Can the Hokies get back into the Coastal title picture?
Virginia Tech and Miami meet on Saturday night hoping to bounce back after disappointing results last week. The Hurricanes lost 41-14 to rival Florida State, and the Hokies lost 34-27 at Boston College. Despite both teams losing, the Coastal Division title outlook didn’t change much. Duke and Georgia Tech are within striking distance, but Miami can take command of the division with a win on Saturday.
Virginia Tech started the season with a loss to Alabama in Atlanta, but the Hokies rebounded with six consecutive victories. However, since beating Pittsburgh 19-9, Virginia Tech has lost its last two games. Turnovers have been a huge problem the last two weeks for the Hokies, but they will be taking on a Miami team shorthanded on offense with the loss of running back Duke Johnson. The sophomore suffered a season-ending ankle injury against Florida State last week and was on pace to easily rush for more than 1,000 yards in 2013.
For the first time since 1993-94, these two teams will meet in Miami for consecutive seasons. Virginia Tech lost 30-12 at Miami last year, but the Hokies have claimed five out of the last seven in this series.
Virginia Tech at Miami
Kickoff: 7 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Miami -6.5
Three Things to Watch
Miami’s passing offense vs. Virginia Tech’s secondary
Through five ACC games, Virginia Tech’s secondary has been outstanding. The Hokies are allowing just 161.6 yards per game through the air, and opposing quarterbacks are completing just 47.7 percent of their throws. With Duke Johnson sidelined, the Hurricanes will ask more of quarterback Stephen Morris on Saturday night. The senior suffered an ankle injury early in the season, but he appears to be 100 percent after throwing for 192 yards and two scores against Florida State. In last year’s meeting, Morris threw for 170 yards and two touchdowns but completed only 46.4 percent of his passes. The Hokies are overflowing with depth in the secondary, especially with the return of senior Antone Exum from a knee injury. With Exum, Kyle Fuller and freshmen Kendall Fuller and Brandon Facyson, Virginia Tech has four cornerbacks that could start for a majority of the top 25 teams in the latest release of the BCS standings. Safeties Detrick Bonner and Kyshoen Jarrett are steady performers and have four interceptions this year. Morris has been inconsistent at times in 2013, and he won’t have receiver Phillip Dorsett back from injury. Even though Dallas Crawford is a capable replacement for Duke Johnson, it’s fair to wonder if Morris might press a little with the absence of Miami’s top back. In a game with very little separating these two teams, any turnover from Morris will be costly.
Virginia Tech QB Logan Thomas
Which Thomas will Virginia Tech have on Saturday night? Is it the version that tossed a combined six picks against Duke and Boston College? Or is it the quarterback that threw five touchdowns to zero interceptions in a three-game conference stretch earlier this year? Although Thomas has to play better, the senior needs more from his supporting cast. The Hokies are averaging only 2.3 yards per carry in ACC games, with Trey Edmunds leading the team with 447 yards in nine games. Receivers Demitri Knowles and Willie Byrn lead the team in receptions, but neither is averaging more than 13 yards per catch. Miami’s defense isn’t among the best in the ACC. However, this unit has improved since last season and has forced 21 turnovers this year. If the Hurricanes can force a couple of turnovers and put Thomas into third-and-long situations, it could be another long night for Virginia Tech’s offense.
Turnovers and special teams
With Virginia Tech’s struggles on offense, and Miami playing without running back Duke Johnson, both teams won’t have much margin for error. The Hurricanes rank second in the ACC with 21 forced turnovers, while the Hokies have lost 15 turnovers. Both starting quarterbacks have struggled at times with interceptions, and any mistakes by either could be costly. Johnson’s absence will also be felt on special teams, as the sophomore averaged 28.3 yards per return this year. Freshmen Stacy Coley and Artie Burns could fill Johnson’s role on kickoffs. Both teams have been inconsistent on field goals, as Matt Goudis has connected on 6 of 10 attempts for Miami this year, while Virginia Tech’s Cody Journell is 10 of 16. Don’t be surprised if a key play on special teams or late turnover decides this game.
Key Player: Dallas Crawford, RB, Miami
With Duke Johnson sidelined, Crawford will assume the No. 1 role in the Miami backfield. Crawford has been solid this year, averaging 4.4 yards per carry on 67 attempts. The sophomore faces a Virginia Tech defense allowing just 102.7 rushing yards per game. Quarterback Stephen Morris is solid, but the Hurricanes need balance on offense. Crawford won’t find a ton of running room against Virginia Tech. But the sophomore has to record at least 75 yards and needs to convert on any third-and-short situations for Miami’s offense.
The mission for Miami is simple: Win out and get a rematch with Florida State in the ACC Championship. The Hurricanes would be a significant underdog to the Seminoles in a rematch, but Miami has yet to play for the ACC Championship. It’s time for the program to take that step. Virginia Tech’s defense will keep this game close, but the Hokies’ offense sputters in the second half, allowing the Hurricanes to do just enough to score a key conference win.
Prediction: Miami 24, Virginia Tech 20