Miami and Virginia Tech were both ranked in the Top 25 of all the major preseason polls. The expectation was that the marquee game on Nov. 17 in an otherwise light slate of college football action would be a showdown between the Hurricanes and the Hokies to decide the ACC Coastal crown.
However, the two programs have been major disappointments in 2018. Since September turned to October, Miami and Virginia Tech are a combined 2-8, with the wins coming against two other ACC washouts in North Carolina and Florida State. Now, reaching six wins and achieving bowl eligibility is the only goal left for both teams. With one game against a quality opponent remaining for each squad, and with Miami at 5-5 and Virginia Tech at 4-5, postseason hopes may hang in the balance this week.
Miami at Virginia Tech
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 17 at 3:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Miami -3.5
Three Things to Watch
1. N’Kosi Perry’s development
Making sure the redshirt freshman quarterback is ready to be the starting quarterback in 2019 is Miami coach Mark Richt’s primary objective for the remainder of the season. Perry did not become the immediate star many Miami fans hoped he would be, but he made strides in last week’s loss to Georgia Tech. The Ocala, Florida, product showed off a strong arm when he was given time in the pocket, and he picked up a couple key first downs with his legs. Perry should see all of the reps in the Hurricanes' final two regular-season games, which will give Richt and his staff a pretty good idea of what they have at the quarterback position going forward.
2. Virginia Tech rush defense
In short, it’s been pathetic in recent weeks. Over the first five games, the Hokies were stingy against the run, allowing just over 100 yards per game with Notre Dame’s 167 being the high-water mark. But something happened at halftime of that Notre Dame game. The Irish had just 10 rushing yards in the first 30 minutes, then piled up 157 after the break. In the four contests since, Virginia Tech has allowed an average of 353 yards per game on the ground. Twice opponents have gone over 400 yards, including Pittsburgh’s 492 this past week when the Panthers averaged an incredible 13.7 yards per carry. Miami running back Travis Homer has had a solid season with 732 rushing yards. This may be his week to explode against the anemic Hokie rush defense.
3. Virginia Tech passing game vs. Miami’s pass defense
While the Hurricanes' offense has been a disaster for much of the year, the defense still ranks among the best in the land. That is especially true against the pass, where the Canes allow just 134 yards per outing, good for No. 2 nationally. When Virginia Tech has had offensive success, it’s usually been the result of Ryan Willis throwing the ball to a solid corps of receivers. The Canes can get after the quarterback, and they have pressured their opponents into throwing 13 interceptions. Willis has thrown only four picks on the season, and he must make the proper decisions in order to move the ball on the aggressive Miami defense.
While the Miami defense has forced 20 turnovers, the Hurricanes have also given the ball away 19 times. Fumbles were a big problem last week as Georgia Tech scored 13 points off of three Miami giveaways. The offensive woes have been so bad that not even Miami’s strong defense has been able to make things right. For the Hokies, it has been the defense that has let the team down. The secondary is young, and the front seven has not been able to slow down any rushing attack in the past month. That will continue again, as running back Travis Homer will have his best game of the season, Miami’s defense will give quarterback Ryan Willis fits, and the Hurricanes will go to Lane Stadium and grab a win.
Prediction: Miami 24, Virginia Tech 13
— Written by Jon Kinne, who has been part of the Athlon Contributor Network for three years, covering the ACC and Notre Dame. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.