A once intriguing matchup of Coastal division hopefuls has been relegated to an underwhelming bout between two five-loss teams. If Virginia Tech wants to win this game and keep their bowl game hopes alive, they will have to win in these three areas against Miami.
Miami QB vs. Virginia Tech Defensive Line
Miami's quarterback situation has been a serious issue for them this season. Although Malik Rosier was arguably more of a liability than an asset last year, the Hurricanes will hopeful that he would look better with a full season under his belt. That was not the case.
In fact, head coach Mark Richt had seen enough of Rosier after the first few games of the season, and he decided to give N'Kosi Perry his shot. The problem is, Perry did not perform any better.
In his past three appearances, N'Kosi Perry has gone 22-45 for 220 yards, 0 TDs, and 2 INTs. That's 73.3 yards a game. Not good.
At the same time, Rosier's numbers over his last three appearances aren't much better. He has completed 39 of 71 passes for 396 yards, 1 TD, and 3 INTs. Those overall numbers are a bit better, but that's still only 132 yards a game, and he has struggled to find the end zone.
All that to say, there's no reason Miami should go and put up 300 passing yards on the Hokies this weekend. The Hurricanes have not shown the ability to do that against FBS competition, and the Hokies need to avoid being the exception.
If they want to do that, the onus will be on the defensive line to create pressure. No matter who the quarterback may be, the Hokies cannot give him unlimited time in the pocket. The longer the quarterback has in the pocket, the longer the Miami receivers have to shake off Tech's corners.
I don't want to name any names, but as a whole, the Virginia Tech secondary has been below average this year. Instead of relying on them in one on one coverage, the Hokies will be better served to force some bad throws by creating pressure in the backfield.
One encouraging thing is that for once, it appears that Virginia Tech may get some good injury news this week. Fuente told the media on Wednesday that he expects Jarrod Hewitt, Rayshard Ashby, and Dylan Rivers to all play. He also said he is hopeful about Emmanuel Belmar's status.
"I hope to get Belmar back and we should be ready to rock," Fuente concluded.
If a healthier defensive front with Ricky Walker, Jarrod Hewitt, and Vinny Mihota can show up on Saturday, they should be able to make life difficult for Miami.
Virginia Tech Corners vs. Travis Homer
One would think that giving up 465 yards to Georgia Tech
would be the low point of the Hokies' rushing defense. Not so. Virginia Tech gave up 492 rushing yards to Pittsburgh last weekend
, and the Panthers managed a whopping 13.2 yards per carry.
Of course, numbers like that cannot be pinned on any one position group. That is the result of an absolute breakdown by the entire defense. Still, I want to focus on the corners for one reason: tackling.
I've given up on the Hokies being able to stuff the run at the line. It seems like as soon as the ball is snapped, the opposing running back is already into the second level. That means that the secondary is going to have make tackles, a lot of times in space.
Is that fair to them? Not really. But it is what it is, and they are going to have to do their best to help out the team. Last week, though, the tackling was atrocious.
On two separate plays, Caleb Farley made some of the worst efforts to tackle I can remember in recent years. With about 2:50 left in the first half, Pittsburgh running back Darrin Hall broke through for a huge gain. Farley impressively ran him down, but then he just kind of pushed his shoulder instead of tackling him.
Luckily, Hall went down, but it can hardly be counted as a "tackle." To be fair, Farley should be commended for his effort and his speed that helped him catch up to Hall. However, his tackling needs to improve immensely.
Later in the game, Farley made a similar gaffe, and this time Pittsburgh made him pay. With 4:45 left in the fourth quarter, the Panthers began a drive from their own three yard line. On the very first play, the offensive line opened a huge hole, and Quadree Ollison ran right through.
Now, part of that is on the defensive line. However, it should have been maybe a thirty yard gain. Instead, when Farley caught him at the thirty-five or so yard line, Ollison absolutely mows him over. Farley never had a chance to bring Ollison down, despite the fact that he had a perfect angle.
The ESPNU commentator noted that Farley "didn't bring enough rocks in his pocket to that party." I don't know what that means, but he's probably right. As a whole, the tackling (or lack thereof) from Virginia Tech was unacceptable.
