Virginia Tech vs. No. 9 Miami
- Saturday, Nov. 14, Noon, ESPN2
- Virginia Tech vs. Miami Betting Line: Virginia Tech -2.5
- Virginia Tech-Miami roster cards: Click here
- Game notes from Hokiesports: Click here
- Blacksburg weather: Click here
Virginia Tech (4-3) plays host to the No. 9 Miami Hurricanes (6-1) this Saturday in Lane Stadium. Miami’s lone loss this season has come at the hands of Clemson, and if the ‘Canes win out and get some help from other teams, they still have a chance to play for the ACC Championship in December.
It’s an interesting twist of fate that the Hokies are playing Miami this week, coming off a loss to Liberty that ignited the passions of the fanbase. Last season Virginia Tech lost to Duke at home 45-10 in the fourth game of what was an inauspicious start to the season, which prompted yours truly to write a Sunday column stating that it was probably time for Tech to cut ties with head coach Justin Fuente.
We all know what happened next. The Hokies traveled to South Florida to play a Miami team that, though 2-2, had two very close losses to Florida and UNC and could have easily been 4-0. It made no sense at all to pick the Hokies to win that game. I picked the ‘Canes to win 31-10, and Will picked them 31-7. Naturally, Tech jumped out to a 28-0 lead, held on to win, and the Hokies played much better the rest of the season.
Oddly enough, Miami went on to win four of their next five games, including wins over solid teams like UVA, Louisville and Pitt. Then, in true Hurricane style, they lost their final three games of the season: 30-24 to FIU, 27-17 to Duke, and an ultra-exciting 14-0 affair to Louisiana Tech in the Independence Bowl.
These days you have no idea what to expect from the Hokies on a week-to-week basis, and historically (for the past 15 years or so at least) you have no idea what to expect from Miami, either. Just based on results of the season, it would make sense for Miami to come to Blacksburg and beat the Hokies this weekend, but nothing about the 2020 season – or life in general these days – makes sense.
Let’s take a closer look at the Hurricanes.
The One-Man Show…Kind Of
Everyone knows how much quarterback D’Eriq King (5-11, 202, r-Sr.) has meant to the Miami offense this season, but the Pro Football Focus grades put his impact into numbers.
For the season, King’s grade is a 91.6, which makes him one of the best quarterbacks in the country. However, only one other Miami player who has played more than 33 snaps – wide receiver Mike Harley (5-10, 180, Sr.) – has a grade above a 70. Harley has graded out at a 73.3 this season.
As a comparison, here are the grades for Virginia Tech’s offensive starters this season…
LT Christian Darrisaw: 95.8
QB Hendon Hooker: 90.9
RB Khalil Herbert: 90.1
RT Luke Tenuta: 87.4
WR Tre Turner: 82.5
RG Doug Nester: 75.0
TE James Mitchell: 74.3
LG Lecitus Smith: 71.6
WR Tayvion Robinson: 70.1
That’s nine players in Tech’s offense who grade out at a 70+, compared to Miami’s two.
King has truly been electric for the Hurricanes. He’s completing 63.7% of his passes for 1,828 yards, with 16 touchdowns and four interceptions. He’s also run for 406 yards while averaging five yards per carry. King lit up the AAC two years ago at Houston as well…
Passing: 63.5%, 2,982 yards, 36 TDs, 6 INTs
Rushing: 674 yards, 6.1 ypc, 14 TDs
Before he made the switch to quarterback in 2018, he was a wide receiver for the Houston Cougars, and a pretty good one. He’s pulled in 60 receptions in his college career (including two as a quarterback) and scored three receiving touchdowns. There aren’t many guys who have thrown for touchdowns, run for touchdowns, and caught touchdowns at the college level, but he’s one of them. Oh, and he also returned a kickoff for a touchdown while at Houston, so throw that in there, too. Nobody can say that King hasn’t had a fun college experience.
Tailback Cam’Ron Harris (5-10, 210, Jr.) is such a hit or miss player that he should probably be playing for Louisville. He’ll spend the majority of the game doing a whole lot of nothing, and then burn you on a big play out of nowhere. As usual, AISHokie05 put up a great post about Miami using PFF numbers. You can read that post here. The line that stands out to me about Harris is this…
“He’s another all or nothing back with seven carries for 248 yards (35.4 ypc) and the other 73 netting just 169 yards (2.3 ypc). 59.5% of his yardage has come on those 7 carries of 15+ yards, the third highest rate in the ACC.”
If he stays true to form on Saturday, the Hokies will do a good job of stuffing him for most of the game, and then he’ll break off a big play that will leave fans of both teams shaking their heads. Miami fans will say “why can’t he do that more often, why is he so inconsistent?” Meanwhile, Tech fans will be asking the same consistency question about the Hokie defense.
