Over the past month, Virginia Tech and Miami have seen their seasons fall apart with the Hokies losing four of their last 5 games including three straight losses in ACC play while the Hurricanes have lost four-straight games since starting the season 5-1. Now, both teams face off in a game that has gone from being seen as a potential de facto Coastal Championship to a must win for keeping bowl game hopes alive.
With that said, here are the keys to the game for the Hokies against Miami.
Get Pressure Without Blitzing
Miami has struggled throwing the football this season with the Hurricanes under 54% of their passes and a QB carousel causing plenty of chaos with Malik Rosier and N’Kosi Perry both struggling. However, all indications are that Perry has emerged as the guy at least for this week after an okay performance in Miami’s loss at Georgia Tech.
The Hokies’ secondary will still be tested though by the Hurricanes’ big receivers including Jeff Thomas and Lawrence Cager who are averaging over 17 yards per reception. The best way to help mitigate that is to have safety help over the top and for the Hokies to do that, Bud Foster will need his defensive line to get pressure without blitzing even though they’ll be without their best pass rusher Houshun Gaines.
The Hokies will need their defensive ends to step up in particular especially Emmanuel Belmar who will be the only non-freshman working in on the edge while VT will need TyJuan Garbutt to do better at keeping contain after his failure to keep containment cost the Hokies in a couple of moments. In addition, the Hokies will need to get some interior pass rush help from Ricky Walker, Vinny Mihota, and a likely healthy Jarrod Hewitt.
If the Hokies can get some pressure without blitzing similar to how they were able to do so against Duke, Miami’s QBs could have a long day and the Hokies’ defense may be able to force some turnovers that could make a big difference.
Take Some Risks on Offense
Miami has one of the best defenses in the country, and Manny Diaz will absolutely have his defensive unit to handle the ultra-conservative playcalling that the Hokies have shown at times this season.
While going that direction may be tempting given how Miami has once again done very well at forcing turnovers, the Hokies need to open it up and take some shots down the field with their big outside receivers that have shown that they can win 50-50 balls and make big plays.
Part of this is simply because of the fact that Virginia Tech needs to actually show that they are willing to push the ball down the field to prevent Miami’s safeties from being able to play within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage, hopefully creating more space for the intermediate passing game.
In addition, Miami has shown that they can shut down the run and though they may allow a decent amount of yards on the ground, that’s mostly due to volume with the Hurricanes allowing less than 3.4 yards per carry. This is another area where forcing the secondary to play slightly deeper off the snap with a legitimate vertical passing game actually being used can create space for runs outside the tackles or the swing passes that are simply extended runs.
Show Up and Fight
When you have 5 losses, it can be tempting to start to tune out the season and go through the motions especially when you’re a team like Virginia Tech or Miami that started the season in the top 20 of the polls with high expectations. At the end of the day, today’s game may come down to simply which team wants it more.
Yes, that may be an oversimplification of things, but the fact is that both of these teams don’t have nearly as much to play for as they expected they would at this point. This game could easily be divided by the fact that one team decides to show up and the other team is simply looking for the exit door to their frustrating season.
This is one area where the Hokies should benefit from being at home in Lane Stadium where it’ll be hard for the Hokies to tune out on the season. In addition, the Hokies have the benefit of being a younger team with a lot of players fighting for future playing time.
This may not end up making a difference, but both teams need to show up and avoid checking out on their seasons early. If one team doesn’t, then all the stats coming into this game won’t be predictive of the result on the field.