Game Preview: Virginia Tech Travels to Miami

Virginia Tech
Virginia Tech looks to pull off a road upset of Miami. (Virginia Tech sports photography)
  • Virginia Tech vs. Miami: Saturday, November 20, 7:30, ACCN
  • Virginia Tech vs. Miami Betting Line: VT +7.5
  • Virginia Tech-Miami roster cards: Click here
  • Game notes from Hokiesports: Click here
  • Miami weather: Click here

Virginia Tech (5-5, 3-3) and Miami (5-5, 3-3) meet in a battle for bowl eligibility on Saturday night in south Florida. This weekend’s winner will be eligible for a bowl game; the loser will still have work to do.

Of course, the big storyline in this game is Justin Fuente being let go by Virginia Tech. The Hokies will go into this game with JC Price as the interim head coach. Meanwhile, Miami fired their athletics director on Monday night, which puts head coach Manny Diaz squarely in the line of fire. It’s an interesting time for both football programs.

Miami’s last six football games have been decided by four points or less, which indicates that we’ll be in store for a close game on Saturday night. Here are the Hurricanes’ most recent results…

30-28 L to UVA
45-42 L to UNC
31-30 W vs. NC State
38-34 W vs. Pitt
33-30 W vs. Georgia Tech
31-28 L to Florida State

They don’t get any closer than that during a 6-game stretch. During those six games, Miami has shown the ability to beat top 25 teams like NC State and Pitt while also nearly losing to a bad Georgia Tech team, and then losing to a Florida State program who lost to Jacksonville State. In other words, there’s no way to know for sure which Miami team will show up.

Let’s talk a little bit more in-depth about the Hurricanes.

Virginia Tech
Virginia Tech needs to keep Miami one-dimensional. (Jon Fleming)

The Miami Running Game, Or Lack Thereof

Miami has struggled to run the football against FBS competition this season. Check out some of these rankings…

Yards per game: 112.89 (No. 105)
Yards per carry: 3.34 (No. 105)

The Hurricanes lost starting tailback Cam’Ron Harris to a knee injury in October. He had 409 yards and was averaging 5.8 yards per carry at the time. The running game hasn’t gone as well since then. With Harris on the shelf, it’s been an all-freshman rotation.

Jaylan Knight (5-10, 190, Fr.): 118 carries, 493 yards, 4.2 YPC, 5 TDs
Cody Brown (5-11, 212, Fr.): 27 carries, 106 yards, 3.9 YPC, 3 TDs

Against Florida State, Knight was the only running back to get a carry, finishing with 32 yards on 16 carries.

The Hokies could certainly use a break from facing teams with strong running games. Here’s how the VT rushing defense has fared since the Notre Dame game…

Notre Dame: 43 carries, 180 yards, 4.3 ypc
Pitt: 44 carries, 208 yards, 4.7 ypc
Syracuse: 45 carries, 314 yards, 7 ypc
GT: 30 carries, 183 yards, 6.1 ypc
BC: 54 carries, 234 yards, 4.3 ypc
Duke: 49 carries, 196 yards, 4.0 ypc

The fact that Miami has shown no ability to run the football without Harris (and D’Eriq King) bodes well for the Hokie defense.

The Improvement Of Miami Quarterback Tyler Van Dyke

Tyler Van Dyke (6-4, 220, Fr.) took over for the injured D’Eriq King against Central Connecticut State, though he played his first real opponent the next week against UVA, and he struggled mightily in the first half. Things improved for him in the second half as Miami missed a last-second short field goal that would have won the game, and he has put up big numbers as the season has progressed. The former 4-star recruit is a COVID true freshman (meaning he enrolled in 2020) who has grown as a player as he’s received more playing time.

Let’s look at his game-by-game numbers…

UVA:  15-of-29, 203 yards, 1 TD 0 INT, 8 carries, 6 yards, 1 TD
UNC: 20-of-45, 264 yards, 1 TD, 3 INTs, 9 carries, 36 yards
NCSU: 25-of-33, 325 yards, 4 TDs, 0 INTs, 9 carries, 18 yards
Pitt: 32-of-42, 426 yards, 3 TDs, 1 INT, 4 carries, -19 yards
GT: 22-of-34, 389 yards, 3 TDs, 0 INT, 4 carries, 9 yards
FSU: 25-of-47, 316 yards, 4 TDs, 2 INTs, 7 carries, 11 yards

Van Dyke isn’t a great runner, though he can be deceptively athletic at times as the video below shows…

Then again, UVA has one of the worst defenses in the country, and that play is probably more about them than it is about Van Dyke.

