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Miami and Virginia Tech Face Potential Elimination Game in Coastal Division on Thursday

Al Golden

Al Golden

The ACC Coastal is the biggest mystery among the Power 5 conferences heading into Week 9. Sure, there is some uncertainty in the other conferences, but the Coastal features seven teams that still have a chance to win the division. No other league features that much uncertainty.

Considering the overall mysterious nature of the Coastal, Thursday night’s Virginia Tech-Miami game is just one of several key contests remaining this year. But is it fair to call this an elimination game?

Virginia Tech lost last week against Pittsburgh, dropping its record in ACC play to 1-2. The Hokies play their next two (Miami, Boston College) at home, before making road trips to Duke and Wake Forest and then returning for the finale in Blacksburg against in-state rival Virginia.

Frank Beamer’s team has won four out of the last five against Miami, with the Hurricanes' last victory in that span coming in 2012.

The recent trend in this series favors the Hokies, but this team has to find a spark on offense after managing only 291 yards and converting only 2 of 14 third-down attempts in last week’s loss to Pittsburgh.

Virginia Tech’s offense will have some much-needed help on the ground with the return of freshman running back Marshawn Williams, who missed last week’s game due to an ankle injury.

With two losses in conference play, every week has to be a must-win situation for the Hokies. And looking at the upcoming schedule, it’s easy to see why Beamer’s team needs this one to stay alive in the Coastal. A loss to Miami would put Virginia Tech at 1-3 in the conference, with a road trip against Duke (the likely favorite at this point) still ahead. A 4-4 champion of the Coastal Division isn’t out of the question, but if you assume the Hokies will be underdogs (and lose) against the Blue Devils, there’s no margin for error the rest of the way. Finishing 5-3 at least gives them a shot to win the division.

There’s a similar theme on the Miami sideline. The Hurricanes also stand at 1-2 in conference play but their schedule is more challenging than Virginia Tech’s.

Miami still has to play defending national champion Florida State, a team the Hurricanes have defeated only once since 2008.

Assuming the Hurricanes lose the matchup against the Seminoles, that’s three losses in conference play. And Al Golden’s team still has to play at Virginia and hosts Pittsburgh in the regular-season finale.

Freshman quarterback Brad Kaaya is off to a promising start, and running back Duke Johnson is one of the best players in the ACC. But despite the potential on offense, the defense has struggled once again in Miami's losses. The Hurricanes allowed over 300 rushing yards in games against Nebraska and Georgia Tech.

Considering a loss against Florida State is likely, with a tough road trip to Virginia, Miami also has zero margin for error the rest of the way.

As we mentioned earlier, the Coastal is up for grabs and a 4-4 or 5-3 champion is still very possible.

So while it’s tough to officially say Virginia Tech-Miami is an elimination game, once you take a peek at the upcoming schedules for both teams, it’s easy to see why this matchup is going to factor prominently into the hopes of either program winning the Coastal in 2014.

Here are a couple of storylines to watch on Thursday night:


Virginia Tech

Return of RB Marshawn Williams
In last week’s loss to Pittsburgh, Virginia Tech recorded 26 rushing yards on 22 attempts. Williams missed last week’s game due to an ankle injury, but he’s the Hokies’ leading rusher at 337 yards. With Shai McKenzie out for the year, Williams needs to carry the load and keep some of the pressure off of quarterback Michael Brewer.

Turnovers
Virginia Tech has lost at least two turnovers in five out of its seven games this season. The Hokies have been better in recent weeks, losing just one against North Carolina and Pittsburgh. Considering Virginia Tech’s struggles on offense, the Hokies cannot afford to give Miami any possessions on short fields. Of note: the Hurricanes are -2 in turnover margin this year.

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Miami

Test the Virginia Tech Run Defense
With defensive tackle Luther Maddy (for the season) and linebacker Chase Williams out due to knee injuries, this is one area Miami can look to exploit on Thursday night. The Hokies rank sixth in the ACC against the run and allowed 210 yards to Pittsburgh last week. Miami running back Duke Johnson did not play in last year’s meeting between these two teams, but the junior rushed for 100 yards on 11 attempts against the Hokies in 2012.

Pressure on Virginia Tech QB Michael Brewer
Virginia Tech’s offensive line has allowed 13 sacks this year, including three in last week’s loss to Pittsburgh. Miami’s pass rush isn’t dominant, but the Hurricanes have 16 sacks through seven games, including four against Louisville in the opener and three against Cincinnati on Oct. 11. Brewer has at least one interception in six out of his seven games this year. Getting pressure on Brewer could force the junior to make even more mistakes.

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