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Thursday night’s game will be a short turnaround for both Miami and Virginia Tech. Both teams are in full rebound mode. The ‘Canes are coming off two consecutive losses to Florida State and UNC, while the Hokies are attempting to bounce back from a 31-17 loss at Syracuse. Last Friday, this looked like a potential matchup of a pair of fringe Top 15 teams. Instead, both teams will enter the game unranked.
Quick five-day turnarounds typically favor the home team. We saw the Hokies whip #10 Clemson 24-7 in 2006. However, it’s also possible for the road team to win, as Tech did at Georgia Tech (17-10) in 2013, five days after beating Marshall in overtime in Lane Stadium.
On the other hand, Miami is the most successful Thursday night program in the history of the ACC. The Hurricanes are 18-4 on Thursday nights, and that includes a 7-3 mark on the road. Moreover, their Thursday night record against Virginia Tech has been dominant.
2014: 30-6 win in Blacksburg
2012: 30-12 win in Miami
2008: 16-14 win in Miami
Virginia Tech has scored a whopping 32 points in three meetings against the Hurricanes on Thursday nights, and they lost all three contests.
Still, those past meetings aren’t necessarily relevant. Justin Fuente is 3-0 during his career on a short week…
53-46 W vs. Cincinnati in 2015 (5 days)
66-42 W at Tulsa in 2015 (6 days)
40-20 W vs. Tulsa in 2014 (6 days)
Meanwhile, since Georgia does not play Thursday or Friday night games, Mark Richt has never had the challenge of preparing his team for a road game on a short week of preparation. How will he and his staff handle it? Nobody knows.
What we do know is that this is a huge game for both teams. If Miami loses, they’ll suffer their third ACC loss and they’ll be on the wrong side of the head-to-head tiebreaker against Coastal Division opponents Virginia Tech and North Carolina. They’d be effectively finished in the Coastal race. If the Hokies lose, they’ll suffer their second ACC loss, and they might have to win out to win the Coastal. Whichever team wins will still be alive, particularly the Hokies, since they would have head-to-head victories over UNC and Miami.
Two Different Schedules, Two Different Teams
Miami steamrolled their first three opponents…
Florida A&M: 70-3 W
FAU: 38-10 W
at Appalachian State: 45-10 W
In those three games, Miami outgained their opponents by an average of 514 yards to 217. They looked dominant, and those “The U is Back” comments that we hear every year were starting up again.
Then the going got tougher, and the ‘Canes didn’t get going…
@ Georgia Tech: 35-21 W
Florida State: 20-19 L
UNC: 20-13 L
Miami was outgained in all three games by an average of 377 to 364. Two defensive touchdowns against Georgia Tech were the difference in that game, and overall the Miami offense has been limited over their last three contests.
The Hurricanes have to get back on track offensively, and they’ll have to do so in a very short amount of time while spending a day traveling to Virginia Tech. While Miami’s offensive numbers for the season are solid, the offense hasn’t been able to score more than 21 points against a team with similar athletes. That’s probably going to have to change on Thursday night if they want to win.
Offensive Players to Watch
Though Miami has struggled the last three weeks offensively, they still have several dangerous players on the offensive side of the ball.
QB Brad Kaaya (6-4, 215, Jr.): 98-of-158 (62%) for 1,373 yards, 10 TDs, 4 INTs
RB Mark Walton (5-9, 205, So.): 101 carries, 566 yards, 5.6 ypc, 8 TDs
RB Joe Yearby (5-9, 200, Jr.): 64 carries, 434 yards, 6.8 ypc, 6TDs
WR Stacy Coley (6-1, 195, Sr.): 24 catches, 303 yards, 12.6 ypc, 6 TDs
Kaaya is #24 in the nation in pass efficiency. Stacy Coley is Miami’s go-to guy in terms of touchdown receptions. Tailbacks Mark Walton and Joe Yearby have been very effective on the ground, though less so in recent weeks. Miami’s running game put up the following numbers against Georgia Tech, FSU and UNC…
GT: 27 carries, 114 yards, 4.2 ypc
FSU: 28 carries, 62 yards, 2.2 ypc
UNC: 36 carries, 139 yards, 3.9 ypc
If the Hokies can keep Miami’s offense unbalanced on Thursday night, they’ll have an excellent chance to win the game.