Van Dyke is averaging 8.3 yards per pass attempt against FBS competition, which is good for No. 35 in the country. He’s playing good football right now despite the fact that he doesn’t have much help from a traditional running game.

The Miami Receivers

Van Dyke has a solid group of receivers. That group is made up of two veterans with lots of experience, as well as two young players who are getting on the field for the first time.

Charleston Rambo (6-1, 185, r-Jr.): 64 catches, 955 yards, 14.9 ypc, 5 TDs
Mike Harley (5-11, 182, Sr.): 41 catches, 382 yards, 9.3 ypc, 4 TDs
Keyshawn Smith (6-0, 188, Fr.): 32 catches, 399 yards, 12.5 ypc, 3 TDs
Xavier Restrepo (5-10, 198, Fr.): 22 catches, 343 yards, 15.6 ypc, 1 TD

Harley seems like he’s been playing for the Hurricanes forever, though his yards per catch has dropped from 14 last year just 9.3 this season. Charleston Rambo is one of the best names in college football, and he transferred from Oklahoma in the offseason. However, this group has not been particularly effective at run blocking this year, especially Smith and Harley.

The other name to remember is tight end Will Mallory (6-5, 250, Jr.). Mallory has 24 receptions for 286 yards and three touchdowns so far in 2021. Like Rambo, he has a very good chance to be drafted by the NFL this spring.

The Miami passing game is the biggest strength for the Hurricanes. The younger receivers have had the dropsies at times, though Harley (6.8% drop rate) and Rambo (5.9%) have been more reliable. Overall, the Miami passing game is the biggest threat to Virginia Tech’s defense; fortunately, Tech has been good this year in pass defense, especially on the outside, so this will be an interesting matchup.

Miami, Virginia Tech
Virginia Tech running back Raheem Blackshear will play a key role against Miami. (Jon Fleming)

Run-Heavy Offense For Virginia Tech

Here’s how opposing teams have run the football against Miami during their current 6-game stretch…

UVA: 35 carries, 181 yards, 5.2 ypc
UNC: 48 carries, 228 yards, 4.8 ypc
NCSU: 22 carries, 110 yards, 5.0 ypc
Pitt: 23 carries, 68 yards, 3.0 ypc
GT: 32 carries, 135 yards, 4.2 ypc
FSU: 48 carries, 160 yards, 3.3 ypc

Miami does a good job in getting sacks (No. 37) and tackles for loss (No. 13) against FBS competition, so they end up with a lot of negative yardage plays. However, they also get gashed on the ground quite a bit, and their team PFF run defensive grade is a 60.9, which ranks No. 91 nationally. Their tackling grade (which affects run defense and pass defense) is a miserable 32.0, which ranks No. 128 out of 130 FBS teams.

With Miami’s tackling issues, I would expect the Hokies to keep the ball on the ground in this one. It will be important that they avoid tackles for loss as much as possible to stay in short yardage situations. Tech’s running game has been very strong over the last four weeks…

Syracuse: 44 carries, 260 yards, 5.9 ypc
GT: 53 carries, 233 yards, 4.4 ypc
BC: 34 carries, 162 yards, 4.8 ypc
Duke: 41 carries, 291 yards, 7.2 ypc

There aren’t many teams who have run the ball as consistently and as effectively as Virginia Tech over the last month. Those are mid-90s type numbers. The Hokies are going to run it early and run it often against the Hurricanes.

Miami Defensive Personnel

What stands out to me when looking at Miami is that they only have two defensive starters who grade out at above a 70 on Pro Football Focus…

Jared Harrison-Hunte (6-4, 285, r-Fr.): 72.0
Nesta Jade Silvera (6-2, 308, Jr.): 71.9

Both of those players are defensive tackles, which means they aren’t on the field at all times because of the heavy rotations at defensive tackle throughout college football. What’s more, Harrison-Hunte’s overall grades are boosted by very good performances early in the season. For the last six games or so, his grades have been average.

