With the college football playoff rankings being released Tuesday, many teams have a new fire underneath them. Two of the better teams in the ACC will meet at Hard Rock Stadium to give more clarity in the battle for the Coastal division. There are more similarities than differences between the teams, with both being led by second year coaches at new schools. In addition to the new coaches, both schools are led by athletic defenses and first year starters at quarterback. Virginia Tech’s only loss came from Clemson and a win versus Miami can send them back into the ACC championship.
Prime Time ACC Match-up
Athletic Defense Leads Virginia Tech
Both schools come into the game being known for their ability to play quality defense. Virginia Tech is allowing an average of 11.5 points per game which ranks second in the nation. Only twice this season has an opponent scored over 24 points. The Bud Foster led defense is known for being tough and already has 10 different players that have all recorded sacks this season. An even more impressive stat, is the fact that the Hokies have six players that all have over six and a half tackles for a loss at this point. Tremaine Edmunds is a player that the Hurricanes are well aware of, last season he gave the Miami offense headaches.
At linebacker Edmunds pairs with Andrew Motuapuaka and they create confusion in Virginia Tech’s zone blitz scheme. Hokie fans have also welcomed the emergence of redshirt sophomore Tim Settle, on the year the big 335 pounder has three sacks. In the secondary Virginia Tech has elite athleticism with every contributing defender being six feet or taller. Hybrid corner Mook Reynolds is second on the team with eight tackles for loss on the Hokies.
Contender or Pretender
Many have slighted the Miami Hurricanes because of the close finishes they have had since the win against Florida State. The inability to separate against teams have many feeling that eventually the “luck” will run out. Head coach Mark Richt has made it clear he will not apologize for winning, however close the margin, and truly believes that even if Miami wins every game by one point they will be in the college football playoffs. Lost in the kerfuffle over whether or not Miami is an elite team, is the play of a really good defense. On the season Miami has mustered up to already surpass last season’s total in turnovers. The defensive line has also helped Miami get in the top five in sacks and tackles for loss.
Junior Michael Jackson leads the Hurricanes with four interceptions on the year and will look to gain more from the Hokies. The problem with that is redshirt quarterback Josh Jackson just doesn’t turn the ball over like typical freshmen. On the season he has only thrown four interceptions, two which came against Clemson. Hurricane defenders will be looking to force him into bad situations to bring the “Turnover chain” out.
Opportunity for First ACC Coastal Championship
With the inconsistencies that have plagued Miami offensively, it is still in prime position for a run at the ACC Championship. Since it’s last game in the Big East in 2003, the Hurricanes have failed to leave a mark in the ACC. For the first time in a while, Miami has a shot to actually win it and prove to doubters that they are for real.
Miami has a lot of overall momentum. They have a strong November record. The athletic department is building new facilities on campus. There is a strong incoming recruiting class. Still, this is the most important game of the season. Even with Notre Dame looming next week, if Miami wins it is set up to play the winner of Clemson/North Carolina State.
Matchups to Watch Closely
There are a number of good matchups to keep an eye on during this game especially in the passing game. The Hokies’ Cam Phillips, is one of the best in the conference and will likely face Malek Young for a large part of the game. The trenches will also play a key role for both teams with the strength of the defensive lines on both sides. The health of Virginia Tech’s left tackle Yosuah Nijman, is another thing to keep in mind.
The battle between Miami’s wideouts and the Virginia Tech secondary will be vital because Miami can not afford to play one dimensional. Ahmon Richards, Braxton Berrios and freshmen Jeff Thomas will all need to be involved to close the deal. Those battles directly correlate with the most important bout of the game, the battle between Mark Richt and Bud Foster.