While Miami's Travis Homer has not been dominant, he has been a solid back all season. In ten appearances this season, Homer has 732 yards
on 134 carries. Those total yards are not mind blowing, but that is a pretty solid 5.5 yards per carry.
Last week against Georgia Tech, Homer had one of his worst games of the season. He only managed 30 yards on eleven carries. The week before, though, he had 133 yards on 18 carries against Duke. For the Hokies to have a chance in this one, they will need to make Homer's stat line resemble the one in the Georgia Tech game rather than the Duke game.
Ryan Willis vs. Miami Secondary
Through all of the adversity over the past few weeks, Ryan Willis has been one of the few bright spots. He is not a perfect quarterback, but he plays with heart no matter the situation.
Furthermore, his stats are pretty good. Here are Willis' stat lines during this three game losing streak:
- Against Georgia Tech: 15/22, 201 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT
- Against Boston College: 25/42, 281 yards, 3 TD, 1 INT
- Against Pittsburgh: 22/34, 231 yards, 3 TD, 0 INT
Over a three game span, that is a 63.2% completion percentage, 237.6 yards a game, and a 7/1 TD/INT ratio. Plus, the one interception was completely Damon Hazelton's fault, not Willis'.
So for anyone blaming the offensive struggles on the loss of Josh Jackson, I don't think the numbers back up that claim. Still, the offense needs to be better.
Obviously, the offense is not the only problem on this team. In fact, it is not even the biggest problem. But the Hokies are a lot more experienced on this side of the ball, and they are going to have to score points to give themselves a chance to win for the remainder of the season.
In the last few games, that has not happened. The Hokies' offense completely shut down in the second half against Georgia Tech and Boston College, and they were so far out of the Pittsburgh game that it did not really matter.
The fact is that this Virginia Tech team is going to give up a lot of yards and a lot of points. That means the offense has to compensate, which is pretty much what everyone was saying during the offseason from the get-go.
Virginia Tech's coaching staff needs to start calling some riskier plays, because what do they have to lose? Willis has had success going downfield to his bigger receivers, and there is no reason not to play to those strengths.
With that in mind, Miami has a really good defense. Not only that, they also force turnovers. The chain actually works. The Hurricanes have forced 20 turnovers
this year, including 13 interceptions. Ryan Willis needs to keep his great TD/INT ratio going by not turning the ball over.
If Virginia Tech loses the turnover battle, I don't see any way they win this game. They won the turnover battle against Pittsburgh when they lost the game by 30. It would have been even worse had the TOs gone the other way around.
Also of note is the fact that Miami also coughs the ball up a lot. While they have taken the ball away 20 times, they have also given it back 19 times. Maybe the Hokies will be able to take advantage of that.
Bottom line: Ryan Willis needs to put up big numbers without
throwing interceptions. That's a big ask, but it will have to happen for the Hokies to gain the advantage. Even with the risk of Miami forcing turnovers, I would still like to see Willis be aggressive, because the Hokies really have nothing to lose. I'd rather him turn the ball over trying to make something happen than throw 30 swing passes a game.
Virginia Tech has a tough task ahead of them on Saturday. Miami is not as bad as their 5-5 record suggests, especially on the defensive side of the ball. They are, however, sub-par on offense.
The Hokies need to take advantage of this weakness. The best way to do this is to force whoever is in at QB for the Hurricanes into some rushed throws. Hopefully a healthier defense will be able to create this kind of pressure.
Miami will inevitably get some big plays. We've seen it from every team the Hokies have played, and it is not going to change this week. When that happens, Tech needs to limit the damage.
The Hokies' corners are going to have to tackle in space. This could hold the Hurricanes to, say, a twenty-five gain instead of an eighty-five yard gain. Small as it sounds, those kinds of plays could keep Virginia Tech in the game.
Finally, Ryan Willis needs to have a great day. There are no two ways around it. Willis has shown the ability to be a solid quarterback, and he really gives off the vibe that he could have a breakout game where he puts up some monster numbers. It would be ideal if that could happen this week.
Photo Credit: Harley Taylor
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