This is a Miami defense that isn’t bad, but they have struggled with tackling, and outside of those defensive tackles, they don’t appear to have a definite strength on that side of the ball.

Defensive end Zach McCloud (6-2, 254, r-Sr.) is a name you’ll recognize.  He was once a starting linebacker who has now moved to defensive end. He’s been around since 2016, and he leads the Hurricanes with five sacks on the season. Fellow defensive end Deandre Johnson (6-3, 252, r-Sr.) has arguably been Miami’s best run defender this year.

For the second week in a row in a Hokie opponent, Miami’s weakness on defense appears to be at linebacker and the secondary.  The ‘Canes will play a lot of bodies in those positions, but they’ve yet to find anyone who can play consistent football with the exception of cornerback Tyrique Stevenson (6-0, 215, So.). They also appear to lack quality depth. Take a look at some of these grades from players with 200+ defensive snaps on the season…

S James Williams (6-5, 224, Fr.): 63.6
S Amari Carter (6-0, 202, Sr.): 60.5
DT Jonathan Ford (6-5, 318, Sr.): 59.9
DE Chantz Williams (6-4, 252, Fr.): 59.6
CB DJ Ivey (6-1, 195, Jr.): 57.0
LB Waynmon Steed (5-11, 220, r-Jr.): 54.3
LB Corey Flagg Jr (5-11, 234, Fr.): 54.0
CB Te’Cory Couch (5-10, 170, So.): 52.1
LB Gilbert Frierson (6-1, 208, r-So.): 51.0
LB Keontra Smith (5-11, 205, So.): 46.2

Remember that the PFF baseline grade is a 60, and that’s a lot of players who fall below that baseline.  Linebacker in particular appears to be a concern, and overall the run defense grades are the most concerning for Manny Diaz, who is a former defensive coordinator.

Miami Special Teams

Miami hasn’t done much in the return game this year, ranking No. 104 in kickoff returns with an average of 17.64 yards per return and No. 68 in punt return yards at 7.88 yards per return. 

Their kickoff coverage team ranks No. 102 nationally, and they’ve allowed a return for a touchdown this year. Perhaps the most interesting matchup of the game is Miami’s punt coverage team against Tayvion Robinson on punt returns.  The ‘Canes rank No. 28 nationally, allowing only 4.69 yards per return. Meanwhile, Robinson leads the country in overall punt return yards (329) and he’s No. 5 at 13.7 yards per return.

Miami kicker Andres Borregales is a talented freshman who is 12-of-16 for the season. However, he missed a big game-winner against UVA from a very short distance, so he’s far from automatic when it comes to converting three points.

Miami punter Lou Hedley does a great job, and only 13 of his 43 punts have been returned this year. However, only 30 of Miami’s 65 kickoffs have gone for touchbacks, so the Hokies should have an opportunity or two on kickoff returns.

Overall, according to the advanced metrics, Virginia Tech is No. 17 in FEI special teams efficiency, while Miami ranks much lower at No. 86. In what is expected to be a tight matchup, special teams could turn out to be the difference.

Who will be celebrating on Saturday night? (Jon Fleming)

Virginia Tech-Miami Final Thoughts

Well, this is an interesting week between two football programs in transition. On Tuesday, Virginia Tech parted ways with head coach Justin Fuente, while Miami sacked athletic director Blake James. It was James who hired Miami head coach Manny Diaz, which obviously sheds some doubt on his future in Coral Gables.  Diaz is 19-15 overall, 14-9 in the ACC, and he’s currently in the middle of this third season at the helm.

You can look at the X’s and O’s all you want, and you can study the matchups all you want. Maybe they’ll turn out to be important, and maybe they won’t. These are two inconsistent football teams, and the players on both sides have a lot to think about.

Will one side battle it out for their departed/embattled head coach, while the other folds? In that case, we could see a rout. Will both sides lay it all on the line? Or will both teams fold up shop for the rest of the year and wait to see what happens in the offseason? That’s impossible to say, and it makes it really difficult to pick this game.  Your guess is as good as mine.

What does concern me is that Virginia Tech will be without Justin Fuente for this game. We know that Tech’s offense has kicked it up a notch or two ever since Fuente began to “spend more time” with that unit. Will things come back down to pre-Syracuse levels now that Fuente is gone? If so, they won’t score enough points to beat the Hurricanes.

