8:00 PM EST, ABC – Line: Virginia Tech -2.5, Over/Under: 50
Now is the time that the true contenders begin to separate themselves from the rest of pack, as a huge ACC clash is set to do exactly that as the Tenth-Ranked Miami Hurricanes look to prove themselves to the world as they play host to the Thirteenth-Ranked Virginia Tech Hokies, from Sun Life Stadium in Miami, Florida. Patrolling the fringes of the Top-Ten is Virginia Tech (7-1, 3-1 in ACC), who with a victory tonight have positioned themselves to hijack Miami’s bid to represent the Coastal Division in the ACC Championship Game. Unlike their opponent tonight, the Hokies have grinded out a fairly tough schedule, opening the campaign with 31-24 victory over then No. 22 West Virginia on a neutral field, before giving reigning National Champion Clemson (who was also undefeated and ranked No. 2 in the country) a fight before falling in a 31-17 defeat. Pounding the rock and playing suffocating Defense has been the recipe for success for Justin Fuente’s charges in 2017, who have churned out three consecutive victories since suffering their lone loss of the term. Against the likes of Boston College, North Carolina, and Duke, Fuente overlooked his side handle their business, winning by a decisive 106-20 margin. Defensively, Defensive Coordinator Bud Foster once again has his group doing what they’ve done best for so many years now under his watch, which is getting after their opponents; in the last three games, Virginia Tech have held the opposition to a scant 233.0 Total Yards per Game, while relegating each of the last two below 200 Yards, which marks the third time this season that they’ve accomplished that feat. Passing the ball against this unit has been something that been painstakingly difficult to do in 2017, with opponents completing a miserable 44.9% of their attempts for an average of 173.8 Yards through the air on 6.1 Yards per Attempt. This Defense may possess the best group of Linebackers in the ACC, if not the entire country, with the trio of Tremaine Edmunds (67 TKL, 6.5 TFL, 1.5 SK, 1 PD, 2 FF), Terrell Edmunds (55 TKL, 2.0 TFL, 1.5 SK, 2 INT, 3 PD), and Andrew Montuapuaka (59 TKL, 7.0 TFL, 2.5 SK, 1 INT, 3 PD, 1 FF) making plays both behind the Line of Scrimmage and in Coverage. Defensive Backs Mook Reynolds (56 TKL, 8.0 TFL, 1.5 SK, 1 PD, 1 FF), Reggie Floyd (48 TKL, 1.5 TFL, 1.0 SK, 1 INT, 1 TD, 1 PD, 1 FF), and Greg Stroman (8 TKL, 1 INT, 8 PD) also tremendous in Coverage, but like all of Foster’s students in the secondary, they come up and tackle with the best of them. On the opposite side of the ball, Freshman Quarterback Josh Jackson has settled into his role ahead of schedule, completing 62.3% of his Attempts for an average of 254.0 Yards per Game on 8.5 Yards per Attempt, with seventeen Touchdowns and four Interceptions. indeed, the future is bright for the Hokies at this position, but in the meantime, the kid is going to have to stem the tide of struggles that he’s experienced over the last few weeks; Jackson has seen his Completion Percentage drop precipitously over the last two games, dropping from 66.7% against Boston College to 50.0% (10-of-20) against North Carolina, and most recently to 48.1% (13-of-27) versus Duke. Fortunately, the ground game is starting to rev back into high gear, with the poor passing performances coinciding with an increase in rushing production, as Virginia Tech has racked up 109, 181, and 187 Rushing Yards in successive weeks after posting just 90 against Clemson. It’s very much “Running Back by Committee” in the Backfield, as seven different Hokies have picked up over 100 Yards on the ground, with Travon McMillian pacing the group with a team-high 353 Yards and two Touchdowns on seventy-six Carries, while also factoring into the passing attack with eight Receptions for 128 Yards and three more scores. Look for Fuente to keep things grounded against the Hurricanes, who have struggled mightily of late against the run (which we’ll get into shortly), though judiciously taking his shots down the field when the opportunity presents itself. Since 2009, Virginia Tech has amassed a 5-3 record against Miami, with three of those victories coming when the Hurricanes have been ranked, the first of which they were ranked Ninth Overall.
