In a huge ACC matchup that will rock the very foundation of Lane Stadium in Blacksburg, Virginia and the ACC as a whole, the home-standing No. 11 Virginia Tech Hokies host the resurgent No. 9 University of Miami Hurricanes.
Miami has created a national buzz with their impressive opening ACC wins against then No. 18 Florida State and No. 14 Georgia Tech, fueling speculation that if Miami prevails in Blacksburg over a very dangerous Hokies team, the Hurricanes' sights could realistically be on No. 1 Florida.
Miami has had the most national attention of the week, this being the biggest game in a long time for the young Hurricanes. The Canes have not played in an BCS game in six seasons.
The Hurricanes know that a win against Virginia Tech will give them the inside path to capturing their first ACC Coastal Division title, and will give the pollsters and pundits across the country one less reason to deny the Canes a possible top-five ranking. With a loss, they would most likely lose the No. 9 ranking, and would need help to reach the ACC title game.
With their renewed relevance in the national picture, and finally breaking the top 10 for the first time in years, the Hurricanes appear dominant on offense. Jacory Harris leads the way, completing 70 percent of his passes to one of the best supporting crews in the country: WR Travis Benjamin, WR Leonard Hankerson, RB/WR Greg Cooper, and RB Javarris James.
The Canes' gameplan will be to throw and throw often to exploit the seemingly struggling Hokies' defense that surrendered 169 rushing yards to Nebraska's Roy Helu and looked gassed before holding on and giving QB Tyrod Taylor the chance to make the 80-yard completion setting up the game winning score, giving Virginia Tech a narrow 16-15 victory over the Huskers.
Defensively, Miami is going to look to pressure Taylor and the Hokies' offense into mistakes. Most importantly the 'Canes will look to neutralize Hokies' RB Ryan Williams and force Virginia Tech into third and long situations where Miami's studs in the secondary, DB's Brandon Harris, Vaughn Telemauge, and Randy Phillips will take chances and look to create turnovers for the offense.
Virginia Tech will look to lean on the running game with RB Williams and QB Taylor leading the way, and will hope to keep Miami's offense off the field because the Hokies do not have the capability to beat Miami if the game turns into a shootout, and will find themselves in an early hole if they do not maximize every possession and play mistake free football.
Virginia Tech will look to capitalize on the Canes' somewhat disappointing amount of pressure that has been brought on opposing QB's this season and try to get Taylor out of the pocket, as Miami fans and players alike still remember the game against Florida State when Christian Ponder ran wild on them, and Taylor is also in that mold as well and is known for his running and scrambling out of the pocket than his passing, but Miami's front seven looks also to be up to the task, as they held Georgia Tech's gimmick triple option offense to just 95 yards rushing on the ground after being gashed for 472 the year before.
In summary, my four keys to the game for Miami to go into a stretch of non-conference tilts 3-0 and undefeated in the ACC are:
1.) Unleash Harris: Jacory Harris has been an assassin in the passing game, the sophomore QB has completed over 70 percent of his passes for an astounding 656 yards and five touchdowns to just two interceptions. He has some of the best WR's in the ACC, he should continue his hot streak.
2.) Establish the run early: Virginia Tech was gashed by Nebraska on the ground for a total of 207 yards, and Miami has two capable backs in Cooper and James and they should both be involved on a rotating basis until the Hokies sell out to stop them.
3.) Contain Tyrod Taylor and the running game: Tyrod Taylor is in the mold of some of the mobile QB's that Miami will face this season, and the defensive front needs to get pressure on him, and ensure that he doesn't run out of the pocket due to a lack of passing lanes downfield. The Hokies do not have a legitimate receiving threat like Miami, so containing Taylor should be Priority No. 1.
4.) Limit Special Teams mistakes: Miami's special teams so far this season have been mediocre. Opposing teams have started at their 30 yard line or better. The kickoffs must be covered well, or Virginia Tech's Dyrell Roberts will have a huge day, as he had a huge 76 yard return to set up the Hokies' offense with an early scoring opportunity in their win vs. Nebraska and also had the game winning touchdown catch in the closing seconds.
Miami doesn't have a letdown and continues its winning ways and starts the 2009 ACC campaign 3-0 for the first time since 2004. They will exploit Virginia Tech's defense and stop their pedestrian offensive attack, which is similar to Georgia Tech's, and Jacory Harris solidifies himself as the best QB in the ACC.
Score: No. 9 Miami Hurricanes: 23
No. 11 Virginia Tech Hokies: 13