It was the September 26, 2009, and after a thoroughly rain soaked game, and a long dark trip down Christiansburg Mountain and a late very exhausted check-in at a hotel at Exit 150, I was exiting the laundry room when a guest with an armload of wet game gear smiled, and said "shoot, beaten by a Hokie, again... I'll just have to wait..." I don't know if he ever got his clothes dry, but I did see him and his wife in their Green and Orange gear, down at the breakfast bar as we all sat down to eat.
As we were all leaving I shook his hand and wished him well on his trip back home, where ever that was, I don't remember, but what I do remember was his parting comment. "You know, this is the best damned rivalry that no one talks about much. We'll see you next season." For having been drubbed pretty thoroughly (31-7), and suffering through a chilling Blacksburg downpour, I thought that statement was interesting. It piqued my curiosity about the history of the teams, but it also cemented the realization that the games between the Hokies and the Hurricanes had quietly become a very intense and important rivalry.
The fact is that the total numbers are more than a bit deceiving. If you toss away the time before Frank Beamer and the important line that Virginia Tech crossed from mid-major/1-AA team to big time Division 1A football, there is a decidedly different win loss picture. At the time Jim Kelly and the Hurricanes beat us 20-10 in the 1981 Peach Bowl, Virginia Tech was just becoming aware of the benefits of winning football games. Even though we lost that game – and it was a surprising score since Miami was supposed to kill us – the Fighting Gobblers had begun to morph into the Hokies. Bill Dooley put us on the road to somewhere very different than the sleepy Engineering and Agricultural School in the Mountains of Southwestern Virginia that just happened to have a few underappreciated and barely tolerated sports team that existed prior to that game.
Dooley’s tenure was short lived and problematic. I even think that the VPI powers that be were happy to hire a quiet unassuming alumni coach whose experience was running a 1-AA team and doing well, but not going to threaten to push the “football thing” too much. Frank Beamer spent some hard years often testing his team against Miami, making four runs at them without much success.
Then something magic happened to Hokie Nation. The adolescent football program that struggled mightily between 1987 and 1995 broke the old pattern. One of those big wins that season was September 23, 1995. Frank Beamer’s Hokies – a few years into the Big East and still just learning to win, took it to Miami 13-7 in a defensive slug fest. The Hokies did it again, and again for five consecutive wins, culminating in the magic 1999 undefeated season and a shot at the national championship. Hokie Sports provides the full chart:
Virginia Tech Hokies vs. Miami (FL) Hurricanes over the Years
|2015||10/17/2015||Miami Gardens||L, 20-30||NR/NR|
|2013||11/9/2013||Miami Gardens||W, 42-24||NR/14|
|2012||11/1/2012||Miami Gardens||L, 12-30||NR/NR|
|2010||11/20/2010||Miami Gardens||W, 31-17||14/24|
|2008||11/13/2008||Miami Gardens||L, 14-16||NR/NR|
|1998||9/19/1998||Miami||W, 27-20 (OT)||NR/NR|
The relationship since then has been a back and forth shoving match of closely matched peer teams with the media never convinced of Tech’s prowess, and always swayed by Miami’s history. Funny how things don’t change all that much, isn’t it? That’s just where the Hokies and the Hurricanes find themselves this season. The media just can’t figure out that the Hokies, under new coach Justin Fuente, are back. They also can’t believe that Miami – though undefeated, is not as good as their record would indicate. Half of their wins have been close calls and three have been scrambling comebacks.
What that all means is that two ACC Coastal teams with rookie quarterbacks, fit and start offenses, and strong defenses are going to face off on Saturday evening at 8:00 eastern, on national television. Once again that face-off will be for all of the Coastal marbles, and a shot at the ACC Championship opponent (probably Clemson). If Miami wins and beats the Tigers they’ll get a solid shot at a “playoff” bid. If Tech wins out, we’ll probably just go to the Orange Bowl. That’s the truth, for this season.
Oh, Now About the Game Saturday
It definitely could have been much less prestigious, as in last season’s contest – though it was a Thursday Night nationwide ESPN gig. This game is a bit different than recent contests, however. This season, the game really means something to both teams. It’s the defacto ACC Coastal Division Championship Game. If Tech wins they will be nearly impossible to knock out of the top spot. If Miami wins, the same thing will happen – BUT Miami winning just means that they face a revitalized higher ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish for their next big contest. It’s not an ACC matchup (yet, anyway) but a loss to ND would knock Miami down, probably out of the top 10, and no two loss team is going to make it into the “playoffs”. So there is a huge amount of prestige riding on this contest, for both teams.
