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Even though Georgia Tech and Duke only have two ACC losses, the Coastal Division could be decided by the Virginia Tech-Miami game on Saturday night. Based on their current position and their upcoming schedules, the Hokies and Hurricanes have the easiest paths to Charlotte.
It just doesn’t feel right, though. Tech is coming off back-to-back losses to Duke and Boston College, while Miami was thrashed by Florida State last Saturday night. Both teams probably aren’t feeling too good about themselves right now. However, Saturday night is a chance for redemption in front of a national TV audience.
The Miami Running Game
Miami’s offensive success depends on their running game, and they lost a major weapon against Florida State. Duke Johnson, who averages 115 yards per game, broke his foot and is lost for the season. The Hurricanes will replace him with Dallas Crawford (5-10, 194, So.), who had a big game against North Carolina when Johnson got banged up in that game.
Against the Tar Heels, Crawford carried the football 33 times for 137 and two touchdowns, averaging 4.2 yards per carry. For the season, he has 67 carries for 294 yards and nine touchdowns. He has been a goalline specialist for the Hurricanes, averaging 4.4 yards per carry in the process.
Crawford is a quality running back who has good vision and displays proper patience. However, he lacks the gamebreaking ability of Duke Johnson (his longest run of the season is just 19 yards), and he doesn’t have the size or brute strength of a guy like BC’s Andre Williams. Overall, I’m not nearly as afraid of Crawford as I would be of Duke Johnson.
What does concern me is Miami’s offensive line.
LT Ereck Flowers (6-6, 315, So.): In the playing rotation since his true freshman season.
LG Jon Feliciano (6-5, 318, r-Jr.): Arguably Miami’s most physical lineman. Two-year starter.
C Shane McDermott (6-4, 296, Jr.): Two-year starter.
RG Brandon Linder (6-6, 319, Sr.): Starter since his true freshman season.
RT Seantrel Henderson (6-8, 345, Sr.): Most physically gifted member of the Miami OL.
The Virginia Tech coaching staff noted that the Boston College offensive line is big. However, that BC line has nothing on this Miami line in terms of size. These guys are huge from left to right.
The Canes also have experienced backups. Jared Wheeler (6-5, 319, Sr.) backs up at center, and he should get snaps. Malcolm Bunche (6-7, 327, Jr.) was a full-time starter last season, and he could get snaps at guard or tackle. Here’s how they rank as NFL prospects.
Ereck Flowers: #11 OT in 2016
Jon Feliciano: #21 OG in 2015
Shane McDermott: #17 C in 2017
Brandon Linder: #16 OG in 2014
Seantrel Henderson: #3 OT in 2014
Malcolm Bunche: #19 OG in 2015
Compare that with Virginia Tech’s linemen:
Jonathan McLaughlin: #10 OT in 2017
Caleb Farris: #46 OG in 2015
David Wang: unranked at C in 2015
Andrew Miller: #64 OG in 2014
Brent Benedict: #17 OT in 2015
Jonathan McLaughlin is highly-rated, but he is only a true freshman. The interior of the VT OL is not projected to come close to being drafted, and David Wang isn’t even ranked at all. On the other side, Miami has a very talented offensive line, even with backup T/G Malcolm Bunche.
The Virginia Tech front seven will have to be prepared to play one of their best games of the season.
Logan Thomas vs. Stephen Morris
Logan Thomas has been a hot or cold player for Virginia Tech this season. Stephen Morris (6-2, 218, Sr.) has been very similar. Morris has completed 59.5% of his passes for 1,655 yards, with 12 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Thomas has completed 55.7% of his passes for 2,056 yards, with 11 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.
Those numbers are very similar. Both quarterbacks have had some very good games, and both quarterbacks have had their bad games. Stephen Morris had his bad moment at UNC when he threw four bad interceptions. The Canes were able to escape that night because of their reliable running game.
Both guys are talented. Both guys are capable of leading their team to victory in this game. Both guys are also capable of losing the game by throwing the ball to the other team. I have no idea what kind of performance either team will get from their quarterback.
