Young Canes Show Lack of Elite Mental Toughness in Loss to Virginia Tech

Chris Bello@itsauthingblogContributor INovember 10, 2013

For the Hurricanes, speed killed early. Down the stretch, though, grit, endurance and fundamentals prevailed in yet another Miami and Virginia Tech showdown.

After taking an early 7-0 lead after a quick score, the Hurricanes managed to fumble two special teams returns while two Hokies cough-ups managed to be retained by the visitors. Four quarters in, Virginia Tech was on the right side of a rain-soaked 42-24 victory, giving them a huge edge in the ACC Coastal Division race.

One week after Florida State shredded Miami, 41-14, the Hurricanes again hung tough in the first half, but faded down the stretch.

Emotionally, Miami needed to find a way to move past the loss of starting running back Duke Johnson, but simply couldn't find a way to do it.

Stephen Morris struggled for Miami the past few weeks, but special teams and defense did the Hurricanes in against the Hokies.
Stephen Morris struggled for Miami the past few weeks, but special teams and defense did the Hurricanes in against the Hokies.Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Dallas Crawford was effective working as Johnson's replacement weeks back in a comeback win over North Carolina, but was stifled by Virginia Tech. The sophomore reserve running back was limited to 37 yards on 10 carries, while freshman Gus Edwards went for 13 yards on seven attempts. The Hurricanes were held to 28 rushing yards on the night and 352 yards overall.

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Miami defensive struggles continued, giving up 549 total yards—the second straight week the Hurricanes surrendered 500-plus total yards to an opponent.

After shutting down Virginia Tech's first two offensive possessions, Miami's special teams let a sound Hokies squad steal momentum.

Wide receiver Stacy Coley, a true freshman who scored an 81-yard touchdown on Miami's second offensive touch, fumbled a punt return midfield after a 23-yard gain. Virginia Tech scored five plays later. On the ensuing kickoff, Artie Burns, another first-year player, botched a 43-yard return—also at midfield—leading to seven more points for the Hokies. 

Pat O'Donnell added a special teams gaffe of his own, as the punter's knee inadvertently hit the turf on fourth down early second quarter. Virginia Tech took over on the Miami 17-yard line and punched in a touchdown two plays later. 

Inclement weather and immaturity had Miami in a 14-7 hole and the not-quite-yet-there Hurricanes continued unraveling.

Miami's goal when the season began was reaching Charlotte and the ACC Championship game. Now matching Virginia Tech with two conference losses and having let the tiebreaker slip away, the Hurricanes must win out and hope for some conference-upset magic over the next few weeks.

Virginia Tech closes with Maryland and Virginia, while Miami takes on Duke, Virginia and Pitt.

Eight days ago ago the Hurricanes were 7-0 and No. 7 in the nation and just over a week later, they are 7-2 with more questions than answers.

While emotions were riding high after the unexpected fast start, Miami's lack of depth, mental errors and injuries are having their way with this inexperienced Hurricanes squad.

Last week it was Johnson, the sophomore sensation running back who was lost for the year against Florida State. Prior to that, deep-threat wide receiver Phillip Dorsett went down in the grind-it-out battle at North Carolina.

The Hurricanes had some big hits, but still gave up 549 total yards to the Hokies.
The Hurricanes had some big hits, but still gave up 549 total yards to the Hokies.Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

On a night when Coley and Burns mishandled special teams touches that would've gone to a healthy Dorsett and Johnson, Miami's youth and lack of depth found itself unable to measure up against a perennially-stout Virginia Tech squad.

Logan Thomas, having thrown six interceptions over a two-game span coming into the game, capitalized on Miami's miscues. The senior quarterback was an extremely efficient 25 of 31 for 366 yards, two touchdowns and no picks while the Hokies were an impressive 8 of 14 on third down conversions.

Miami again clammed up when it mattered, going of 3 of 12 on third down, though the turnover-free Morris was 16 of 29 for 324 yards with two touchdowns. Time of possession also favored the Hokies, 39:30 to 20:30.

18 points and a few game-changing turnovers separated Miami and Virginia Tech, but in the end maturity and stability were the keys to another big win for Frank Beamer and crew.

The Hokies now hold a 6-2 advantage over the Hurricanes dating back to 2006 and are 13-6 over their former Big East foe since winning their first game in the series back in 1995.

For the Hurricanes, it's circle the wagons time as November leaves little margin for error. Duke sits at 7-2 overall and 3-2 in conference play. From there, a Virginia squad that's topped Miami in three straight, followed by a post-Thanksgiving, cold weather road game at Pittsburgh.

An ACC title game berth was the dream for Miami when the season started. Now at 7-2, the Hurricanes no longer control their own destiny, courtesy of brutal back-to-back weeks.

With three games remaining, Miami must reassess its overall goals—fighting for a double-digit win season and playing for pride after an embarrassing eight-day run.

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