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Although they aren’t eligible for a bowl game yet, the Hokies still enter the month of November in the middle of the race for the Coastal Division. A loss at Miami on Thursday night would end those hopes.
Miami, like the Hokies, has struggled at times this year. The Canes are 4-4 with a 3-2 ACC record, and if they beat Virginia Tech on Thursday they will control their own destiny and likely will get a rematch with Florida State for the ACC crown.
Personally, I shudder to think what a loss to Miami would mean for Virginia Tech. It would give them a 4-5 record, with Florida State coming to town. That would probably mean a 4-6 record, which would force Virginia Tech to win both of their final two games against Boston College and UVA to become bowl eligible. Having never been in that position before, how would this Virginia Tech team respond? Hopefully we don’t have to find out.
Here’s a look at the Miami team the Hokies will have to face on Thursday night.
The Miami Offense
This Hurricane offense has been the best part of Miami’s football team this season. Still, that’s nothing to write home about, statistically speaking.
Pass Eff.: #83
Sacks allowed: #47
The Canes are mediocre – actually, below average – in most of these statistical categories. A bad defense hasn’t helped the Miami offense. The Canes have gotten behind by a lot of points in many of their games, and they’ve been forced to get away from the running game in an effort to rally. If Miami is in a situation where they can be balanced offensively, then they are very dangerous. That’s why it will be important for the Tech offense to get off to a good start. That would take away Miami’s running game threat. More on the Tech offense vs. the Miami defense later.
Before we go over Miami’s skill position players, let’s take a look at their offensive line. Up front, the Canes are big, talented, and young.
LT Malcolm Bunche (6-7, 323, r-So.): Top backup last season, played in 8 games.
LG Jon Feliciano (6-5, 314, r-So.): Started 8 games last year, allowed no sacks.
C Shane McDermott (6-4, 296, r-So.): Played in 10 games last season.
RG Brandon Linder (6-6, 312, Jr.): Started all 12 games last season.
RT Seantrel Henderson (6-8, 340, Jr.): One of the most physically gifted linemen in America.
This Miami offensive line is very big and very strong. Henderson in particular is very talented, though he hasn’t lived up to the hype as of yet. He was hurt for quite a bit of last season, and he missed much of the preseason in 2012 due to personal issues.
This line had its way with Virginia Tech last season, though we should make several notes: James Gayle was injured on the first series and did not return, Antoine Hopkins had a torn ACL and Tech had to play true freshmen Corey Marshall and Luther Maddy at defensive tackle, and the Hokies even converted offensive guard Courtney Prince to defensive tackle during the week of the game. Undersized Tyrel Wilson had to play defensive end in place of Gayle, and Wilson was sick during the game.
That’s how much depth was a problem up front for Tech. They don’t have that problem this season. Everybody is healthy, and the defensive line has played outstanding football in their last two games.
Miami will look to establish the running game behind two talented backs. Mike James (5-11, 220, Sr.) and Duke Johnson (5-9, 188, Fr.). James is a solid player who has rushed for 442 yards and five touchdowns on the season, averaging 4.7 yards per carry in the process. However, Duke Johnson (5-9, 188, Fr.) is the most talented back. He has 83 carries for 470 yards and five touchdowns, and he’s averaging 5.7 yards per carry.
Nearly half of Johnson’s yardage came against Boston College and Bethune-Cookman games one and three on Miami’s schedule. In Miami’s recent games, Johnson netted nine carries for 27 yards against FSU, 14 carries for 47 yards against UNC, 12 carries for 39 yards against NC State, and eight carries for 22 yards against Notre Dame. Johnson has talent, but as Miami’s schedule has gotten tougher, he hasn’t been effective. Look for both James and Johnson to get carries early against the Hokies.
Stephen Morris (6-2, 214, Jr.) has been good at times this year, and in fact he’s put up big numbers, averaging 277.4 passing yards per game. However, don’t let those numbers fool you. Miami has been behind in a lot of games (Notre Dame, Kansas State, Georgia Tech come to mind) and they’ve been forced to throw a lot. With an efficiency rating of 123.6, he ranks just 10th in the ACC (Logan Thomas is eighth, as a comparison). Morris has 10 touchdown passes and seven interceptions on the year.