Morris doesn’t have many excuses for his troubles. He’s got a reliable running game around him, as well as solid receivers. He also doesn’t have to do as much as Logan Thomas. Morris has all of 11 carries on the season, including sacks, and he’s netted -40 yards on the ground. Meanwhile, Thomas has 121 carries. He’s shouldered a heavy burden.
For an interception comparison, consider this: Stephen Morris throws an interception once every 18.5 attempts. Logan Thomas throws a pick once every 25 attempts. Since the start of Miami’s game against UNC, Morris has thrown 7 interceptions in his last 91 attempts. In Logan Thomas’ last 91 attempts, he has thrown 6 interceptions.
As far as touchdowns go, Morris throws one every 15.4 attempts, and Thomas throws one every 27 attempts.
The Miami Playmakers
The Canes haven’t had to throw the football all that much because of their superior running game. Here’s a look at their top pass catchers.
Allen Hurns (6-3, 195, Sr.): Hurns is a three-year starter. 33 catches, 590 yards, 17.9 ypc, 4 TDs
Clive Walford (6-4, 259, Jr.): Career starer. 21 catches, 290 yards, 13.8 ypc, 2 TD
Stacy Coley (6-1, 180, Fr.): First-year player. 19 catches, 314 yards, 16.5 ypc, 3 TD
Herb Waters (6-2, 189, So.): Part-time starter. 16 catches, 271 yards, 16.9 ypc, 3 TD
Nobody else who will play in Saturday’s night’s game has more than nine catches on the season. Miami’s receivers have size, and Clive Walford is a very solid tight end. This is a good group of players, but the Hokies have faced more talent on several different occasions this season.
Virginia Tech should be able to match up well with this group, if Kyle Fuller plays. However, I don’t think he’s going to play this week (we’ll see about tonight’s injury report). Antone Exum’s rusty performance against a BC team that can’t throw the football has me very concerned.
The Miami Defense
Miami has a good defense, but it’s certainly not dominant.
Rushing: #48 nationally
Pass Eff: #19
Third downs: #44
This is a good, solid unit. Not dominant. Not bad. Above average. “Solid” is the right word, despite Frank Beamer’s best efforts to convince you that they are Alabama.
Here’s a look at Miami’s starting defensive line.
DE Shayon Green (6-3, 264, Sr.): With 9.5 TFL and three sacks, Green is Miami’s top playmaker up front
DT Curtis Porter (6-1, 325, Sr.): Porter is big with a low center of gravity. He has three TFL this year.
DT Olsen Pierre (6-5, 305, Jr.): Pierre has one TFL and one sack on the season.
DE Anthony Chickillo (6-4, 277, Jr.): Chickillo is a physical DE with 5.5 TFL and three sacks.
Justin Renfrow (6-6, 320, Sr.) also plays a lot at defensive tackle, and he is an experienced player. Defensive ends Green and Chickillo don’t come off the field very much, and Miami’s backup defensive line is devoid of playmakers (or so the stats say).
How about a draft projection comparison between VT’s DL and Miami’s DL. First, for Miami:
DE Shayon Green: #61 DE in 2014
DT Curtis Porter: #48 DT in 2014
DT Olsen Pierre: #32 DT in 2015
DE Anthony Chickillo: #12 DE in 2015
Of Miami’s defensive linemen, only Chickillo is considered a real NFL prospect at this point. What about the Hokies?
DE James Gayle: #7 DE in 2014
DT Derrick Hopkins: #34 DT in 2014
DT Luther Maddy: #23 DT in 2015
DE J.R. Collins: #23 DE in 2014
Overall, the Hokies have more talent on their defensive line than Miami. Don’t let the recruiting stars convince you otherwise.
I’m a big fan of Miami’s linebackers. They are all good players.
OLB Denzel Perryman (6-0, 240, Jr.): Arguably Miami’s top overall defensive player. He leads the team with 63 tackles. Perryman is rated the #3 OLB for the 2015 Draft.
MLB Jimmy Gaines (6-3, 240, Sr.): Gaines is #2 on the team with 49 tackles. He is a veteran, experienced player.
