Friday, November 19, 2010

Game Preview - vs. Miami

On Saturday afternoon, our Virginia Tech Hokies take on the Miami Hurricanes. The Hokies have kept a goose egg in their ACC L-column this year, and they can sew up the Coastal division title with a win. Should Miami come away with the win, they will keep their division title hopes alive. Should they win the rest of their games and the Hokie's dropped in their contest one week later against UVA, the 'Canes would take the division on a head-to-head tiebreaker. I gage the Hurricanes as the Hokies' most difficult opponent since Boise State...IF they have their starting quarterback Jacory Harris.

Thus far, the Hokies have exhibited great resiliency since the abyss in which they found themselves two games into the season, but this contest is far from one they can expect to consider in the bag. While the Hokies have the strongest offense in the ACC by the measure of points per game (35), the 'Canes rank as the second best defense in the conference averaging only 18 points per game allowed. In passing defense they rank number one. Their rushing defense, however, ranks much further down at number eight.

Miami quarterback, "Heart Attack" Jacory Harris leads the 'Canes offense this season, but he suffered a major hit leading to concussion symptoms against UVA on 10/30. He did practice with the team on Tuesday, so remote chance the he'll play does stand. Presuming that (a) he does play and (b) he comes out on the field at the top of his game, Miami has a formidable offense. Harris has put up 1646 yards in passing thus far, and has a completion rate of 53%. Harris brings similar assets as Tyrod Taylor to the field. He can run, throw, and scramble to transform plays shaping up as sacks into rushing gains, albeit he lacks the composure of the experienced college athlete in which Tyalor has grown. But with the right level of momentum and some breaks going his way, Harris could do what it takes to get Miami the W. Miami head coach Randy Shannon said the following to comment on Harris' status. "I know you guys want to keep worrying about who's going to be the starter and all the fans want to know who's going to be the guy. Let the guy get healthy. Let him go through the process instead of trying to force him back into something that can hurt him. ... I hope you all understand this because I've talked about it for about two weeks. Concussions are serious. And a lot of fans, a lot of media and bloggers, you all think it's a deal where you can just line up after one week off and then the next week show up and play. It's not that way. ... All it takes is one hit if we go back too early, and now Jacory is in another world. ... I'm not going to do that. We're going to do it the right way here at Miami. We're going to take him slow.'' A head coach with that attitude is a head coach with class ladies and gentlemen.

Under the expected circumstances of Harris not playing, Stephen Morriss will take the snaps for the Miami offense. In his first game against Virginia, he threw 9 for 22 attempts for 162 yards, but most impressively demonstrated a steep upwards learning curve in orchestrating a 19 point comeback all within the fourth quarter to close the gap. The 'Canes ended up losing that game by 5, but that's almost a victory considering the uphill climb they faced. The next week against Maryland, Morris exhibited signs of rapid improvement. He threw for a 60% completion rate and 286 yards. And against Georgia Tech, he led the 'Canes to a 35-10 victory in comparison to Virginia Tech's 28-21 victory which nearly went into overtime in the final seconds of the game. Considering coming into the season this late as a starter, Morris has shown a lot success. The stats support that. With a 53% completion rate the Freshman stands to give Bud Foster's defense at least some trouble. Don't assume the Miami quarterback situation means that the 'Canes will roll over.

When Miami passing takes to the air, they primarily look to wide receivers Travis Benjamin and Leonard Hankerson. Hankerson leads the ACC with 879 yards of receiving. Benjamin has received for 627 yards thus far on the season. And then LaRon Byrd has accumulated 355 yards. Running back Damien Berry has amassed 763 yards on the season thus far, which exceeds anyone from Virginia Tech's running back core and ranks third across the ACC, and that's having missing a game on the season. The number two running back, Lamar Miller, has accrued 462 yards over eight games.

When it comes to how each of the respective squads match up, I like how the chips fall for the Hokies. The Hokies have the second best rushing offense in the league, only surpassed by Georgia Tech who does nothing but run the ball. The Hokies have a very deep running back core, which has something to do with the fact that their individual stats don't quite compare to the leaders of other teams around college football. Let's be frank. Any of Darren Evans, Ryan Williams, or David Wilson could safely be the number one running back around much of Division I NCAA football, but the depth translates to less carries per game for each player. Side note: Gobbler Country has Wilson listed as probable, presumably recovered from his bout with mononucleosis. But I digress. The 'Canes defense hasn't done well against the run this year, so I like those odds, and I see the ground game as the primary offensive strategy for the Hokies. Switching things around Miami's rushing edges out over their offense, not by a mile, but noticeably. Virginia Tech's passing defense ranks very high and very effective. The Hokie's rushing defense has given up some ground this season, so I fear that Miami has an opportunity if their playcalling gets the better of the Hokie defense's adjustments.

All in all, expect a good game.


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