Offensive Talent Level
Obviously this is a very unscientific method of evaluating talent, but here’s how Miami’s offensive starters are viewed as NFL prospects by NFL Draft Scout.
QB Brad Kaaya: #3 QB in the 2018 Draft
RB Mark Walton: #24 RB in the 2019 Draft
RB Joe Yearby: #19 RB in the 2018 Draft
WR Stacy Coley: #5 WR in the 2017 Draft
WR Braxton Berrios: #50 WR in the 2018 Draft
WR Ahmmon Richards: #12 WR in the 2020 Draft
TE Chris Herndon IV: Unranked
LT Trevor Darling: #20 OT in the 2018 Draft
LG KC McDermott: #7 OG in the 2018 Draft
C Nick Lindor: #3 C in the 2018 Draft
RG Danny Isidora: #12 OG in the 2017 Draft
RT Tyree St. Louis: #13 OT in the 2019 Draft
Though the ‘Canes won’t wow you with a lot of first round talent like they used to, that is still a very solid unit across the board. On paper, they probably should have performed better than they did the last three weeks.
The Cliché of All Clichés
Stop me if you’ve heard this before: the key to stopping the Miami offense is to slow down their running game and make them one-dimensional.
As noted earlier in the article, the Hurricane running game has struggled for the last three weeks. Though Miami was able to beat Georgia Tech thanks to two defensive touchdowns, Brad Kaaya and the passing game haven’t been good enough to beat Florida State and UNC by themselves with little-to-no help from the running game.
Here are Kaaya’s stats in those two games…
FSU: 19-of-32, 214 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT
UNC: 16-of-31, 224 yards, 0 TDs, 0 INT
Total: 35-of-63 (55.5%), 438 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT
In this modern age of college football, those are very mediocre numbers. Outside of Stacy Coley, Miami’s receivers have been pretty unreliable through six games, and though Kaaya is viewed as a very good NFL prospect he’s still adjusting to a new offense. Without the benefit of a running game, his struggles are understandable.
Though it’s very cliché to say this, I’ll go ahead and say it: if the Hokies can stop Mark Walton and Joe Yearby on Thursday night, Virginia Tech should win the game. Kaaya can’t beat teams with his legs (-44 yards on the year), and I’ve not sure he can beat Tech single-handedly with his arm.
Productive Defensive Line Will Challenge Tech’s Offensive Front
Miami’s defensive line has been very productive through the first six games of the season. The ‘Canes are #2 nationally in tackles for loss (63) and #21 in sacks (19), and most of that is thanks to the impressive play of their defensive front.
DE Chad Thomas (6-6, 265, Jr.): 8 TFL, 3.5 sacks
DT Kendrick Norton (6-3, 305, So.): 5.5 TFL
DT RJ McIntosh (6-4, 290, So.): 5.5 TFL, 0.5 sacks
VIPER Demetrius Jackson (6-3, 265, r-So.): 5.5 TFL, 2 sacks
DE Joe Jackson (6-5, 250, Fr.): 4.5 TFL, 3.5 sacks
DT Gerald Willis (6-4, 285, r-So.): 5 TFL, 1.5 sacks
DT Courtel Jenkins (6-2, 320, Jr.): 3.5 TFL
VIPER Trent Harris (6-2, 250, Jr.): 4.5 TFL, 2 sacks
Overall, that two-deep has combined for 42 tackles for loss and 13 sacks. There is no true star of the defensive line, but everybody in the two-deep has been productive. The ‘Canes are always able to keep a fresh defensive line of the field, which obviously helps them stay fresh for four quarterbacks.