When I say Miami is a “one-man show…kind of” I mean that they do have solid, but unspectacular receivers. As noted above, Mike Harley is a good player. So are Mark Pope (6-0, 172, Jr.) and Dee Wiggins (6-3, 195, Jr.). If the Hokies had Caleb Farley and a healthy Jermaine Waller, I think Tech would be able to lock down the Miami passing attack, but of course they don’t. I don’t think those guys will dominate the Hokies, but they’ll make some plays.
Tight end Brevin Jordan (6-3, 245, Jr.) is a solid player, with 18 catches for 243 yards and three touchdowns on the season. He’s been out the last few weeks, but he could be in line to return this weekend, which would give the Hurricane offense a boost.
The Matchup To Watch
We know that watching the Tech defense against King will be the matchup to watch on one side of the ball. When the Hokies have the ball, keep an eye on Tech’s offensive tackles against the Miami defensive ends, particularly in pass protection. These four players — Tech’s OTs and Miami’s DEs — are four of the best in the ACC this season.
DE Jaelan Phillips (6-5, 266, r-Jr.): PFF grade of 82.0
DE Quincy Roche (6-4, 245, r-Sr.): PFF grade of 78.7
Those two guys have been Miami’s best defensive players this season.
You probably remember Roche. He’s a grad transfer who visited Blacksburg last season, and he was all but committed to the Hokies. However, from our understanding Tech wasn’t quite sure they could get him in academically. In the middle of the hesitation, Miami jumped in with an offer, and rather than wait around and figure out if Tech could take him, he decided to jump on the Hurricane offer.
Those two guys will be lined up across from Tech’s two future NFL offensive tackles…
Christian Darrisaw: PFF grade of 95.8
Luke Tenuta: PFF grade of 87.4
A lot of things have gone wrong for the Hokies this season, but not on the offensive line, especially offensive tackle. Darrisaw and Tenuta are perhaps the best offensive tackle combo in the country. This should be a fun matchup. If either side clearly wins this matchup, they will probably win the game. The most likely scenario is that they’ll cancel each other out, and the game will come down to what everybody else does.
Big Weakness At Linebacker
Miami has suffered from poor linebacker play this season. There was once a time when I never could have pictured myself typing that sentence.
The Hurricanes’ three main linebackers have been the three worst players on their defense, and it’s not even close.
Zach McCloud (6-2, 235, r-Sr.): 49.7 PFF grade
Bradley Jennings, Jr. (6-1, 225, r-Jr.): 45.1
Sam Brooks, Jr. (6-2, 220, So.): 42.2
Virginia Tech’s linebackers have not been a strongsuit this season, though Alan Tisdale has been solid overall. In fact, I think most people would say that Tech’s linebackers have been bad on the whole. Here’s how their grades compare to the Miami linebackers…
Alan Tisdale: 64.3
Rayshard Asbhy: 51.3
Dax Hollifield: 45.2
By the PFF grades, Hollifield would be the second-best linebacker on Miami’s team. Let that sink in.
The Hokies should be able to find ways to exploit Miami’s weakness at linebacker, and a healthy Khalil Herbert could be set up for some big gains.
The Hurricanes have a strong placekicking-punting duo in placekicker Jose Borregales and punter Lou Hedley. Borregales, a transfer from FIU, is 13-of-14 on field goals for the season, with a long of 57 yards. Borregales ranks No. 2 in FBS in career field goals made with 63, trailing only Jake Verity of ECU (72). 32 of his 46 kickoffs have gone for touchbacks, but on the downside, the ‘Canes have given up a kickoff return for a touchdown, and they rank No. 108 in the nation in kickoff return defense at 25.7 yards per return, on 11 returns. The Hokies, by contrast, only give up 17.4 yards per return.
Hedley averages 46.3 yards per punt, and the ‘Canes rank No. 13 in the nation in net punting at 43.6 net yards per punt. Virginia Tech is No. 45 at 40.3 net yards per punt. But there might not be many punts in this game.
You guys know that I’m a big believer in the law of averages, and everything coming full circle. Miami is 6-1, but after studying their team, I’d say they are due for a loss. They nearly got one at the hands of NC State last week, even with quarterback Bailey Hockman at the helm for the Wolfpack.
Here are Miami’s results, with the record of their opponents in parentheses…
31-14 W vs. UAB (4-3)
47-34 W vs. Louisville (2-5)
52-10 W vs. FSU (2-5)
42-17 L vs. Clemson (7-1)
31-19 W vs. Pitt (4-4)
19-14 W vs. UVA (2-4)
44-41 W vs. NC State (4-3)
From a record/opponent strength standpoint, their best win was last week against NC State…a 4-3 football team. The ‘Canes are ranked No. 9, and they lost to No. 4 Clemson by 25. That sort of goes to show you the gulf between those tip-top teams like Clemson and everybody else these days.