Meanwhile, Miami (7-0, 5-0 in ACC) is off to their best start since 2013, though the faithful in Southern Florida will no doubt be hoping that the same fate does not befall their beloved Hurricanes, for immediately afterwards they dropped three consecutive contests en route to ending the campaign with a 9-4 record. Indeed, there is an uneasiness in Coral Gables surrounding this team, which despite their perfect record and their lofty standing in the Polls, appears to be on the brink of falling from their perch. Fool’s Gold would be the most appropriate way of describing this team’s resume’ at this juncture, but because we’re talking about, well, The U, the proverbial Hype Machine must go into overdrive. Now, this isn’t to downgrade the job that Mark Richt has done in his second year in charge of his Alma Mata, particularly given the hardships they had to face early in the season with the destruction rained down by Hurricane Irma, but when you take a look at their schedule thus far, who exactly have they beaten? Bethune-Cookman, Toledo, Duke, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Syracuse, and most recently North Carolina, is far from an imposing line of opponents, with none of their number being ranked at the time of their meeting. In fact, Toledo (7-1) has been statistically their stiffest competition thus far, which really calls into question the caliber of their schedule. It also certainly doesn’t help that Miami appears to be trending towards a loss, for they’ve struggled to put away each of their last four opponents, which include Florida State (24-20) without Starting Quarterback Deandre Francois, and most recently a 1-8 North Carolina team (24-19) who has yet to win a game in conference play. In their last four outings, the ‘Canes have been burned on the ground for an average of 217.3 Yards, and while the Tar Heels didn’t quite break the 200-Yard Threshold, they still managed to rack up an impressive 428 Total Yards in a losing effort. The saving grace for this team of late has been Turnover Differential, which has swung heavily towards Richt’s charges in 2017; in seven games, Miami has forced sixteen Turnovers, including eight in the last two contests alone, in comparison to committing just six themselves, with their two against North Carolina marking a season-high. Junior Quarterback Malik Rosier (56.7%, 295.9 Y/G, 8.2 Y/A, 17 TD, 4 INT) has been extremely efficient in his first campaign as the Starter, showing a grit and toughness in the Pocket as he continues to battle through a sore Throwing Shoulder that hampered him in last weekend’s affair. Against the Tar Heels, Rosier completed a season-low 16-of-38 Passes (42.1%), but made those Completions count, racking up 356 Yards and three Touchdowns, averaging a whopping 22.3 Yards per Completed Pass. Granted, that’s pretty much bene the story offensively for the Hurricanes, who during this run of close wins have relied heavily on the deep ball, with Rosier netting a healthy 14.9 Yards per Completion. Of course, the reason for the sudden proliferation of vertical passes has been due to the recent stumbles of the Running Game, which went from churning out 238.3 Rushing Yards in the first three games to just 115.5 in the last four outings, including a season-worst fifty-nine Yards last Saturday. Losing Junior Tailback Mark Walton (56 CAR, 428 YDS, 3 TD) four games into the term was a big loss to this unit, and while his Sophomore understudy Travis Homer (81 CAR, 517 YDS, 5 TD) has played well, one cannot deny that the Offense has become very one-dimensional of late. Tonight’s meeting with the Hokies begins a crucial stretch for these kids, who will face Third-Ranked Notre Dame the following weekend, giving them really only two opportunities to make an impression in the eyes of the College Football Playoff Committee, apart from a potential date with Sixth-Ranked Clemson in the ACC Championship Game. If The U is really back (for real this time) like the media so desperately wants them to be, these are the kind of games they’re going to need to win, otherwise they’re just another program searching for faded glory.