At wide receiver, you don’t see any guys like Santana Moss, Reggie Wayne or Yatil Green. Miami’s top three receivers were regular 3-star recruits.
Phillip Dorsett (5-10, 185, So.): 34 catches, 523 yards, 3 touchdowns. Dorsett was the #38 WR in the country coming out of high school. He had a very good offer list, but his overall rating wasn’t all that high.
Rashawn Scott (6-2, 190, So.): 32 catches, 462 yards, 3 touchdowns. Scott was a 3-star recruit, but he was unranked among the nation’s wide receiver prospects.
Allen Hurns (6-3, 192, Jr.): 21 catches, 249 yards, 1 touchdown. Hurns was the #60 wide receiver recruit in the country, and he is a Miami native.
For all the talent that comes out of the state of Florida, and the Miami area specifically, it’s strange that the Canes’ top receivers are all typical 3-star recruits. Stephen Morris will also throw the ball to running backs Mike James (24 catches, 214 yards, 1 TD) and Duke Johnson (21 catches, 201 yards, 1 TD) quite a bit . #4 receiver Davon Johnson (6-0, 188, Sr.) has 20 catches for 342 yards.
This is certainly an offense that has made big plays down the field this season, but at times they have been unbalanced, and their overall statistics are very mediocre. If Virginia Tech shuts down the Miami running game and forces the Canes into long yardage situations, the scales will be tipped in the favor of the Hokies.
The Moveable Object (Miami’s Defense) vs. the Stoppable Force (Virginia Tech’s Offense)
I don’t buy the statements of some of Tech’s coaches who say that some of the offensive problems this season have been caused by youth. The Hokies have three senior receivers, three senior offensive linemen, a senior fullback, and a junior quarterback who some people thought might end up being the #1 overall pick in the draft. Youth isn’t an excuse for the Tech offense.
However, Miami can use the youth excuse on the defensive side of the ball. The Canes start one senior, one r-junior, three juniors, three true sophomores, one r-freshman and two true freshmen. If you are starting two true freshmen, and over half of your defensive starters are second year players or younger, then you have a youth problem.
The problem doesn’t stop there. Five other true freshmen find themselves as top backups on Miami’s defense, as well as three true sophomores. There is a complete lack of experience on the defensive side of the ball for the Canes, and it shows in the statistics.
Pass Eff.: #84
Yes, you read those numbers correctly. Miami’s best defensive statistic is their #83 rank in pass defense, followed by their #84 rank in pass efficiency defense. From a statistical standpoint, this Miami defense does absolutely nothing well. Let’s take a look at their total yards allowed in all of their games against 1-A teams.
There’s not enough lipstick in the world to make that pig look good. This is just a bad, bad, bad defense. Even Bethune-Cookman ran for 233 yards on the Canes. I could go on with more comparisons and statistical evidence, but what’s the point? The simple fact is that Miami hasn’t been able to stop anybody this year, whether it be powerful Notre Dame or Kansas State, or pitiful Boston College (#93 in total offense).
Most of Miami’s problems defensively stem from their inability to get off blocks and make plays up front. Their best players in the front seven are a pair of true sophomores, and that’s never a good sign. The Canes are also playing true freshmen in the front seven, and those guys just haven’t been able to get it done for “The U”.
Also, Miami doesn’t appear to be bringing in as high a caliber of recruit these days, as you’ll see when we cover each and every starting defender.
DE Anthony Chickillo (6-4, 262, So.): The only true blue chipper on Miami’s starting defense, Chickillo is Miami’s best player up front. The former 5-star recruit has 4 TFL and 2 sacks on the season.
DE Shayon Green (6-3, 260, r-Jr.): Green has 50 tackles, which is tops on the team. However, he has just 1.5 TFL and no sacks, and he’s the perfect example of Miami’s lack of playmakers up front. Green was only ranked the #65 weakside defensive end in the country coming out of high school.
