If the Hokies were hoping for an easy opponent to rebound from their Syracuse loss, they won’t find one this week.
Miami (4-2, 1-2) is a talented team that is in a similar situation to the one Virginia Tech is in. A loss Thursday night significantly hurts both teams’ chances to win the Coastal Division, especially for the ‘Canes, who would have their third ACC loss.
The Miami offense is balanced, but hasn’t equaled the sum of its parts this season. Quarterback Brad Kaaya is considered one of the top prospects in the NFL for next year’s draft, Miami has two primary running backs that both average over 5.5 yards per carry and have combined for 14 rushing touchdowns, and the Hurricanes have four players with at least 10 receptions that average over 10 yards per catch.
All of that said, Miami ranks 57th in the FBS in total offense and has scored just 32 points in their last two games.
Despite the ‘Canes poor performance on the offensive end vs. Florida State and North Carolina, Virginia Tech Head Coach Justin Fuente isn’t underestimating Miami’s potential. Fuente seemed particularly focused on Miami’s running backs, Mark Walton and Joseph Yearby.
“They’ve got a long history of being able to run the football,” Fuente said. “That’s how they’ve won so many games. They’re very talented in the backfield. It’s a delicate balance too, because you’ve got to commit guys to stopping the run, which obviously leaves you vulnerable to big plays in the passing game, and they certainly have people on the outside and a very talented quarterback that can make you pay there.”
Defensive Coordinator Bud Foster sees the entire group of skill position plays as a threat.
“Miami has always had great team speed, in particularly the skill positions, and I don’t see any difference right now,” Foster said. “You’ve got a corps of guys that can take you deep, a corps of guys that can after the catch can create big plays, not just throw them vertical. They’ll get them in quick screens and things of that nature and have the ability to run after the catch. They like their tight ends, and I think they’re extremely talented players who they’ll split out and try to create mismatches. They’re big kids who are in that 6-4, 6-5 range but run very well.”
The entire offense runs through Kaaya, who’s completed 62 percent of his passes this season for 1,373 yards, 10 touchdowns and four interceptions. Kaaya might not be the dual-threat weapon Virginia Tech faced last weekend in Syracuse’s Eric Dungey, but he can be just as deadly.
“Well, he’s a dropback style guy,” Foster said. “He’s got a good arm. He’s a pro-style guy that can throw from one hash to the sideline. His arm strength. He’s a big-time talent.”
Miami defense causing power outages for opposing offenses
Miami’s defense is no slouch either. The Hurricanes haven’t allowed more than 21 points all season and allowed 20 points each to Florida State and North Carolina, both of whom average over 32 points per game.
“They haven’t given up very many points to anybody,” Fuente said. “The reason for that is a combination. They’ve got good people and personnel, combined with a coaching staff that does a great job of putting them in good situations.”
Miami’s defensive line has been stellar all season for the Hurricanes. The defense ranks first in the FBS in tackles for loss and 30th in the FBS in rush defense. Miami also averages 3.17 sacks per game, which is good enough for 14th in the FBS.
“Their defensive line is very good,” Fuente said. “They’re big and athletic and they have done a good job with their blitz packages, which has led to them playing on the other side of the line of scrimmage most of the time. Some of it because of their scheme and other parts of it are because of their personnel. They’ve done a great job blending those together.”
Miami’s secondary is about as experienced as it gets, but the linebackers are a different story. Zach McCloud, Shaq Quarterman and Michael Pickney are all true-freshmen and have combined for 78 total tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss, three sacks and an interception.
“They’ve got three freshmen linebackers that don’t look like freshmen,” Fuente said. “I mean, they’re big, athletic guys and getting better every single week. Their defensive line is a penetrating defensive line, they like to move them.”
Miami very well could be one of the best teams Virginia Tech plays all season, but Fuente is confident his group will shake off last weekend’s loss and come out swinging on Thursday night.
“The kids have done a great job rebounding off of a tough loss last week on a short week,” Fuente said. “We’ve got a talented Miami team coming to town and we’re looking forward to playing on Thursday.”