The Virginia Tech Hokies and Miami Hurricanes enter tonight’s ACC Coastal showdown coming off losses last Saturday knowing that a loss tonight would be very costly to their ACC Coastal hopes. The winner of this game also seems poised to jump back into national relevance and the top 25 next week while the loser will likely drop off the national radar until bowl season.
Both teams know the magnitude of this game and should be ready to come out with desperation so with that said, here are our keys to the game for the Hokies against Miami.
Keep Your Emotions Under Control
There is no doubt that Lane Stadium will be loud and boisterous tonight for this huge ACC Coastal showdown between the Hokies and Hurricanes. One thing that Virginia Tech has done a great job of is feeding off the energy in Lane Stadium, and the Hokies once again need to do everything they can to take advantage of that extra energy of playing at home.
However, this environment will be more energized and louder than any of those earlier home games, and it will be critical for the Hokies to not only play with lots of energy but also to keep their emotions under control and not get caught up in the moment of playing on Thursday night in Blacksburg.
Big games can lead to players getting unnecessary personal fouls from plays where someone lets their emotions take over and causes some sort of unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. This type of game can also make some players want to “be the man” that saves the games and is the hero instead of just doing their job and trusting the playcalling of their coach.
While the Hokies absolutely must feed off what should be an electric atmosphere tonight, Virginia Tech must have the discipline to stay focus on the task and not end up having a hero mentality in front of a near-sellout crowd on national television. If some players do end up taking a “hero mentality” mindset, Virginia Tech will likely be vulnerable to being upset due to simple mistakes in discipline and not sticking with your assignment especially on defense where failures to “stay with your assignment” was seen as a big reason for defensive struggles against Syracuse.
Win The Battle In The Trenches
Both teams have talented defensive lines that are banged up as the Hokies have two defensive line starters that are questionable while Miami will be without a starting DE and a backup DT with their other starting DE’s status up in the air. However, both defensive lines still have plenty of talent and have been big pieces for why the Hokies and Hurricanes have two of the top defenses in the ACC and America.
For the Hokies, they will be facing a Miami running attack that has been quite good so far with two backs in Mark Walton and Joseph Yearby averaging over 5 yards per carry and having more than 400 rushing yards each. Miami’s two-headed monster in the backfield will be the Hokies’ toughest rushing challenge since Miami especially with UNC’s offense becoming quite predictable in the wet conditions.
Virginia Tech has the talent on the defensive line to handle being without Ken Ekanem or Nigel Williams though a loss of Ekanem would definitely hurt the Hokies some on the line. This matchup in the trenches between the Miami offensive and Virginia Tech defensive line will have a big impact as making Miami one-dimensional, even with a likely future first round pick in Brad Kaaya at QB, will make the task a whole lot harder for the Hurricanes.
Meanwhile, the Hokies have had their own struggles getting their running game going and face a Miami defensive line that has a lot of talent on the interior but could have some issues on the edges. The Hokies’ offensive line has had their fair share of problems especially on the interior but the talent is there, the Hokies just need some more consistency.
The battle in the trenches will be critical tonight as the winner of this battle will likely come away with the victory tonight.
Take Advantage of Big Play Opportunities
If there is one thing that Jerod Evans has struggled with, it has been his deep pass accuracy. There have been plenty of times where the Hokies have had the opportunity to have some big plays and Jerod Evans has just not put the ball where it needed to be, in most cases that being an overthrown pass.
Last week, Evans had three moments in particular where overthrown passes cost the Hokies big plays including two to Isaiah Ford, one that would have definitely been a touchdown, and one to Steven Peoples. The Hokies’ offense has proven to be fairly explosive but Virginia Tech needs to start taking advantage of those big play opportunities to make defenses give more space and hopefully open up some more room for the running game as defenses are forced to be more conservative to prevent the big play.
Tonight, the Hurricanes will be without one of their two starting cornerbacks, creating a mismatch that Bucky Hodges and Isaiah Ford will both likely have at different times in the game against a less experienced cornerback. There will likely be a few opportunities for Evans to hit some home run passes to Ford, Hodges, and Cam Phillips and when those opportunities come up; it will be important for Evans to take advantage of them.
Jerod Evans has played quite well so far and earned our Midseason Offensive MVP honors but if this offense is to take the next step, Evans will need to start hitting the home run passes that he has struggled to hit for much of this season.