1. Is Marshawn Williams healthy enough to be a "difference maker" this week?
Even if he's healthy enough to play significant snaps, it's quite possible that Marshawn won't be 100% just 19 days removed from a sprained ankle. That sounds like plenty of time, but ankles are tricky, especially for a guy reliant on power and cutting ability. The running game desperately needs a boost from Williams. Offensive line coach Stacy Searels said during the week that Williams' physical running style gives the entire unit a boost, but they can't rely on him to fire them up.
2. How will Andrew Motuapuaka fare in his first collegiate start?
With Chase Williams out for Miami with a knee injury, Andrew Motuapuaka will make the start at middle linebacker for the Hokies.
#Hokies DC Bud Foster said starting MLB Chase Williams (knee) is out for Thursday's game against Miami. Andrew Motuapuaka will start.— Norm Wood (@normwood) October 20, 2014
The redshirt freshman was pressed into duty against Pittsburgh where he was very active and recorded three tackles in his first extended duty on defense. He now plays a critical role in leadership for the entire defense. "He’d better," Bud Foster said this week. "Or he’s going to be standing by me and McKinnon’s going to do it. That’s our mike. He’s got to set the front. He’s got to communicate." Dahman McKinnon is currently the backup after recovering from surgery September 23 to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee.
3. Can Michael Brewer continue to improve his turnover problem?
#Hokies QB Michael Brewer on Miami's defense: "They're going to try to turn us over. They're going to try to be disruptive."— Mike Barber (@RTD_MikeBarber) October 20, 2014
Brewer avoided throwing an interception against Pittsburgh, something he had yet to do this season. That makes 11 touchdowns and 11 interceptions on the year. Hardly impressive, but he threw the ball 45 times at Pitt without a pick and that's progress. Meager progress? Sure, but you're looking for anything good at this point on offense. Brewer needs some receivers to get open and help him out. On most of those third downs when he threw passes short of the line to gain, his receivers were blanketed downfield with good coverage. He was left with the choice of taking a sack, or dumping it short and hoping for major yards after the catch. That's simply not going to move the sticks consistently.
4. Will the O-line shuffle make a noticeable difference?
As I detailed earlier this week, Stacy Searels moved some guys around and inserted redshirt freshman Wyatt Teller into the starting lineup at left guard. The coaches are very excited about Teller and by all accounts he's the kind of powerful, aggressive guy Tech needs up front. Hopefully his energy will be contagious and can provide a spark for a unit that desperately needs one. David Wang is back at center which will hopefully improve some of the recent snap issues. Caleb Farris being on the bench provides a quality backup who is very versatile. I feel better about this group now, but of course this is a results game so keep an eye on the line.
5. Will the game be a sellout?
As of this writing, tickets are still available through the Tech ticket office for a Thursday night game against Miami. That sentence would be unheard of a couple of years ago, but alas, it's 2014. Multiple forces—the team's recent slump, lower attendance in general at most schools, playing on a weeknight—have conspired to turn what could be a great game into one that isn't overly anticipated. This is still a rivalry, so expect a late push for a full house. Still, there will probably be a plethora of cheap tickets in the parking lot which is kind of a bummer for a game with major ACC implications.