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2 big keys to Miami’s impressive win over Virginia Tech

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The Canes dominated the Hokies, 28-10, and put themselves one step closer to playing for an ACC title.

NCAA Football: Virginia Tech at Miami Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Though they play different styles of defense, the Miami Hurricanes and Virginia Tech Hokies both try to be aggressive with formation and penetration and dare opposing offenses to hit big plays. Neither plays a whole lot of bend-but-don’t-break style.

On Saturday night in Miami, the Hurricanes’ offense wasn’t always pretty, but it did create explosive plays, which is what teams have to do against a Bud Foster Virginia Tech defense.

Miami had 13 plays of 10-plus yards

The Hurricanes had runs of 36, 10, 64, 19, 12, 13, and passes of 17, 24, 18, 20, 18, 43, and 42 yards. Miami also drew two pass interference penalties against the Hokies’ defense.

Travis Homer made the Hokies pay for their overaggressiveness as Miami’s offensive line washed the Virginia Tech defenders further out of position, and the speedy Homer raced 64 yards for the touchdown to put Miami up 14-0.

Six of Malik Rosier’s 10 pass completions went for 18 or more yards. Three were intercepted. It was truly feast or famine.

“In tennis, we call this filling up the stat sheet,” ESPN broadcaster Chris Fowler said, referencing the mixture of aces and unforced errors.

While three interceptions and a QB rating of 128 won’t get it done against a better opponent, it is important to remember that Virginia Tech often makes opponents look ugly, even when those teams are being effective.

Miami’s receivers did a great job blocking for each other. On no play was that more evident than when tight end Chris Herndon took a quick flare and raced 43 yards to the end zone as Ahmmon Richards blocked for him well down the field.

Chris Herndon races for the TD behind some great blocking

Virginia Tech couldn’t create explosive runs

Miami’s defense does a lot of things well under coordinator Manny Diaz. The Hurricanes are third nationally in tackles for loss per game, with 8.89 per contest.

But the downside to all of that aggressiveness has often been allowing big runs. It is hard to be extremely aggressive, mix fronts, and stay gap sound. So far on the season, Miami was 117th in runs of 10-plus yards allowed per game and 115th in runs of 20-plus allowed per game. Considering Miami’s lackluster schedule to date, those are some alarming numbers.

But on Saturday night, Miami found the right mix of aggressiveness and discipline. Virginia Tech did not create a single run of more than 20 yards and had just three of 10 or more. The Hurricanes’ defensive line routinely whipped Virginia Tech up front and forced the Hokies to try and get cute. The angles from secondary pursuit were solid and did not leave opportunities for big gashes.

There was a bit of chicken vs. egg with this. Virginia Tech was forced to pass more than it would have liked, since it got down so early in the game, and Virginia Tech’s passing suffered. Virginia Tech QB Josh Jackson is not a good enough passer at this early stage in his career to threaten defenses consistently without the threat of play action. But with Miami snuffing out the run, Virginia Tech’s run fakes were less effective. Jackson threw the ball 32 times for just 197 yards. Two were intercepted. His receivers did not separate against a Miami secondary that has not always been stellar this season. And he was sacked four times.

Miami is going to get its TFLs, so if the opposing offense fails to gash the Hurricanes for long runs, it will be a long night. The Hokies are now averaging less than five yards per play in ACC competition.

Clinch?

Miami appears to be a lock for its first-ever ACC title appearance. If you could put together a parlay with the four necessary games happening (see below) to Keep Miami out, it would likely pay better than 100-1.

Miami vs. Clemson should be a fun ACC Championship game, particularly if you’re into strong defensive line play.

A different test awaits next week in Notre Dame

Miami is going to need to bottle what it was able to do on defense against Virginia Tech’s run game and sprinkle some steroids on it.

Excluding the service academies, the Irish are the No. 1 rushing offense in the nation. And they are doing it with explosive runs, with 35 on the season of 20 or more yards. Virginia Tech had just seven on the season. Notre Dame is a different animal on the ground.

The thing Notre Dame’s offense does well seems to perfectly exploit the thing that Miami gives up, but seemed to shore up against the Hokies. Can the Hurricanes keep the Irish run game contained in next Saturday’s top-10 game?