Hokies, but he
will play, and he has eight tackles for loss and five sacks on the season. When
Vernon and Bailey are in the game at the same time at defensive end, they form a
very imposing pair of defensive ends.

Marcus Robinson (6-1, 240, Jr.), Adewale Ojomo (6-4, 260, Jr.) and Andrew
Smith (6-3, 245, Jr.) will also play at defensive end. Of those three players,
Ojomo and Smith are the best playmakers. However, Robinson has had success
against the Hokies before, with four tackles for loss and three sacks as a true
freshman in 2008.

Miami goes four-deep at defensive tackle, with Marcus Forston (6-3, 305,
r-So.), Micanor Regis (6-3, 305, Jr.), Josh Holmes (6-0, 280, Sr.) and Luther
Robinson (6-3, 295, r-Fr.). They have good size and athletic ability at this
position. Forston and Regis are the starters, and they have combined for 12.5
tackles for loss and six sacks this year.

The Canes have two playmaking linebackers, as usual. Sean Spence (6-0, 220,
Jr.) has finally become more consistent as a player. He is noticeably bigger in
the upper body this season, and he’s become a more physical player as a result.
Spence leads the team in tackles (82) and tackles for loss (13.5). He plays the
weakside linebacker position.

Holding down the middle of the defense is Colin McCarthy (6-2, 240, Sr.), who
seems like he’s been at Miami forever. McCarthy has 81 tackles and eight tackles
for loss, and is one of the better linebackers in the ACC. The strongside backer
is Ramon Buchanan (6-1, 220, Jr.) who is in his first year as a starter. He
doesn’t stand out nearly as much as the other linebackers.

Does it seem like Miami’s front seven makes a lot of tackles for loss? It
should, because they do. The Canes have 84 tackles for loss on the season,
averaging 8.4 per game, which ranks third in the nation. 29 of those have been
sacks, and the Canes rank ninth in the nation in that category. However, despite
their knack for making plays in the backfield, Miami has also given up a lot of
yardage on the ground this year, as we covered earlier. This front seven seems
to be either feast or famine.

The secondary has been the strength of the defense this year, ranking third
nationally in pass efficiency defense. The Hurricanes have 16 interceptions on
the year, tied with the Hokies (and other teams) for second-highest in the
nation, and opposing quarterbacks have thrown just six touchdown passes.

Cornerback Brandon Harris (5-11, 195, Jr.) only has one tackle for loss and
one sack this year, but he is a very good football player. He is very
experienced, having started since his true freshman season. Harris has good
size, and he’s a physical player.

The Canes also have great depth at cornerback. Ryan Hill (6-0, 205, Sr.),
DeMarcus Van Dyke (6-1, 185, Sr.) and Brandon McGee (6-0, 180, So.) also see
playing time, and they are all very capable. As a group, they have good size.

JoJo Nicolas (6-1, 205, Jr.) and Ray-Ray Armstrong (6-4, 215, So.) split time
at strong safety, and they both have very good size. Armstrong is tied for the
team lead with three interceptions, and he’s also third in tackles. He’s a
strong safety who is also very effective up around the line of scrimmage.

At free safety, Miami uses Vaughn Telemaque (6-2, 207). Like Armstrong,
Telemaque has excellent size, and he is also tied for the team lead with three
interceptions.

Overall, this is a fast, talented and athletic defense. They make a lot of
plays in the passing game, and they like to play in the backfield. However, they
also have a tendency to get gashed by the running game. They don’t give up a lot
of points because teams really struggle to throw the football.

I’ve watched three full Miami games this year (Pitt, FSU and UVA), and in two
of those three games I saw a lack of toughness up front. FSU ran all over them,
and though UVA is not a good football team, they do have a physical offensive
line and good running backs. They established themselves at the line of
scrimmage against the Canes, and Miami defenders were constantly going
backwards.

I think the Hokies have a good chance to establish a solid running game, but
they also must keep some semblance of balance in their offense.

Special Teams

Miami has very good athletes, so it stands to reason that they would be very
good on special teams. However, that hasn’t been the case this season.

Miami
Special Teams
Category Rank

Net Punting
25

KO Return
113

KO Return Def.
66

Punt Return
100

Punt Return Def.
74

Miami’s best special teams player is Matt Bosher (6-0, 205, Sr.), who doubles as
the placekicker and punter. He is 9-of-12 on his field goal attempts (one of
them was blocked), with a long of 51 yards. He averages 45.1 yards per punt, and
14 of his 44 attempts have gone for 50 or more yards. He has a big leg, and he
can make a major impact on the field position game. He’ll need to have a good
game on Saturday, because as you can see from the table above, Miami isn’t
particularly good in any of the return games.

The Canes are one of the worst kickoff return teams in the country, and that
includes an 88 yard return for a touchdown by Lamar Miller. Travis Benjamin has
just 98 yards of punt return yardage this year, and 79 of those came on one
touchdown return. Were it not for those two returns, Miami might be dead last in
punt returns and kickoff returns. As it stands, they are already near the bottom
in both categories.

However, don’t let the numbers fool you. Miami has plenty of athleticism on
their depth chart, and they are capable of playing very well on special teams.
The Hokies have been better than the Canes on special teams all season, and that
needs to be evident on the field this Saturday.

