(Sports Network) Powerful ACC foes will collide in Florida this weekend as the 24th-ranked Miami-Florida Hurricanes welcome the 14th-ranked Virginia Tech Hokies to town.
With a victory on Saturday, Virginia Tech can clinch the ACC Coastal Division title. Coach Frank Beamer and his staff deserve tremendous credit for turning around a season that started as badly as anyone could have imagined. The Hokies lost their first two games, including a five-point setback to FCS foe James Madison, but have rallied for eight consecutive victories. They are 6-0 in ACC action and are coming off a 26-10 triumph over North Carolina last weekend.
"The key factor is having great kids," Beamer said of the turnaround and prospects of winning the division title. "I've said that a bunch, but I really mean it."
As for Miami, which is led by head coach Randy Shannon, it has posted back-to- back victories to move to 7-3 overall and 5-2 in league play. The Hurricanes crushed Georgia Tech last weekend by a 35-10 final and now return home where they are 3-1 this year.
"If we continue to do this, we can be a very special football team," Shannon said after last weekend's performance.
Miami owns a 17-10 series lead over Virginia Tech, but the Hokies beat the Hurricanes, 31-7, last season.
Virginia Tech is scoring 35.0 ppg this season to go along with 415.0 total ypg, and the offense has been able to achieve tremendous balance. The Hokies are rushing for 208.5 ypg with 21 touchdowns, and the passing game accounts for 206.5 ypg and 18 scores. Tyrod Taylor has been tremendous under center, completing 61.2 percent of his throws for 1,988 yards and just four interceptions to go along with those 18 scores. Darren Evans leads the ground attack with 605 yards and nine touchdowns, but Taylor is close behind in rushing yardage (581). Jarrett Boykins is the top receiver on the roster with 39 catches for 656 yards and five scores.
Defensively, Virginia Tech is limiting opponents to 19.1 ppg and 343.1 total ypg. The Hokies have some room for improvement against the run, as they are permitting 4.7 yards per carry. The pass defense has been strong overall, as Tech has permitted fewer than half of the passes it has faced to be completed and intercepted 16 balls. The best player on defense has been Bruce Taylor, as he is tops in total tackles (77), TFLs (15.5) and sacks (six).
Tech trailed UNC by one point at intermission last week, but the Hokies pitched a shutout in the second half and scored 17 points in the third quarter. Both touchdowns came on Taylor passes to Marcus Davis, and the quarterback finished with 249 yards through the air despite connecting on only 13-of-28 attempts. Evans rushed for 90 yards on 14 carries, while Ryan Williams has 83 rushing yards on 15 attempts.
"I think the coaches have always had the confidence in me," said Davis after the win. "It was just up to me to put myself in the situation to succeed."
Holding North Carolina to 10 points is no easy task, so Virginia Tech certainly deserves credit for doing so last weekend. The Hokies yielded 314 total yards and intercepted four passes to go along with two fumble recoveries. Clearly, the six takeaways were key to the win.
Miami starting quarterback Jacory Harris has been downgraded to doubtful for this weekend's game, as he is still recovering from a concussion. Harris, who has thrown for 1,646 yards and 14 touchdowns, will likely watch Stephen Morris take the snaps. The young signal caller, who has only completed 52.9 percent of his passes with four touchdowns and four interceptions, would certainly benefit from throwing the ball to Leonard Hankerson early and often. Arguably the best receiver in the ACC, Hankerson has made 51 catches for 879 yards and 11 scores to date. Damien Berry has rushed for 763 yards and five touchdowns for Miami, which is averaging 28.8 ppg and 425.4 total ypg.
Foes are generating 18.2 ppg and 314.3 total ypg against Miami, which has permitted 19 touchdowns to opposing offenses, including 13 rushing scores. The Hurricanes have allowed fewer than half of the passes thrown against them to be completed, a remarkable accomplishment. They have intercepted 16 balls and recovered threw fumbles as well. Add 29 sacks to the mix and there have been a wealth of impact plays made. Sean Spence paces the defense with 82 total tackles, including 13.5 TFLs.
In the victory over Georgia Tech last week, Miami posted 507 total yards, with 277 of those coming on the ground. Four different players scored rushing touchdowns for the 'Canes in that contest, and Morris was extremely poised under center, completing 10-of-18 passes for 230 yards and a score with no interceptions. Hankerson made the most of his three grabs, totaling 132 receiving yards and a touchdown, his 11th of the season to tie Michael Irvin's single season school record.
He does what he has to do," Hankerson said of Morris, who started his first game against Tech. "He makes every drive count."
Defensively, Miami contained Georgia Tech, holding the Yellow Jackets to one touchdown despite nearly 33 minutes of possession time. Miami came up with a pair of takeaways and allowed just 7-of-17 passes to be completed.
While Miami will put up a fight at home, give a narrow edge to Virginia Tech because of the advantage at the quarterback position.