This weekend’s Music City Bowl Game of the Week features two teams that are struggling to find their identity early in the season. Miami (2-2; 0-1 ACC) travels to Blacksburg, VA to take on Virginia Tech (4-1, 0-1 ACC) in a matchup that will have serious implications on the ACC Coastal Division race.
It’s rare that both of these storied programs face identity issues at the same time during a season, but that is the current state of affairs. Although Virginia Tech sports a 4-1 record and boasts the 8th ranked defense in the country, the vaunted numbers they have put up have come against lesser opponents (Bethune-Cookman, Arkansas State, Eastern Carolina, and Appalachian State). In their first true test of the season versus #13 Clemson last week, they failed to find any semblance of a rhythm, amassing only 258 yards and 3 points on their way to a disappointing loss.
Miami has failed to string together consecutive wins, but has shown moments of promise which they can build upon in the coming weeks. After losing to Maryland in their season opener, the Canes rebounded in a week 2 victory against #17 Ohio State, where they held the Buckeyes to just 6 points on two field goals.
After a hard-fought loss to a very talented Kansas State team, the Hurricanes seemingly regressed against Bethune-Cookman, where the 45-16 final score veiled the game’s true story. Miami won, but allowed a whopping 422 yards to the FBS subdivision Wildcats, who hung with Miami for much of the first half.
Miami’s thorn in their side has been their inability to stop the run. Through four games, the Hurricanes are surrendering 202 yards on the ground per game, placing them at 105th in the country in total rush defense. In the past two games, their opponents have gashed them for 484 rushing yards. With the recent loss of DT Marcus Forston for the year on account of a knee injury, the depleted Hurricane defense will have to scramble to fill holes if they want to stop the Virginia Tech rushing attack.
This will be a tall task, since the Virginia Tech rushing attack is performing like a well-oiled machine. Running back David Wilson has four 100 yard rushing games this year, and is 6th in the FBS in rushing with 128 yards per game. It’s a good thing the Hokies have run so well, because sophomore quarterback Logan Thomas is having a tough time sustaining any semblance of a passing game for Tech. In his first year as starter, Thomas has struggled mightily. In Tech’s 23-6 loss vs. Clemson last week, Thomas completed only 15 of 27 passes, for 125 yards and no touchdowns. Through 5 games, he has thrown 5 interceptions, and only 4 touchdown passes. On a more positive note, the Hokies are ranked 2nd nationally in time of possession, controlling the ball for more than 35 minutes per game. If the Hokies are to top the Hurricanes on Saturday, they will need a decent game from Thomas to ensure the Canes don’t stack the box against Wilson and hamstring their running attack.
Unlike Virginia Tech, Miami has both a running game and a passing attack that can stymie opponents. Sophomore Lamar Miller has excelled, rushing for more than 100 yards in each of the Hurricanes’ first four contests. But the spotlight on Saturday will undoubtedly be on Jacory Harris, who will be playing in his fourth game since being suspended by the NCAA for receiving illegal benefits from renegade booster Nevin Shapiro. The 6’4” senior has played decently in his return, but has only averaged 190 yards a game, and has thrown 3 interceptions. For the Hurricanes to right the ship, they will need Harris to sustain his brilliance, which has come only in flashes over the past three years.
With both teams sporting one conference loss, the loser of this game will fall far behind—perhaps too far behind—in the ACC Coastal Division race. Virginia Tech has dominated the matchup recently, winning 6 out of the last 8. Look for the Hurricanes to force the Hokies to throw the ball to score, and expect the Tech defense to attempt to create turnovers to give their young quarterback better field position to work with. Tune in Saturday to catch all the excitement!