Thursday night football returns to Lane Stadium in a showdown of two teams coming off tough losses that will be desperate to get a run and keep themselves in serious contention to win the ACC Coastal. Both Virginia Tech and Miami know that a loss will almost certainly eliminate them from the Coastal hunt especially Miami who already has 2 ACC losses with a third certainly ending any Coastal hopes they have.
This is also an old Big East rivalry that has had plenty of exciting ACC matchups since both programs joined the conference. There is no love lost between these two old Big East foes that will be ready for this big showdown at Lane Stadium so with that said, here are our key matchups for this critical Coastal showdown.
WR Isaiah Ford vs. CB Corn Elder
The Miami defense is certain to given Corn Elder or whoever is covering Isaiah Ford a lot of safety help throughout this game as Ford is one of the most dangerous wide receivers in all of college football. However, Elder is a pretty good cornerback that may likely have to cover Ford one-on-one in a few situations given the multitude of weapons the Hokies have.
Ford has burnt some pretty good cornerbacks this season including Cam Sutton once against Tennessee but Jerod Evans has missed some of those big opportunities when Ford has gotten space. Even in double coverage, Ford has found plenty of ways to find space and put himself in position to make some big plays depending on how good of a deep ball Evans throws.
However, Elder is a veteran cornerback that has played fairly well in 2016 with 35 tackles, 1 interception, 5 pass breakups, 3.5 tackles for loss, and 2 sacks this season. Elder has proven to be a playmaker and is the best cornerback that Ford has matched up against since Tennessee’ Cam Sutton.
If Elder can find a way to contain Ford and prevent him from getting the space he’s used to get, Virginia Tech’s passing game will be limited and Miami’s chances of upsetting the Hokies again on a Thursday night will go up a good amount but if Ford has a huge game, Miami will be in for a long night at least defensively.
Virginia Tech Interior OL vs. Miami DTs
Virginia Tech’s interior offensive line has had its fair share of instability especially at the center and left guard spots with Wyatt Teller and Eric Gallo recently reclaiming those spots. The interior offensive line has been the weak point of the offensive line and on Thursday night, they’ll face a talented stable of Miami DTs that could make running the ball up the middle once again challenging for the Hokies.
Miami has four talented defensive tackles who have been forces on the inside in starting DTs RJ McIntosh and Kendrick Norton plus backups Gerald Willis and Courtel Jenkins. All three have at least 5 tackles for loss (5.5 for McIntosh, Norton, 5 for Willis, 3.5 for Jenkins) with the trio having a combined 2 sacks so far this season, 1.5 of which coming from the backup Willis.
This trio of defensive tackles have caused their fair share of problems on rushing plays for opponents and with the Hokies’ interior offensive line having some struggles including last week against Syracuse, this is a bad matchup on paper.
However, the Hokies will have the boost of playing at home in front of a loud crowd that will give that offensive line extra energy to feed off of. Plus, the Hokies have had more consistency on the interior offensive line in the past couple of games with Wyatt Teller and Eric Gallo being the regular starters again and the Hokies showing some flashes.
If the Hokies can get a few interior runs against Miami’s talented group of DTs, the Hokies may be able to force more in the box and get some more one-on-one matchups. If not, the Hokies will have to rely more on the passing game and outside runs which Virginia Tech has definitely proven it can rely on and score a lot of points still but it would still prove a challenge against Miami’s strong defense.
DE Ken Ekanem vs. OT Trevor Darling
Once again, Ken Ekanem makes the list as he faces off against a talented, experienced offensive tackle in Trevor Darling who will be making his 20th straight start at left tackle and 25th career start for Miami. Both of these players have proven themselves to be capable players that should make this a very interesting matchup not only for the outcome of the game but also for scouts who could see these guys as late round draft picks in 2017 or 2018 in Darling’s case.
Ekanem hasn’t had a sack in a couple weeks but the senior defensive end has been productive despite that getting plenty of pressure with 19 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, 6 QB hurries, and 2 pass breakups. Ekanem has found ways to make things happen time and time again and will absolutely be ready for this big game.
Meanwhile, Darling is an experienced tackle that has faced plenty of quality opponents with Ekanem being the latest this season that has also faced matchups against teams with talented defensive lines like Florida State. Darling has become one of the main veterans on the Hurricanes’ offensive line and will likely be put in one-on-one matchups against Ekanem often in this game.
One thing that could make the extra difference is the chip that seems to be on Ekanem’s shoulder from the Thursday night blowout loss two years ago.
Ekanem on Miami after #Hokies' big loss in 2014: "I think we definitely do owe these guys…but it can't be any bigger than it actually is."
— Norm Wood (@normwood) October 17, 2016
Darling is a quality left tackle but Ekanem seems poised for a big game and with this extra chip on his shoulder, Ekanem could be a star in this matchup especially against a Miami QB in Brad Kaaya who is a pocket passer with limited mobility.