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Miami Hurricanes vs. Virginia Tech Hokies Complete Game Preview

Chris BelloContributor IJanuary 13, 2017

Miami Hurricanes vs. Virginia Tech Hokies Complete Game Preview

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    Running back Dallas Crawford will have an increased role for Miami with Duke Johnson sidelined for the year.
    Running back Dallas Crawford will have an increased role for Miami with Duke Johnson sidelined for the year.Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports

    The Miami Hurricanes and Virginia Tech Hokies will meet up this Saturday night in South Florida. On the line, an inside track to the ACC Coastal Division title with little margin for error as the regular season winds down.

    Miami and Virginia Tech have history. Former Big East foes, both programs jumped to the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2004. Since then, the Hokies have claimed the Coastal six times and the conference crown on four occasions. Nine years in, the Hurricanes are still yet to represent the division.

    Virginia Tech has a 6-4 advantage over Miami since joining the ACC and is 12-6 since notching its first-ever series win back in 1995.

    The Hurricanes won last year's Thursday night showdown at Sun Life Stadium, 30-12, but prior to that had dropped 5-of-6 to the Hokies.

    Atlantic Coast Conference realignment—the addition of Syracuse and Pittsburgh—resulted in a second straight match-up between Miami and Virginia Tech in South Florida, an obvious break for the Hurricanes.

    Miami (7-1) enters this week's contest coming off a 41-14 loss to Florida State in Tallahassee. Virginia Tech (6-3) has dropped two straight, falling to Boston College and Duke back-to-back-weeks.

    Time: 7:00 p.m. ET

    Place: Sun Life Stadium, Miami Gardens, FL

    TV: ESPN/WatchESPN

    Radio: WQAM 560 (Miami) - WBRW 103.5 (Virginia Tech)

    Spread: Miami -6.5 (Hilton, Caesars, Mirage)

     

Time Capsule: Miami vs. Virginia Tech (2012)

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    Miami suffered its first loss of the season last weekend and must recover quickly with a hungry Virginia Tech team headed south on Saturday. A year ago, an even more difficult bounce-back situation as the Hurricanes faced the Hokies while riding a three-game losing streak.

    The above "Raising Canes" piece was shot last November, showcasing the inner workings of the Miami program leading up to the showdown with Virginia Tech. Head coach Al Golden remained positive, praising his players and focusing on the opportunity at hand.

    Like this year, the Coastal Division was either team's for the taking and a win would prove decisive in reaching Charlotte. After beating Virginia Tech, Miami fell at Virginia but topped Duke in the season finale, finishing 5-3 and tied for first in the Coastal. The Hurricanes self-imposed a bowl ban, and Georgia Tech represented the division in the conference championship, eventually falling to Florida State.

    A year later Miami appears back on track, having topped No. 12 Florida early, climbed in the rankings, riding its best start in a decade and has since put the long-running NCAA investigation to bed.

    All of the Hurricanes recent success certainly dates back to moments like last November, when Golden explained in the "Canes All Access" piece, his way of coaching up his players and impacting the young men in his care:

    The days of coaching the whole team the same way, they're long gone. The kids come from so many different backgrounds that they all learn at different levels. They all grow at different levels.

    [...]

    At the end of the day you're not just a leader or the head coach. You're a teacher and a mentor and a counselor and a father. To coach at the University of Miami—and to coach with me—you have to approach things a little bit differently. It's not about your system and your ego. It's about putting the student athlete at the epicenter of the model and putting them first and that's something that we really believe in.

    Miami went into last year's Virginia Tech game with a solid game plan followed by proper execution. Create some special teams havoc, run the football effectively, tackle well and step up defensively. 

    The Hurricanes' win over the Hokies last fall was the season's signature win. This time around, it could prove to be the same should Miami nab its first-ever Coastal Division title.