If Miami wins out, they’ll finish 10-1, but do you really see the ‘Canes as a 10-1 football team? If Miami goes through this entire season beating every single team they should beat, and losing to the only team they should lose to (Clemson), that would be a mark of consistency that has been missing from the Hurricane football program for nearly my entire adult life. Here’s their remaining schedule, with each opponent’s record in parentheses…
Virginia Tech (4-3)
Georgia Tech (2-5)
Wake Forest (4-2)
I think Miami is going to lose again, but the question is, who are they going to lose to? Surely not Georgia Tech, so will it be the Hokies, the Demon Deacons, or UNC. The smart money would be on UNC I suppose, but the Tar Heels have played well in exactly one game this year, and they lost to 2-5 FSU and 2-4 UVA. Who knows what UNC team is going to show up?
That’s my point of view on Miami. As far as the Hokies go, however, it’s really tough to see them stopping D’Eriq King enough times in this game to get the win. That said, time and time again we’ve seen the Hokies rally from a terrible performance and play a good football game the next week. They had no business beating UVA in 2018 after losing three in a row, but they did. They had no business beating Miami after getting thrashed by Duke the week before, but they did.
I think we’ll see the Hokies run the ball a lot and wind down the playclock in an effort to shorten the game. To me that seems to be the right strategy, especially if Khalil Herbert is healthy, but if he’s not healthy and Miami gets up by two scores and Tech has to throw the ball every other play, then that strategy will go out the window.
If I knew with 100% certainty that Virginia Tech would have a completely healthy Herbert this weekend, then I’d pick the Hokies in a close upset. But I don’t know anything about Herbert’s status, and we likely won’t know until the game kicks off whether he’ll available, and we won’t be able to figure out whether he’s 100% until we see him get some carries. I certainly hope he’s 100% and ready to run over and around that Hurricane defense, but I’m not going to base my prediction on hope.
The other thing that concerns me is Rayshard Ashby’s status. He didn’t play in the second half against Liberty, and Tech’s run defense dropped off quite a bit. He clearly hasn’t been at his best this season, but he’s still VT’s best option at mike. If he can’t play, that’s going to hurt.
Chris’s Prediction: Miami 37, Virginia Tech 27
Will Stewart’s Take: Confession Time: I’m growing fatigued with trying to pick games this year. But I’ll play along.
When I look at Miami, at least offensively, I see another Louisville or Liberty, with perhaps a stronger resemblance to Liberty. Just like Liberty, there are some good players on the Miami offense, but the QB is the difference-maker, the catalyst, the one who makes the exceptional plays and sets the tone.
D’Eriq King doesn’t turn it over often, and he can’t be pressured into poor play. Here’s a telling passage from the advanced numbers post that AISHokie05 put on the subscriber board:
“… King does a tremendous job of taking care of the football, with a turnover worthy play rate of 1.9% that is second in the ACC only to Ian Book. The difference between the two of them is that King does it while also making big plays: 15 big time throws, 3rd most in the league (Book has only six, 14th of 15 QBs). King has been lethal against the blitz, with the highest passing grade in the league and 10 big time throws (BC’s Phil Jurkovec is second with 6) … when he does take off he averages 13.3 yards per scramble.”
Translation: King’s effectiveness doesn’t drop as you pressure him, nor does his tendency to turn it over. He can burn you outside the pocket and inside the pocket.
On the other side of the ball, if we knew that the Hokies were going to have James Mitchell and Khalil Herbert healthy, I would like the Hokies’ chances to move the ball on the ‘Canes. But I just don’t know, so it’s hard to peg what will happen offensively.
As always, special teams, penalties, and turnovers are random.
Some miscellaneous facts, some encouraging, some not: The Hokies have followed their last six regular-season losses with a win. Virginia Tech hasn’t beaten a top-ten team since knocking off No. 8 Ohio State back in 2014. Before that? Tech beat No. 9 Miami 31-7 in 2009.
The big thing is, I don’t think the Hokies will fold up after the loss to Liberty, so a weak effort from the Hokies is not something I expect. I don’t think they’ll win, but I don’t think they’ll collapse and suffer a blowout loss, either. A Virginia Tech win also wouldn’t surprise me. That would be so 2020. But I’m not going to predict that.
Will’s Prediction: Miami 38, Virginia Tech 28
What's your prediction for the 2020 Virginia Tech-Miami football game?
- Hokies Win by 11+ (6%, 55 Votes)
- Hokies Win by 1-10 (29%, 277 Votes)
- Miami Wins by 1-10 (22%, 208 Votes)
- Miami Wins by 11+ (43%, 407 Votes)
Total Voters: 947
Last Week’s Virginia Tech-Liberty Prediction Poll Results
Game Result: Liberty 38, Virginia Tech 35
What's your prediction for the 2020 Virginia Tech-Liberty football game?
- Hokies Win by 11+ (73%, 799 Votes)
- Hokies Win by 1-10 (22%, 240 Votes)
- Liberty Wins by 1-10 (3%, 38 Votes)
- Liberty Wins by 11+ (2%, 22 Votes)
Total Voters: 1,099