OLB Tyrone Cornileus (6-2, 225, Sr.) splits time with Alex Figueroa (6-3, 235, Fr.). Figueroa is a true freshman from Brooke Point High School in Stafford, VA. His only scholarship offer came from Miami. Grades were an issue with Figueroa until the very end of his recruitment. This spot is the weakest position in Miami’s front seven.
Miami has a very talented secondary that matches up extremely well with Virginia Tech’s passing game.
CB Tracy Howard (5-11, 184, So.): #11 CB in 2016
CB Ladarius Gunter (6-2, 196, Jr.): #16 CB in 2015
S Rayshawn Jenkins (6-1, 208, So.): #18 FS in 2016
S Deon Bush (6-1, 203, So.): #7 SS in 2016
Miami’s secondary is young, but talented. They will also play the experienced Kacy Rodgers II (6-2, 212, Sr.) at safety quite a bit. As usual, there is plenty of defensive back talent to be found in south Florida. However, is it as good as the defensive back talent to be found at Virginia Tech? Probably not.
CB Kyle Fuller: #2 CB in 2014
CB Antone Exum: #6 CB in 2014
CB Kendall Fuller: #2 CB in 2017
CB Brandon Facyson: #4 CB in 2017
SS Kyshoen Jarrett: #7 SS in 2015
FS Detrick Bonner: #30 FS in 2015
According to draft projections, there will be more defensive back talent on the field on Saturday night than in almost any other college football game this season.
A normal offense would have a good chance of success against this Miami defense. However, this Tech offense has struggled to move the ball this season, though they’ve been much improved in total yards over the last two weeks. The Hokies’ main focus this week should be to avoid turnovers against a talented Miami secondary. Speaking of which…
Win or lose, Logan Thomas needs to play well
Sometimes I go to Monday press conferences, and sometimes I don’t. It’s generally three players and Frank Beamer giving generic quotes for the newspapers, and it’s rare that anything interesting comes out of it. I went last week, but couldn’t manage to turn anything into an article. This week was a little bit different.
For the first time in his career, Logan Thomas sat in front of the media on Monday afternoon and dealt with questions about criticism and whether or not the Hokies should try a series or two with Mark Leal at quarterback.
The questions were fair, and they weren’t meant to muddy the waters or stir the pot. The first question was about how Thomas deals with the criticism of fans, and he handled it well at first.
“You deal with it the way you deal with any other kind of criticism,” Thomas said. “Especially from you guys [the media]…you can’t really get away from it with you guys [laughing]. But I don’t even pay attention to it. It’s pretty simple, you don’t look at your mentions (on Twitter).”
Logan is right. Twitter can be a nasty place. It’s a very nice tool when used properly, and lots of smart folks are on Twitter. However, there are just as many people who say some downright nasty things without remembering that there is a person on the other side of that, a person who is very capable of reading those comments and being hurt or otherwise affected by them.
However, I also sensed some frustration from Tech’s r-senior quarterback.
“For me, it’s whatever,” Thomas continued. “People are going to say what they’re going to say. If they want to say something after they come sit in the meeting room with me, or come be on the practice field with me, then you can say whatever you want to. But until you do that, your opinion means nothing.”
I get it. I understand Logan’s feelings 100%. He has gotten a lot of blame at times for some things that haven’t been his fault throughout his career. There have been wide receivers running wrong routes at times, wide receivers dropping some passes, and the lack of a running game has forced Thomas to be not only Tech’s #1 quarterback, but the #1 running back at times as well.
But those last couple of sentences … well, it would have been better for him to keep those thoughts to himself. Everybody knows that fans can’t come to practice or sit in meeting rooms. Everybody also knows that fans are going to have an opinion no matter what. That’s the way it’s always been, and it will never change.
Everybody also knows that the quarterback is the #1 lightning rod for criticism when things are going poorly. It comes with the territory, and he’s got to accept it. I wish he had stopped at “people are going to say what they’re going to say.” It would have been better for anyone.
When Thomas was asked if he was ever worried about the coaching staff putting in Mark Leal for a series, he was quick to reject that thought.