     

Miami's Keys to Victory

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    Stephen Morris is running out of opportunities to notch a season-defining signature game.
    Stephen Morris is running out of opportunities to notch a season-defining signature game.John David Mercer-USA TODAY Spor

    Overcome the Loss of Duke Johnson

    The heart and soul of the Hurricanes' offense was lost when Johnson suffered a broken ankle at Florida State last weekend. Second string running back Dallas Crawford came alive late in the comeback win at North Carolina and will have to carry the load all game this week for Miami.

    Even more than the physical talent of Johnson, the sophomore running back is a team leader and popular player. The emotional loss of No. 8 will take as much of a toll on Miami as his physical absence.

    Life without Johnson is something that will either make or break the Hurricanes down the stretch. Rally around the injured teammate, aim to "win for Duke" and Miami can thrive. Fall into a funk due to Johnson's absence and the Canes could easily drop a few games as the season comes to a close.

    Get Off to a Fast Start

    It's been the mantra since falling behind 17-7 against Georgia Tech in early October, but Miami has still failed to conquer its first half slumber issues. North Carolina jumped out to an early lead, as did Wake Forest a few weeks back. Florida State was up 21-7 mid-second quarter before the Hurricanes pulled to within seven before the half.

    Virginia Tech will rely on a stout defense and usually-sound special teams as the goal will be to make it a game in the fourth quarter. Every time the Hurricanes punt early, settle for three or miss a field goal attempt, it's an enormous win for the Hokies.

    If Miami can get an early lead, a struggling Virginia Tech offense will be in an early hole and can force Logan Thomas into more turnovers (six interceptions for Thomas the past two games). The Hurricanes must attack, attack, attack from the opening kickoff. 

    Protect the Football

    Turnovers have plagued this Miami team since ACC play got underway. Stephen Morris has 10 interceptions this season—eight of which came over the past four games. The Hurricanes had some early success against the Seminoles last week, picking off Jameis Winston twice. Morris negated that with two pics of his own. At North Carolina, a season-worst outing for Morris, who tossed four interceptions.

    The easiest way to let the Hokies into this game is to lose the field position battle or to give up the short field with a turnover. Ball control is key. Especially having lost a home run threat in Johnson. There will be a lot of grinding out drives this game and Miami must make Virginia Tech work for everything they get.

     

Virginia Tech's Keys to Victory

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    Logan Thomas has played well against Miami in the past and needs another big performance.
    Logan Thomas has played well against Miami in the past and needs another big performance.Ed Wolfstein-USA TODAY Sports

    Rattle Stephen Morris Often and Early

    Morris has been in a funk for months now. A nagging ankle injury sent the quarterback's senior campaign off track. Morris has been unable to plant and throw since the first quarter of a late September match-up with Savannah State, where he took the hit that changed his season.

    Virginia Tech's defense must come at Morris early, get inside his head, force mistakes and keep him from getting any rhythm. Turnovers are the key to this game and no better way to get the ball back from the Hurricanes than an errant throw by Morris.

    Get Something Going on the Ground

    The Hokies have struggled with their rushing attack all season. Trey Edmunds is carrying the load and has run for a team-leading 447 yards on the year. Edmunds has eclipsed the 100-yard mark twice in nine games. Last week against Boston College, a mere six carries for 10 yards.

    Logan Thomas has been erratic under center. The senior quarterback passed for 391 yards last week in a loss to Boston College, but has six interceptions in the past two games. Thomas could be hot and cold versus Miami, so Virginia Tech needs to run the ball if it will sustain drives, keep the offense on the field and manufacture points.

    Make It a Game in the Fourth Quarter

    Miami and Virginia Tech were in a slugfest at Sun Life Stadium in 2010, tied 17-17 going into the fourth. By game's end, the Hokies pulled out the 31-17 win with two big time touchdowns.

    Last year Miami led 20-12 at the half and after a scoreless third quarter, the Hurricanes put up 10 points in the fourth, taking over. In 2011, Thomas ran in the game-winner with :56 remaining after a spirited final quarter where both teams combined for 35 total points.

