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Miami Hurricanes vs. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets Preview and Prediction

Mark Walton

Mark Walton

So far in the 2016 college football season, the Miami Hurricanes have had a relatively easy time with all three of their opponents (Florida A&M, FAU and Appalachian State). On Saturday, the Hurricanes will face their biggest test of the season when they open ACC play against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets.

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While Miami had last week off, Georgia Tech played Clemson, one of the best teams in the country, at home. The Tigers led 14-0 after the first quarter and never looked back as Deshaun Watson threw for 304 yards and a pair of touchdowns to defeat the Yellow Jackets 26-7.

In last year’s matchup, Miami quarterback Brad Kaaya threw for 300 yards and a touchdown in a 38-21 home win over Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets hold a slight 11-10 edge in their head-to-head series with the Hurricanes.

Miami at Georgia Tech

Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 1 at 12 p.m. ET

TV Channel: ESPN2

Spread: Miami -7

Three Things to Watch

1. Georgia Tech’s Triple-Option Offense
In previous games in this series, Miami has had problems slowing down Georgia Tech’s triple-option (or flexbone option) offense. The Yellow Jackets’ attack begins with quarterback Justin Thomas.

In four games this season, Thomas has thrown for 364 yards and is second on the team with 144 rushing yards. Miami head coach Mark Richt knows from experience how tough it can be to play a dual-threat signal-caller like Thomas.

“I think the thing you say about him, he’s very tough, mentally and physically,” Richt said. “He can bring a team back from being behind. He did it, really in Game 1 [against Boston College]. He’s done it before in his career. Certainly, he did it one of the years I was at Georgia, a couple years back. He made some beautiful plays and set them up for a field goal and took the game into overtime because of his athleticism and his ability to throw the football.”

Miami also will have to be able to contain Georgia Tech’s stable of running backs, including leading rusher Dedrick Mills. In just three games (suspended and sat out against Mercer), Mills leads the Yellow Jackets with 201 yards and five touchdowns on the ground.

Georgia Tech was able to rush for 289 yards against a very good Vanderbilt defense a couple of weeks ago, but Miami’s defensive line is arguably more talented and deeper.

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2. Hurricanes’ Running Back Trio
One of Miami’s deepest positions is running back. The Hurricanes have three ball carriers that already have broken the 100-yard mark in a game this season.

Mark Walton leads with 401 rushing yards in three games this season. In Miami’s last game, Walton gained 130 yards on the ground and scored twice in the convincing road win over Appalachian State.

Joseph Yearby also has been a factor in the running game with 256 yards and four touchdowns thus far. Gus Edwards, who rushed for more than 100 yards in the season opener against Florida A&M, also figures to get some work against Georgia Tech.

Miami offensive coordinator/running backs coach Thomas Brown said the depth at running back was part of the plan entering this season.

“I think coming in here, we always wanted to have three three-down tailbacks,” Brown said. “We want guys, who can do everything. We’ve been blessed to walk into a situation that we have guys that can play on first and second down, run out in-between tackles, catch the ball in space and most importantly protect the quarterback. Hopefully, we’ll see more of that in the future.”

Miami is averaging 272 rushing yards per game, which ranks ninth in the FBS. Georgia Tech’s defense is giving up 165 rushing yards per game, but this will be the unit’s most difficult test yet, even tougher than Clemson (138 yards last week).

3. Georgia Tech Defense
Known more as an offensive team, the Yellow Jackets enter Saturday’s game 14th in the FBS in scoring defense at just 14.3 points per game. This defense is both talented and experienced up front with defensive linemen KeShun Freeman, Patrick Gamble and Rod Rook-Chungong leading the way.

Brad Kaaya and the Miami offense also will need to know where linebacker P.J. Davis is at all times, as he already has racked 24 tackles and 1.5 tackles for a loss. Davis led the Georgia Tech in tackles last season with 77.

Final Analysis

Mark Richt was a perfect 8-0 at Bobby Dodd Stadium when he was the head coach at Georgia. While it is difficult to prepare for an offense like Georgia Tech’s, Richt has a lot of experience facing it.

College Football Top 25: Miami

Expect Miami to pound Georgia Tech’s defense with running backs Mark Walton and Joseph Yearby to set up the play-action pass to take some shots downfield. Hurricanes defensive coordinator Manny Diaz has his unit attacking the ball, so it is hard to envision the Yellow Jackets having a lot of success on offense.

Miami should have a fairly easy time in Atlanta with its home date against in-state rival Florida State looming next Saturday.

Prediction: Miami 38, Georgia Tech 17

— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, the Miami Herald and the Palm Beach Post and is a reporter for Pro Player Insiders. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.