On the other hand, wouldn’t it just be so Miami to lose to a team with an interim head coach?

Chris’s Prediction: Virginia Tech 30, Miami 27

Will Stewart’s Take: It’s 1:15 AM as I write this after a long day. I’m going to be quick, with minimal analysis.

We make a lot of fun of how you never know what Miami team is going to show up. This game is the most difficult to pick because the Canes run the gamut against Virginia Tech, depending upon which side of the bed they wake up on.

One of the most remarkable examples of this is the 2019 game in Miami Gardens. Virginia Tech had just gotten crushed at home 45-10 by Duke, and the Hokies had shown all kinds of quit and collapse in that game.

It’s not like Miami was a juggernaut that year. They were 2-2 when Virginia Tech went down there, with wins over Bethune-Cookman and Central Michigan, and narrow losses to Florida and UNC. Chris and I confidently predicted the Hokies would get blown out, 31-10 from Chris and 31-7 from me.

So Virginia Tech went to Miami and promptly took a 28-0 lead 20 minutes into the game. Tech held on for a 42-35 win that launched a run of six wins in seven games. None of which is relevant to this game, I’m just sayin’.

What’s the most interesting thing to watch here? Easy: the Virginia Tech offense. With the exception of the Boston College game, the Hokies have been pretty good on offense in the last month, ever since (stop me if you’ve heard this one) Justin Fuente started paying a little more attention to that side of the ball.

Well, Fuente’s gone, and Brad Cornelsen is the man again, all by hisself (yes, I did that intentionally).

Again, it’s late. Here’s my pick: Hokies rally.

Will’s Prediction: Virginia Tech 34, Miami 31

David Cunningham’s Take: As I write this on Wednesday morning, the spread for the game is Miami -8.0. That’s a lot of points for a team that lost to Florida State last week, playing against a team that just won by 35.

I want to touch on the same things Will and Chris mentioned: How are the Hokies going to play offensively now that Justin Fuente is gone? Virginia Tech turned it up a notch over recent weeks, but that was when Fuente took more control over that side of the ball. I’m not sure if there will be a decrease in production, or maybe it will actually increase because of the emotion of playing for their former coach.

These games are so hard to pick. Two of these instances occurred earlier in the year on the west coast with USC and Washington State. Clay Helton was fired at Southern California, and the Trojans went out and crushed the Cougars that Saturday by 31 in Pullman. A few weeks later, Nick Rolovich was fired at Washington State and the Cougars lost by two at home to BYU that weekend.

The point: No one knows which team is going to come out swinging. Part of me thinks Virginia Tech will have its best game of the season, and part of me thinks that Miami will win it close. Either way, I’d put money (if I could, in the Commonwealth of Va., but you can’t bet on Virginia teams) on the Hokies to cover the eight in this one.

In the end, I think the Canes will edge it out in a close one at home, but it would not shock me at all if the Hokies were able to pull this one out. Tech and Miami have split the last eight meetings in Miami Gardens, too, and VT won in 2019, so a ‘Canes win here would follow the trend.

Don’t count out J.C. Price and the Hokies, though.

David’s Prediction: Miami 33, Virginia Tech 31


What's your prediction for the 2021 Virginia Tech-Miami game?

  • Hokies Win by 1-10 (41%, 479 Votes)
  • Miami Wins by 1-10 (30%, 347 Votes)
  • Miami Wins by 11+ (16%, 188 Votes)
  • Hokies Win by 11+ (13%, 146 Votes)

Total Voters: 1,160

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Last Game’s Virginia Tech-Duke Prediction Poll Results

Game Result: Virginia Tech 48, Duke 17

What's your prediction for the 2021 Virginia Tech-Duke game?