    The Hokies won it in the fourth quarter two years ago and choked away the opportunity last season. How will this year's final moments play out?

     

Players to Watch for Miami

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    With playmakers like Duke Johnson and Phillip Dorsett out for the season, Allen Hurns is the most-reliable playmaker on offense.
    With playmakers like Duke Johnson and Phillip Dorsett out for the season, Allen Hurns is the most-reliable playmaker on offense.John David Mercer-USA TODAY Spor

    Stephen Morris

    Another week where all eyes will be on Morris. The senior quarterback doesn't need a breakout performance, but certainly can't give another game away. Especially not with Duke Johnson on the shelf.

    Miami lost it's home run threat at running back, as well as it's biggest deep ball weapon in Phillip Dorsett, sidelined since the North Carolina game.

    Big play ability is still there for the Hurricanes with wide receivers Allen Hurns and Stacy Coley, but the name of the game on Saturday will be keeping drives alive. Morris needs to hit his third down passes, move the chains and make enough plays for Miami to win.

    The Hurricanes simply can't absorb losses to Johnson and Dorsett and have Morris tank.

    Dallas Crawford

    Crawford showed his toughness in a reserve role against North Carolina when Johnson was knocked out of the game. The sophomore back carried 33 times for 137 yards and punched in two fourth quarter touchdowns. Prior to that appearance, Crawford only netted 25 carries and 136 yards on the season.

    Crawford played quarterback at South Fort Myers High, previously assuming the role of team leader. With Johnson out, time for the talented athlete to step up again, both on the field and in the huddle.

    Crawford is "the man" from now through bowl season. If Miami is going to reach the ACC Championship game. it will need No. 25 to find another gear and play the best football of his career. That must start this weekend against Virginia Tech.

    Pat O'Donnell

    Special teams is always huge when Miami and Virginia Tech go toe-to-toe. "Beamer Ball" has dominated college football for decades, but the Hurricanes got the last laugh with a blocked punt last year, leading to a Miami touchdown.

    O'Donnell will most-likely be in a handful of punting situations on Saturday night, as the Hokies defense will do their best to stifle the Hurricanes' offense. Field position will be key and if Miami can pin Virginia Tech deep, it will result in loud crowd noise and possible turnovers.

    Wake Forest led Miami, 14-10 early in the fourth quarter and O'Donnell flipped the field with a punt that was downed at the three-yard line. The Hurricanes forced a three-and-out, took over midfield and took its first lead in the game eight plays later.

    Miami hopes to not rely on O'Donnell, but in a game against a fundamentally sound opponent, the kicking game cannot be taken for granted.

     

Players to Watch for Virginia Tech

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    Freshman wide receiver Joshua Stanford has come on as of late, hauling in six receptions for 171 yards in a recent loss at Boston College.
    Freshman wide receiver Joshua Stanford has come on as of late, hauling in six receptions for 171 yards in a recent loss at Boston College.Ed Wolfstein-USA TODAY Sports

    Logan Thomas

    Thomas has proven even more erratic than Miami quarterback Stephen Morris. Which No. 3 will show up? The one who passed for 391 yards at Boston College last week or the one who threw four interceptions in a loss to Duke? Regarding this rivalry, will Miami see the last's year's Thomas—199 yards and two interceptions—or the unstoppable sophomore that was 23-of-25 for 310 yards with three touchdowns in 2011?

    The Hokies struggle to run the ball and the Hurricanes are vulnerable in pass coverage. Translation? Thomas will be the key to the game for Virginia Tech, needing a solid showing to pull off the upset.

    Dimitri Knowles 

    Knowles has 35 receptions on the year and it Thomas' favorite target. Miami struggled to stop Wake Forest's Michael Campanaro, knowing he was the Demon Deacons' top receiver (10 receptions, 88 yards, 1 touchdown). The Hurricanes knowing they need to shut down Knowles and actually doing so are two very different things.

    Furthermore, freshman wide receiver Joshua Stanford is coming on strong as of late, putting more pressure on the Hurricanes' secondary, while giving Knowles some breathing room. A big showing could be in store for the redshirt sophomore. 