“You can go ahead and ask anyone in this building right now, you can walk across the street to Merryman and ask anyone up there, you can ask anybody that’s a part of this program if they think there’s any chance of me being taken out for a series, it would be a quick ‘no. I feel the exact same way. So wherever that question is coming from, you can go ahead and throw it out.”
If the words make it seem like Thomas was frustrated and annoyed at the question, then you are correct. That’s how it seemed to me watching him talk in person. I know he’s frustrated over the last two games, and that’s a good thing. You want your quarterback to be mad after a couple of losses like that.
However, Logan’s response was a little bit more animated that I expected when the question was asked. I expected the generic “I’m the quarterback of this team, I have confidence in myself, the coaches have confidence in me. I’m the quarterback unless they tell me otherwise.” That’s the typical generic press conference response.
I’m ready for Logan Thomas to play a great football game again so we can all put the last couple of weeks behind us. It’s been pretty toxic on the boards and among the fan base. There has been a lot of analysis, and probably a lot of overanalysis (I can probably be included in that as well). That’s typical of a fan base that is used to winning games.
This is an interesting matchup. Virginia Tech has more overall talent on defense than Miami, but the Canes have more overall talent (not to mention experience) on offense than the Hokies. What will happen?
Your guess is as good as mine. I have no idea how Logan Thomas and Stephen Morris will play. However, it’s going to be a muggy night in south Florida (high of 83 degrees), and there’s also a 70% chance of rain. So we might have two quarterbacks who throw a lot of interceptions either throwing a sweaty football, or a rain-soaked football. As a guy who knows what the VT defense is capable of, I love that. As a guy who also knows what Logan Thomas and the VT offense are capable of, I absolutely hate that.
If you can accurately predict which Stephen Morris and which Logan Thomas shows up this weekend, then you can accurately predict this game. Just for the sake of argument, I’m going to assume that the turnover battle will be equal. In that case, even with Duke Johnson out, Miami has the more proven running game and they are playing at home. I’ll take the ‘Canes in a close one.
Prediction: Miami 20, Virginia Tech 17
Will Stewart’s Take: It’s tempting to compare Stephen Morris and Logan Thomas, and their common proclivity for throwing interceptions, and ask which quarterback is going to screw up the most. While that may end up being the storyline of this game — if one of them throws three picks and the other throws none, for example — it shouldn’t be what decides this game.
What should decide the outcome is the running game. Here are two pieces of data to consider:
- Rushing yards per game: Miami 198.3; VT 116.8
- Passes thrown per game: Logan Thomas 33.3; Stephen Morris 23.1
Both quarterbacks are interception-prone. But only one team can run the football, and the other team throws it a lot more.
Unless Miami’s coaching staff is a bunch of idiots, they’ll take the ball out of Morris’ hands and put it in Dallas Crawford’s hands, and play-smash mouth with their big, experienced offensive line. It worked for Boston College against the Hokies, didn’t it?
Dallas Crawford is no Andre Williams, but with Miami’s OL, it shouldn’t matter. The Hokie defense is good, but it’s undersized in the front seven, and you can get a push on it with a good, big OL.
If I were Miami, I would line up offensively with jumbo sets and offset lines and hammer at VT, and defensively I would wait for Logan Thomas to make a mistake. But the Hurricane coaching staff in the past has been guilty of throwing the ball and putting the game at risk when the running game was working just fine.
In 2010 — before Golden arrived, I know — Miami ran all over VT to the tune of 6.2 yards per carry (42 rushes, 262 yards). But in their arrogance, they still had Stephen Morris, a freshman, throw the ball 33 times. The predictable happened: he threw 3 interceptions, and the Hokies pulled away to win in Coral Gables, 31-17.
If Miami keeps the ball on the ground, they’ll be in good shape. If the Hokies can stop the run well enough to make the Canes get impatient and start putting the ball in the air, this thing could get really interesting.
But at this point, even if Logan shakes off the turnover bug of the last two games, Miami’s got the edge, with that running game. This one should be another VT-Miami classic, but it’s going to be tough for the Hokies to win it.
Will’s Prediction: Miami 21, Virginia Tech 13