DT Earl Moore (6-1, 300, Fr.): Moore was a 3-star recruit, and the #42 defensive tackle in the country, and he’s starting as a true freshman.
DT Olsen Pierre (6-4, 300, So.): Pierre was a 3-star prep school recruit who originally signed to play for Al Golden at Temple.
LB Eddie Johnson (6-1, 238, r-Fr.): Miami’s top playmaker with 5.5 TFL, a sack and an interception, Johnson was originally a 3-star recruit and the #67 outside linebacker recruit in the country. He chose Miami over Louisville, UAB and UCF.
LB Jimmy Gaines (6-3, 230, Jr.): Gaines was a 2-star recruit who didn’t make any national rankings. He chose Miami over Buffalo, UConn and Syracuse.
LB Denzel Perryman (6-0, 229, So.): Perryman is Miami’s best defensive player. He has 47 tackles and 6 TFL. Out of high school, he was a 3-star recruit and the #25 inside linebacker in the country.
CB Ladarius Gunter (6-2, 198, Jr.): Gunter is a JUCO who chose Miami over North Texas and Indiana. He was a 3-star recruit who now starts at cornerback for Miami.
CB Brandon McGee (6-0, 194, Sr.): A national top 100 recruit, McGee has never lived up to expectations. Currently he is projected as a late round pick at best.
S Deon Bush (6-1, 190, Fr.): Bush was a 4-star recruit out of high school and the #83 recruit in the country. However, he’s still only a true freshman.
S Kacy Rodgers II (6-2, 185, Jr.): Rodgers was a 3-star recruit and the #37 rated cornerback in the country. He is better suited for the safety position, which he plays in college.
Even many of the backups weren’t highly touted, and even if they were, they are still very young. Linebacker Gionni Paul (6-1, 230, So.) was a typical 3-star recruit. Darius Smith (6-2, 315, So.) had zero stars by Rivals, and he was a JUCO recruit. Backup safety A.J. Highsmith was a quarterback when he first arrived at Miami.
You see my point. Anyone who is telling you that this is the same old talented Miami defense isn’t doing their homework. This is a group of players who, collectively, resembles a typical Virginia Tech defense in terms of star rankings and offer lists. However, no Tech defense has performed as poorly as this Miami defense. Virginia Tech’s bad defensive performances against UNC and Pitt have basically happened to the Canes each and every week.
There really is no reason that Virginia Tech shouldn’t go out and score 30+ points on Miami. If they do that, I believe they’ll win the football game. Of the seven 1-A schools the Canes have played, six of them have scored 32 points or more. I think the VT defense is playing well right now, and if the Hokies do manage to score 30 on this Miami defense, then the Hokies will likely be headed to Charlotte for the ACC Championship Game.
But can the Tech offense be consistent enough, even against a bad defense, to score 30? That’s the big question. I wish I had the answer.
Miami has been very hit or miss on special teams.
Net punting: #83
Punt returns: #82
Punt return defense: #117
Kickoff returns: #27
Kickoff return defense: #3
The Canes have been pretty bad when it comes to returning punts and stopping punt returns, but they have been outstanding on kickoff returns and kickoff coverage. Duke Johnson has returned a kickoff for a touchdown, and Phillip Dorsett is a capable returner as well.
Jake Wieclaw (6-2, 193, r-Sr.) handles the kicking duties for the Canes. He has missed all three of his attempts from beyond 40 yards this season, but he is 10-of-12 from inside 40 yards. If the Hokies can keep Miami outside the red zone, there is a reasonable chance that Wieclaw won’t be able to connect from long range.
Special teams could be a very critical component of this game. If the Hokies can win the special teams battle and get good field position, they can really put a lot of pressure on a Miami defense that hasn’t dealt well with pressure this season.
Obviously this season hasn’t gone as expected, and there’s no need to get into details. We all know what’s happened. However, in some ways, it has gone as expected. We knew coming into the season that there was a very real chance the Hokies could lose games to UNC and Clemson. I don’t think any of us expected to be undefeated in ACC play following the trip to Clemson, and we knew this game with Miami was going to have serious repercussions in the Coastal Division race. Granted, we didn’t think both teams would be 4-4, but the situation is still the same.