  • Hokies Win by 1-10 (35%, 372 Votes)
  • Duke Wins by 1-10 (34%, 361 Votes)
  • Hokies Win by 11+ (20%, 216 Votes)
  • Duke Wins by 11+ (11%, 120 Votes)

Total Voters: 1,069

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2021 Virginia Tech Football Predictions Tracker - TSL Staff
Will (7-6)
David (7-6)
Chris (6-7)
Notre Dame
@Georgia Tech
@Boston College
2021 Virginia Tech Football Predictions Tracker - Fans (7-6)
Fan Poll
Hokies Win by 1-10
Hokies 17, UNC 10
Hokies Win by 11+
Hokies 35, MTSU 14
Hokies Win by 1-10
WVU 27, Hokies 21
Hokies Win by 11+
Hokies 21, Richmond 10
Notre Dame
Hokies Win by 1-10
Notre Dame 32, Hokies 29
Pittsburgh Wins by 11+
Pittsburgh 28, Hokies 7
Syracuse Wins by 1-10
Syracuse 41, Hokies 36
@Georgia Tech
Hokies Win by 1-10
Hokies 26, GT 17
@Boston College
Hokies Win by 1-10
Boston College 17, Hokies 3
Hokies Win by 1-10
Hokies 48, Duke 17
Hokies Win by 1-10
Miami 38, Hokies 26
Virginia Wins by 11+
Hokies 29, Virginia 24
Hokies Win by 1-10
Maryland 54, Hokies 10

24 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. All I can say… It’s Feel great knowing VT has a Ole Hokie doing the Head Coaching !! And also feels good that I can be myself again as a Hokie fan, been one for over 55 years. Go Hokies.. Win Or Lose.. But I’m picking them to win, JC might put the real muzzle on Corny.

  2. Those “D”s in the predictions looks real bad now, don’t they? What were you guys thinking?

    Hokies by 4

  3. The irony is Brad Cornelsen is still there coaching while Fuente is already gone. Brad should be writing a note of apology to coach for his failures.

  4. So I’m flying from Richmond to Miami for a long weekend to visit my Hokie Alum & FIJI son. Will be at the game. Rain is predicted. Last time I watched VT play in this stadium was the Orange Bowl against Stanford where we got crushed. Now we have players w/o Fuente who many really liked. So I’m not predicting a VT victory. Canes gonna be Canes and wear that turnover chain on Saturday night. Gawd I hate the Canes…more so than the hoos.

    1. I was at that Orange Bowl. We did not get “crushed”. Stanford scored late to win. Had Frank thrown the ball we would have won.

      1. Stanford beat us 40–12, and it wasn’t even as close as the scoreboard would indicate. They dominated us.

  5. Think we beat Duke by 31 and not 35.

    Personnel wise, we don’t match up well with Miami. For me the wild card is penalties, which there were a TON of against Duke. This isn’t a game where we can give up much yardage for free.

  6. This one will come down to who wants it the most. Miami always have high ego guys that think they are going pro next week. If things look bleak they fold. Score early and we win. Go Hokies.

  7. IMO I just don’t see the team being able to maintain focus well enough to pull off the win. While I expect everyone to rally around Coach Price, I fear the distractions of the week and the uncertainty around the new coaching staff will be enough to tilt the game … 31 – 17 Canes win.

  8. Miami wins, hate it, hope I’m wrong.

    Maimi is better at: QB-RBs-WRs-TEs and Spl teams. VT/Miami equal on both lines and secondard.

    JC Price was a good player, good guy and good D-line coach, but probably not really ready to be the head coach. Diaz is in a must win to keep his job and I believe he wants to say at The U.

    GO HOKIES!!!!!!!!!!!

    1. Huh? Miami absolutely does not have better RB’s than we do. Didn’t you read the article? QB is debatable too, Van Dyke is OK…I’d take a healthy BB over him though.

      1. Van Dyke is significantly better than BB. Not sure how @George Baylor came to the conclusing that Miami is better at special teams though. “Overall, according to the advanced metrics, Virginia Tech is No. 17 in FEI special teams efficiency, while Miami ranks much lower at No. 86.”

    2. Diaz is in a must win to keep his job and I believe he wants to say at The U.>>>>

      Hmm. So – the first 10 games don’t count. His AD is gone after 10 games. That’s what I call handwriting.

      Interestingly – if you look at what could have been. This could have been a game between two 8&2 teams.

  9. We match up really well against Miami, teams that thrive on throwing the ball with a weak run game have been shut down repeatedly by Hamilton’s unit particularly if they’re not larger than us. It’s when we face strong run defenses that the offense breaks down, which Miami is not.

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