Miami vs. Virginia Tech: 5 Key Players That Must Produce for Miami To Win
The Miami Hurricanes have two games and a bowl game remaining. The Hurricanes want to end the season on a three-game winning streak whether it means ACC title or not. There were several player who needed to come up big this season coming into the year, and some of them have while others have not.
This is a big game for the Hurricanes, even if they do not control their own destiny in the ACC title race. They will learn a lot about their future quarterback when they take the field; if he plays well, will it be the end of the Jacory Harris era? Here are the key players that need to make an impact if Miami is going to beat Virginia Tech on Saturday.
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Sean Spence Must Tackle Well
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The Hurricanes leading tackler and most versatile player is going to play a big role on Saturday. Spence will have two important functions—keeping Tyrod Taylor’s scrambles to a minimum and stuffing the Virginia Tech running game. Spence will have to help Colin McCarthy fill the middle because the Hokies offense is versatile enough to stretch you deep and pound you with the running game.
If Spence falters in his duties, Taylor will be running all over the field and throwing the ball over the defensive secondary when they come up to stop the run. No team has really shut down the Hokies this year, except that aberration James Madison game.
Leonard Hankerson Has To Be the Playmaker
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Regardless of who is starting at quarterback, Hankerson is going to have to make plays down the field. This will force Bud Foster’s defense to respect passing game, which will give the Hurricanes much needed running room for their talented stable of backs. Hankerson can also make it easier for Stephen Morris because he can help to provide a target when Virginia Tech brings pressure.
Most importantly, Hankerson needs to hold on to the football and secure his catches. If he fights passes or deflects them, the opportunistic Hokie defense will be around the ball to make the interception. Hankerson has to occupy the defenders and make them cover him by running every route like he is getting the ball, otherwise it could be a long day for Miami.
Allen Bailey Has To Play with Controlled Aggression
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Bailey is the most athletic defensive lineman Miami has, and he will need to get pressure on Tyrod Taylor without running past him. The term Bailey will need to beat into his head is controlled aggression, when he goes in on his pass rush. If Bailey gets too far up field, he will create a wide running lane for Taylor to have a better run/pass option that will make it hard to defend.
Bailey also needs to come up big in the running game by establishing the end and turning the running backs inside rather than letting them get to the corner for big plays. Bailey has the speed and athletic ability to put pressure on Taylor, he just has to do it in a disciplined way that won't open up the end he is rushing from.
The Damien Berry/Lamar Miller Combo Needs To Control the Game
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The Hurricanes backfield needs to establish the running game and control the clock; if Miller and Berry can find running room, it will keep the Hokies on their toes. The goal of any defense is to make the offense one dimensional, and the Hurricanes will need their running back combo to keep the defense guessing.
If Miller and Berry can have success, then it will open up the play action passing game for Stephen Morris to have bigger windows to put the passes into. The running game will also wear down the Hokies and keep the Hurricanes out of 3rd-and-long situations that will make it difficult to overcome the Virginia Tech pass rush. One of the biggest areas they will be needed in is pass protection, Berry has proven to be good in this area, but Miller still needs some work on blitz pickup.
If you have watched Miami football over the past few years, the come-from-behind-the-quarterback hit and fumble seems to happen every year against the Hokies. If Berry and Miller can keep the rush off Morris to buy him a bit more time, then he can exploit the matchups that favor the Hurricanes on the outside.
The Miami Hurricanes Offensive Line Will Need Their Best Effort of the Season
Stephen Morris has played well in the two-and-a-half games of his Miami Hurricanes football career, but this is his first game against a top opponent. Virginia Tech will bring a pass rush and intensity that Morris has not faced all season; this will be the best defense he has faced by far this season. Morris has a lot of mobility which is something that Jacory Harris does not have, so that will help him to make some plays.
Harland Gunn, Tyler Horn, Seantrel Henderson, Brandon Washington, Brandon Linder and Orlando Franklin will need to step up big to keep the defense rested and Tyrod Taylor on the sideline. The offensive line will have to adjust to whatever game plan Mark Whipple decides to go with. If it gets to be a pass-happy night, then the line will have to hold their blocks while the Hokies pin their ears back. The biggest thing they need to do is limit the number of false starts and holding penalties, that has been the weakness of this unit all season. Many big plays have been called back because of it.
Morris will have to help the offensive line by being smart and not afraid to use his feet if nothing is there. Holding onto the ball rather than getting rid of it will cause some major problems, especially if the receivers are covered. The Hurricanes offensive line is much improved this year, but that is mostly in the running game; they still have some work to do in pass protection against good defenses.
If this unit can hold up and give Morris time, the athletes at the skill positions will win the game for the Hurricanes.