Unheard Of Inexperience at Linebacker
I’ve been doing this job for a long time now, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a team with as much inexperience at linebacker as this year’s Miami Hurricane team. Here’s a look at their starters…
SAM: Zach McCloud (6-2, 230, Fr.)
MIKE: Shaq Quarterman (6-1, 240, Fr.)
WILL: Michael Pinckney (6-1, 220, Fr.)
What do those guys have in common? They are all true freshman. Not redshirt-freshmen. True freshmen. That’s a massive amount of inexperience at linebacker, and it’s actually pretty amazing that Miami’s defense has been as good as it has been, considering that inexperience factor. Quarterman and Pinckney have been solid playmakers for the ‘Canes, combining for 10.5 tackles for loss and three sacks.
The real test for these linebackers will be Virginia Tech’s misdirection and their ability to throw passes off of plays that appear to be running plays at the snap. They’ll have to be very disciplined against this Hokie attack, and they’ll have to do so with only a few days to prepare. The good thing for Miami is that they’ve already faced one misdirection offense this year (Georgia Tech), though VT’s offense will be a lot more balanced.
Combined with the four sophomores and one freshman on the Miami defensive line, this is perhaps the youngest front seven the Hokies will face all season. Despite their youth, this group has generally done a good job this season.
Very Experienced Secondary
Miami starts three seniors and one sophomore in the secondary, which is the opposite experience-wise of the front seven.
LCB Corn Elder (5-10, 180, Sr.)
FS Rayshawn Jenkins (6-2, 210, r-Sr.)
ROV Jaquan Johnson (5-11, 190, So.)
RCB Adrian Colbert (6-2, 205, r-Sr.)
Miami ranks #25 nationally in pass defense, and #24 in pass efficiency defense.
Injuries Mounting…For Both Teams
On Saturday, we saw defensive linemen Ken Ekanem, Nigel Williams and Ricky Walker all down on the Carrier Dome turf at some point. The Hokies appear to be a dinged up football team right now. However, Miami has their own injury issue. The following players played through injuries against UNC…
QB Brad Kaaya: Shoulder
DE Chad Thomas: Broken Hand
LB Shawn Quarterman: Shoulder
WR Stacy Coley: Knee
Defensive tackle Gerald Willis missed the UNC game with a knee sprain. Demetrius Jackson injured his knee against UNC and did not return. Thomas, already suffering from a broken hand, apparently hurt his leg against the Tar Heels. Tailback Mark Walton, linebacker Michael Pinckney, defensive tackle Courtel Jenkins and linebacker Zach McCloud all went down with injuries against UNC but later returned to the game.
Thus far, Mark Richt has had no comments regarding the Miami injury situation, but after back-to-back physical games against Florida State and UNC, it will be tough for the ‘Canes to travel and play just five days after losing to the Heels.
Note: Sources have told Matt Porter of the Palm Beach Post that starting ends Chad Thomas and Demetrius Jackson are doubtful to play on Thursday.
Last Saturday, Virginia Tech was ranked #17 and Miami was #16. I was dreaming of a Top 15 matchup in Lane Stadium between two teams coming into the game with momentum. Instead, we’re getting a game between two unranked teams who are desperately in search of a win to avoid getting knocked out of the Coastal Division race. What a difference a day makes.
Miami already has two ACC losses. Even if they manage to beat the Hokies on Thursday night, they still have to play Pitt and NC State. Not to mention they are a game behind North Carolina in the loss column, and the Tar Heels own the head-to-head tiebreaker. I’m beginning to think that Miami’s chances of winning the Coastal Division are slim, even if they win on Thursday night.
That means Tech’s biggest competition is UNC and Pitt. Pitt still has to play Clemson, and they have also yet to play Miami and the Hokies. If they lose two of those three games, they’ll be up to three ACC losses, which would most likely knock them out of the Coastal race. The Hokies and Tar Heels have just one ACC loss right now, and Tech owns the head-to-head tiebreaker over UNC. If Tech can get back to playing good football, they can still win this thing.