Final Thoughts

Miami and Virginia Tech are the two best teams in the Coastal Division.
There’s no question about it now. Both the Hokies and Canes have defeated UNC
and Georgia Tech. There are no other contenders in the division. Miami had a
major slip-up against UVA, otherwise they would control their own destiny.
Instead, they have to beat the Hokies, and have to hope Tech loses to UVA
in Blacksburg. I’d say VT’s chances of playing in the ACC Championship Game are
very strong.

But that’s a few weeks from now, and this week we’re only worried about the
Miami game. If the Hokies can knock off the Canes, they’ll have a great shot at
going undefeated in ACC play, which is a major accomplishment. That will be
easier said that done, because this is a game Miami has to win. They’ll leave it
all on the field. Virginia Tech will get their best shot.

Heading into last season’s game, Frank Beamer was 9-9 in his career against
Miami, and both teams had scored exactly 391 points in those 18 games. It
doesn’t get any more even than that. However, Miami won the first four games of
the series, and lately the advantage has gone to Virginia Tech. The Hokies have
won five of the last seven meetings against the Canes.

That doesn’t mean a lot this year, nor does Virginia Tech’s 22-2 record in
November since ACC expansion. Guess who those two losses were against? The Miami
Hurricanes, in 2005 and 2008. The Hokies are about to face the only team that
has managed to beat them in the month of November going all the way back to
2004. Cue the dark and ominous music.

That being said, I like Virginia Tech’s chances in this game. They’ll be
facing a true freshman quarterback in Stephen Morris, who I like very much.
However, Morris has one big problem that will be difficult for him to overcome
against Virginia Tech: he’s a true freshman. With three games under his belt,
Morris has improved, but Bud Foster also now has plenty of game film to see his
strengths and weaknesses, and Miami’s tendencies with Morris in the game.

If Miami is smart, they’ll do their best to give Morris high percentage
passes. You don’t want a true freshman throwing into the teeth of the Tech
defense very often.

VT
vs. Starting Quarterbacks Since BC
Opp. Player Comp. Att. Yards TD INT

BC

Dave Shinskie
11 25 130 0 2

NC State

Russell Wilson
21 49 362 3 3

CMU

Ryan Radcliff
21 48 266 3 1

Wake

Tanner Price
3 16 92 1 0

Duke

Sean Renfree
12 32 116 0 1

GT

Josh Nesbitt
0 3 0 0 1

UNC

T.J. Yates
18 33 197 0 4

Totals/Average
86 206 166.14 7 12

That’s a completion percentage of 41.7%. Give T.J. Yates credit … he was the
first quarterback to complete over 50% of his passes on the Hokies since
September! Tech hasn’t allowed a touchdown pass since October 16. They are
seventh nationally in pass efficiency defense. They generally do a good job of
making experienced quarterbacks look silly. This week, they’ll be facing a true
freshman who hasn’t seen a secondary that resembles Virginia Tech’s in terms of
talent or execution.

I like VT’s chances in this one.

Chris’ Prediction: Virginia Tech 27, Miami 17

Will Stewart’s Take: This one is very intriguing to think about. The
Canes’ defense is so strong against the pass, and they sack the quarterback so
well, that you have to assume the Hokies will attack Miami’s middling run
defense. Tech is known as a running team, but Virginia Tech’s coaching staff
primarily wants the offense to be balanced, so don’t necessarily assume that the Hokies are just going to
pound the ball with the tailbacks.

It will be interesting to see if the Canes play the Hokie offense the way
most teams do: contain with the defensive line, spy on Tyrod with a linebacker
(Spence or McCarthy), and drop everyone else into coverage. Like UNC, Miami has
plenty of talent at linebacker and DB to use that strategy effectively. But it
goes against the Canes’ philosophy of attacking upfield. Will Miami go against
the grain and play “contain and cover,” or will they try to make the
Hokie offense adapt to their style of play?

If Miami chooses to come upfield with the D-line and linebackers, Tyrod might
finally have some room to run, and it might also open up the passing game. This
part of the chess match will be interesting to watch.

On the other side of the ball, if I were the Canes, I would line up in
unbalanced formations and run right at Lyndell Gibson, who struggles to get off
blocks and often gets mowed over at the point of attack. I would also use the
short middle passing game like the Heels did. This will suck the Tech DBs up
towards the line of scrimmage, opening up the deep ball that Miami loves so
much.

If Miami drops back and just starts chucking up the deep ball, like they did
against Clemson, that won’t work. Clemson blew a bunch of coverages in their
loss to the Canes, something the Hokies won’t do.

If you’re wondering if the Hokies might relax a little bit in this one and
focus instead on the season-ending game with Virginia as the pathway to the
Coastal Division crown, it’s not likely. From what we’re told, going undefeated
in the ACC is just as important to the team as winning the Coastal. You never
want to let up off the throttle as you’re coming down the stretch. It does
nothing but get you into trouble.

Here’s what I think: I think the Hokies have an advantage in special teams,
although special teams is often a grab-bag, particularly against an athletic
team like Miami. Offensively, the Hokies bring a higher-powered, more versatile
offense into Miami than they’ve had in, well, years. Defensively, if the Hokies
can just slow down the Canes running game, I like the matchup of Bud Foster’s
coverage schemes and defensive backs against a freshman QB.

This should be an evenly-matched, hard fought game. But if you think about
it, over the last couple of games, the Hokies have ramped up their playmaking.
When push comes to shove, I think it will be Virginia Tech that makes the plays
necessary to win, just like they did against Georgia Tech and UNC.

Will’s Prediction: Virginia Tech 23, Miami 17

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