4-loss seasons (or more, depending on the rest of the season) are not common around here. I don’t think there is a single fan, player or coach who wouldn’t tell you that the season has been a disappointment thus far. Nobody expected this, and no matter how the season ends, there will always be some level of disappointment associated with this season.
If we’re going to be disappointed no matter what, we might as well go ahead and win the Coastal Division, right? I’d rather win the Coastal Division and have a chance to win the ACC than not win it and have no chance. When it comes down to it, winning is always better than not winning.
I think Virginia Tech is better than Miami. The Canes are very young defensively, and I believe the Tech offense will be able to hit big plays against the mistakes that the Miami youth will obviously make. I don’t know if the Hokies will play consistently on offense, though, and that’s the big question mark.
I believe the Tech defense has turned a corner. As the young defensive backs have gained experience, Bud Foster has shown more confidence in them. We saw more zone against Clemson, and as a result, we saw a much better defensive performance. With extra time to prepare for this game, I believe that Foster will have his group ready to play. I expect the Tech defense to play a good game tomorrow night.
Virginia Tech has lost just two November games since joining the ACC, and both have actually come against Miami. Tech lost to the Canes in 2005 and 2008. However, all of that past history that they’ll show on TV tomorrow night won’t matter. This game is about the 2012 Hokies vs. the 2012 Canes. It’s about which coaching staff, both of which had the same amount of time to prepare, gets their team the most ready to play. It’s about which team has the best lockerroom leadership. It’s about which team makes the fewest mistakes.
This is just a gut feeling, but I like the matchups in this game. Tech’s defense is trending upward, and with a few extra days to prepare, Bud Foster will have something cooked up for Miami. I admit that I still don’t have confidence that the VT offense will consistently move the football, but I do think Tech will reach the 30-point mark, whether it be on long drives, big plays, favorable field position, or whatever. And to be perfectly honest, I think this game is as much about Miami screwing up as it is Tech playing well. I think we’ll see the Canes give up big plays because of blown assignments, and I think we’ll also see a couple of costly turnovers.
I think Miami will screw up enough – and the Hokies will play well enough – to give us a comfortable win on Thursday night.
Chris’ Prediction: Virginia Tech 31, Miami 17
Will Stewart’s Take: Your average person doesn’t realize how bad this Miami football team is, particularly their defense. But as bad as that defense is, it held UNC to their season average in yards, and held Florida State to almost 80 yards under their season average. The Canes held UNC 21 points below their season average, and FSU 11 points below their season average. And those two I just listed have been their last two outings; recent history, in other words.
Hmmm. I don’t know what that says, other than the Hurricanes are, I guess, capable of putting together a decent defensive game. If they hold VT to 80 yards and 11 points below their season averages, the Hokies will have 319 yards and 18 points. And that’s going to make it tough to win.
You just really can’t predict how this one is going to go, other than to say it’s going to be a dogfight. In the last four games in Miami (2004-2010), the average margin of victory has been a touchdown, and the games have been low-scoring affairs, by the average score of 20-13. Only once in the last four games in Miami has a team scored over 20 points: in 2010, when Tech won 31-17.
That doesn’t mean this one’s going to be a low-scoring, hard-fought game. But why not? For the Hokies defensively, I’m hanging my hat on Luther Maddy. Ever since Maddy got healthy, the Hokies have been tough and aggressive on defense, and have started playing behind the opponents’ line of scrimmage again. I think Maddy and the Hokie DL are going to surprise some people Thursday night.
As for the Hokie offense, they struggled to move the ball and score points on a bad Clemson defense, a defense that was #97 in the country going into the matchup in Death Valley. While it wouldn’t surprise me to see the Hokies have success against this very bad Miami defense, I’m not counting on it. Yes, Miami has a bad rush defense, but the Hokies have a poor running game this season.
So 20-13 sounds as likely as any outcome to me. I’m going with the good guys, by that score. Turnovers by the Hokies and poor field position could throw that askew, but I’ll go with it.
Will’s Prediction: Virginia Tech 20, Miami 13