But first things first. Tech has to knock off Miami on Thursday night. If they don’t, they’d have to win out to have a chance to win the Coastal, and even that might not be enough. If winning the Coastal Division is the goal, then a victory on Thursday night is imperative.
This is an interesting game. Both teams pretty much have to win, yet both teams are playing just five days after their previous game, they’ve combined to lose three games in a row, and both have multiple players banged up. Maybe I’m wrong, but based on all those factors I’m expecting a fairly ugly football game on Thursday night, albeit a desperate and competitive one.
Miami’s recent offensive struggles against teams with a pulse give me hope that the Hokies will pull this one out at home and stay in the Coastal Division race.
Chris’ Prediction: Virginia Tech 24, Miami 20
Ricky LaBlue’s take: If you had asked me two weeks ago if Virginia Tech was going to win this game, it would have been a resounding “yes”. However, recent events have shaken my confidence in the Hokies.
Miami isn’t particularly experienced defensively, especially up front. Neither was Syracuse, and the Orange won the battle in the trenches. Fortunately for Virginia Tech, Miami won’t have their full complement of players up front, which could make it easier to run the football. Tech should also enter this game pretty well motivated after looking like a 6-win team vs. Syracuse.
Kaaya can make all of the throws necessary to play quarterback, but they haven’t had the results you’d expect. They lean heavily on the running game and Virginia Tech has been solid against the run for most of the season. They’ve got Coley on the outside, as well as Ahmmon Richards, who leads the Hurricanes in receiving yards and averages over 21 yards per reception. Miami has all the talent in the world, but it hasn’t really translated on the field. They put up a combined 32 points against Florida State and North Carolina, neither of which have been good defensively.
On paper, Virginia Tech should win this game by a touchdown, but it’s a Thursday night vs. Miami and past experiences are sinking in. Can Jerod Evans bounce back from his interception last week? Can the running game finally get going? Will the Hokies get off the field on third down? These are all serious questions that I don’t have the answer to.
I’m choosing to believe in Justin Fuente’s coaching staff. I was serious about Fuente establishing the winning culture. If losing to a 2-4 unranked Syracuse team doesn’t wake you up, nothing will. I’m thinking Virginia Tech plays solid defense while sustaining a few drives to put up points.
Ricky’s Prediction: Virginia Tech 34, Miami 21
Will Stewart’s Take: This is a fascinating game. In the Hokie win scenario, Virginia Tech rebounds emotionally and takes advantage of Miami’s inexperienced linebackers to spring some big plays and scores. Defensively, the Hokies focus on the run, shut it down, force Brad Kaaya into a lot of passing downs, and control the Hurricane offense that way.
In the Hokie loss scenario, Miami’s disruptive defensive line shuts down VT’s run game (which isn’t hard) and their experienced defensive backfield handles Isaiah Ford and Bucky Hodges. The Hokie offense is snuffed. Meanwhile, the Hokie defense is unable to slow down the Miami running attack enough to make the Canes one-dimensional, and Miami puts up four or five touchdowns on the way to the win.
Or some mixture of those factors. And that doesn’t even include the special teams and turnover factors that can throw games “out of whack.”
Miami is 38th in the nation in turnover margin (+.33), while VT is 73rd (-.17, including those five fumbles against the Vols). The Hokies commit 5.8 penalties a game (#51 nationally), while Miami commits 7.0 (#90). So no huge differences there.
What makes this game hard to pick is that you never know which Miami team you’re going to get. The Canes have a mercurial motivation level. Sometimes they get run out of Lane Stadium (1999, 2003, 2007, and 2009), and other times they put up a hell of a fight (2005, 2011, 2014; click here for the rivalry history).
It’s a tossup, folks, a stone-cold tossup. Impossible to pick, because any of the scenarios above could unfold, in any combination. In these situations, I usually go with the good guys. Show up, be loud, and help make it happen.
Will’s Prediction: Virginia Tech 31, Miami 27