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Virginia Tech Football: 5 Keys to the Game vs. Miami

Bryan ManningFeatured Columnist IIIOctober 20, 2016

Virginia Tech Football: 5 Keys to the Game vs. Miami

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    This Thursday's matchup between longtime rivals Virginia Tech and Miami won't remind fans of some of their previous battles, but this game will be just as important for both schools.

    Both enter this game with 4-4 records. Miami is currently at 3-2 in the ACC, and the Hokies are 2-2. 

    As strange as it may sound, the winner of this game will more than likely control their own destiny to represent the Coastal Division in the ACC title game. 

    The Hokies have won 12 of the past 17 meetings between the two schools, including five of the last six. 

    Thursday night games have generally been kind to the Hokies—they have posted an 18-5 record. They are 8-2 away from the friendly confines of the Lane Stadium. 

    Here are five keys to Thursday night's game.

Rattle Stephen Morris

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    Junior Stephen Morris is having a solid season. Morris has thrown for 2,214 yards through eight games. He is completing just under 58 percent of his passes, throwing seven interceptions and 10 touchdowns.

    Since throwing for 566 yards against N.C. State in September, Morris has struggled in three consecutive games for the Hurricanes.

    He has been sacked 12 times on the season, most coming in Miami losses. 

    The Hokies have 10 sacks combined in the last two games. Defensive tackle Luther Maddy has led the way with four.

    If the Hokies get to Morris early, they should be able to create turnovers and make life difficult on him and the rest of Miami's offense. 

Run the Football

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    The Hokies have been inconsistent running the football all season. Against Clemson's porous defense, the Hokies were led by quarterback Logan Thomas with 99 yards. None of the running backs topped 29 yards.

    The Hurricanes enter Thursday's game ranked 119th out of 120 teams in rushing defense.

    While the Hokies have had issues along the offensive line all season, there is no reason they should not be able to establish a running game early. 

    Look for freshman J.C. Coleman and junior Tony Gregory to get the bulk of the carries. 

    If Virginia Tech is unable to run the ball Thursday, it may not be able to run the ball the rest of the season. 

Attack Miami Downfield

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    No team has been able to truly stop the Hokies wide receivers this year. For many reasons, however, the passing game has remained inconsistent. 

    Marcus Davis has had a very good senior season. He will win any jump ball and is outstanding breaking tackles and getting yards after the catch.

    Logan Thomas has been at his best throwing downfield. With Davis, Corey Fuller and freshman Demitri Knowles, Thomas has three weapons that will be tough for the Hurricanes to defend. 

    The offensive coaching staff must get Thomas comfortable early. He has struggled in the intermediate passing game, so allowing him to do what he does best is crucial for the Hokies' chances Thursday. 

Hokies Passing Defense vs. Miami's Passing Offense

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    This is more than likely where the game will be won or lost.

    The Hurricanes enter the game with the 26th-ranked passing offense in the country. The Hokies pass defense is ranked 34th overall. 

    Despite some early-season struggles, Virginia Tech junior cornerbacks Kyle Fuller and Antone Exum have played well recently. The Hokies held their own against Clemson's high-powered passing game in part because of the performances of Fuller and Exum.

    The Hurricanes have a pair of explosive sophomore wide receivers in Phillip Dorsett and Rashawn Scott. The two have combined for 66 catches, 980 yards and six touchdowns. 

    Much of the Hokies success defending the pass will depend on how often the front four can get pressure on Morris. 

Win the Battle on Special Teams

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    At one time, the Hokies won games because of special teams.

    They blocked kicks, punts and had several return touchdowns. This is an area that the Hokies have routinely lost in recent seasons.

    They have a solid kicker in Cody Journell, and freshman punter A.J. Hughes has been surprisingly consistent. A game like this will likely come down to mistakes in the kicking game.

    If the Hokies can get to a punt or win the field-position battle, they will win this game. 

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