    Kyle Fuller

    Offenses generally stay away from the senior cornerback, but with Allen Hurns currently Stephen Morris' favorite target, expect Fuller to be involved in the coverage. Fuller has two interceptions on the year, a forced fumble and a blocked punt that the Hokies returned for a touchdowns. When Virginia Tech is looking for a defensive spark or big play on special teams, the Hurricanes better keep an eye on the playmaker who wears No. 17.

     

What They're Saying

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    Miami Hurricanes head coach Al Golden knows the importance of his Hurricanes bouncing back this week.
    Miami Hurricanes head coach Al Golden knows the importance of his Hurricanes bouncing back this week.John David Mercer-USA TODAY Spor

    Much of this week's chatter regarding Miami and Virginia Tech revolved around the NCAA investigation that plagued the Hurricanes program for two-plus years. Hokies' head coach Frank Beamer sent Hurricanes' leader Al Golden a note when the saga wrapped.

    That back and for was something the media focused on this week when explaining the respect between these two competitive programs.

    Golden on Beamer's note and what it meant to him, as reported by the Associated Press' Tim Reynolds (h/t The St. Augustine Record):

    It means a lot. I kind of cut my teeth at Virginia when Frank was growing that program and learned so much from him. No matter how much that rivalry was, Virginia-Virginia Tech at that time, Frank was always class. ... In our conference, he’s kind of the patriarch, if you will. When Frank talks, we all listen. He’s done it the right way.

    Beamer responded in regards to Golden and the job he's done at Miami thus far:

    I think he got through that and made the program better. Not just survive. He made it better. I thought he did a heck of a job. And I told him that too. And I do. I think he’s gone in there and been a very steady, solid influence on that program.

    As reported by the Sun Sentinel's Christy Cabrera Chirinos, Golden also spoke about "Beamer Ball" and the impact Virginia Tech has on kickers, due to solid special teams play: 

    It’s not just those guys. It’s protecting against punt blocks, which they’ve done so well, it’s protecting against field goal blocks. It’s the explosive returns they’ve had and making sure everybody’s in their coverage lanes. I can go on and on. They do a great job on special teams and they’re tough to prepare for. It’s a great challenge. I think their punter is averaging 45 yards a punt, he’s doing well, and Cody Journell is kicking probably the best he’s kicked all year. He probably has a lot of confidence coming out of BC with the big one he hit before the half.

     

Prediction

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    Deon Bush needs to come up big for the Miami secondary this weekend.
    Deon Bush needs to come up big for the Miami secondary this weekend.Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    Miami and Virginia Tech is always a hard game to predict—especially with the Coastal Division often up for grabs.

    This marks another season where both teams need the victory as the winner will take a huge step forward towards December's ACC Championship game.

    Previously undefeated Miami was brought back down to earth, getting thumped at Florida State last weekend, while Virginia Tech dropped games to Duke and Boston College—neither of which would've happened if the program were on track.

    The x-factor for Miami, how will the Hurricanes perform days after the season's first loss and without the services of the impactful Duke Johnson. For Virginia Tech, will the Hokies bounce back after two straight losses and can a one-dimensional offense do enough to pull off the upset?

    Home field advantage isn't usually a factor at Sun Life Stadium, but a 7:00 p.m. kickoff and Miami's biggest home game since a win over Florida in September, should warrant a solid crowd.

    The key to this weekend is all about game planning and proper motivation. Will Al Golden have his kids back on track? The Hurricanes need a mental edge more than anything else. 

    Miami has toed the company line all year, focused on a "one at a time" mentality and treating each opponent equally. The Hokies are primed to be put out of their misery, riding the two game losing streak, and this match-up is simply too big for the Hurricanes to not show up.

    It could be another close one, but even without Johnson, Miami—at night and at home—should be able to come together for the most important game of the season.


    Prediction:
    Miami 27, Virginia Tech 17

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