I will not even visit last year’s thorough and complete defeat of the Hurricanes by the Hokies for this review. Those teams are no longer on the field and will only marginally be represented on Saturday evening. The Miami Hurricanes are sporting a 7-0 record with one canceled game due to weather. That tally is a bit deceiving, though.
Looking at Miami’s stat line is an interesting read.
Their offense is 42nd in yards passing, and 113th in rushing. Overall that makes them 36th in total offense. Their redshirt Junior first year starting Quarterback Malik Rosier has a fairly good presence. His numbers are decent enough, with seven games under his belt. His completion rate is hovering at a modest 57% and his total yards passing are not extraordinary for a passing offense at 2071 yards. The interesting thing to note is his sack total. Rosier has been dumped in the backfield a total of 12 times for a loss of nearly 70 yards. That means that his offensive line is struggling to keep him in a stable pocket.
The top three leading rushers for the team are Travis Homer, Mark Walton, and Rosier. Homer and Walton are averaging over 6 yards a carry but they aren’t toting the rock as much as you would think. With 7 games into the season the Hurricanes’ top running backs are only hovering in that limbo around 500 yards. (UPDATE 10:45pm: I neglected to add that Walton has had foot surgery to correct an injury sustained on October 7th. To be one of the leading rushers and have been out this long is significant and I should have mentioned that it could make a very big difference in the Hurricane running game against Tech’s very stingy running defense.) The big difference there seems to be something that is always a scary thing when talking about the Hokie Defense, and that’s a running QB. Rosier can pull the ball in and has put up over 200 yards on 69 rushing attempts. That’s more carries than the Number 2 back, Mark Walton.
On the pass receiving end, Mark Richt seems to be encouraging a “spread the ball around” sort of mentality with six receivers; Braxton Berrios, Christopher Henderson, Ahmmon Richards, Jeff Thomas, Darrell Langham and then RB Travis Homer all getting double digit passing touches this season. Berrios leads the team with 6 TD catches but really only has a modest 415 yards total for the season.
In Miami’s five ACC matchups, they have only dominated Duke, and that was on September 29. Since then, they have struggled with a poor Florida State team. They had to come from behind more than a few times, and the one point game with Georgia Tech was one of the sloppiest offensive efforts that I have seen Miami put on the field in a while. Their game against Syracuse was closer than the 27-19 score suggests, and last game, against UNC, was a one score game that was, again plagued by offensive fits and starts.
Miami’s defense is good enough to keep the game within comeback reach, but that sort of brinksmanship will eventually catch up with them. If the comeuppance is not administered by us, then it probably will be with Notre Dame, next week. Either way, both Miami and the Hokies face UVA and Pitt for the final two weekends. We flip flop the two. That all just reinforces the make-or-break nature of this game on this weekend.
It is a hard game to really get an arm around. The Hokies are slightly favored, but I would call it closer to a push pick ‘em, if I was a betting man; and I am not. To win this game, the Virginia Tech Hokies are going to have to do what they did in the UNC game. The Defense is going to have to control the line of scrimmage, keep Rosier in the pocket or running for his life with no downfield targets to throw to. It looks like minus the Quarterback, Tech has the chops to clamp down on the normal Miami running game.
On Offense, overly-cautious must not be equated with mistake-free football. Tech is going to have to break the habit of operating bubble screens, flairs, and early hit wheel routes. Fuente and Cornelsen need to think downfield and get the ball into the end zone as much as possible. It’s pretty obvious from their comebacks that Miami’s O is mediocre to poor for 3/4ths of the game, and a lights out afterburning fighter plane in the final 10 minutes. Tech must score and keep Miami out of the end zone. That’s cliché, I know, but if you want to win you have to get more points on the board than your opponent can. It’s really that simple.
There is one real wrinkle that could make the difference, though. Special Teams are going to be critical, here. Oscar Bradburn is burying opponents deep in their own territory. With Miami’s low scoring offense this season, the game could come down to field position and defensive momentum. The combination of Bradburn dropping the ball inside the 10, and the defense all fired up about it has been deadly for opponents this season. It WILL BE a factor on Saturday evening. We won’t mention Joey. We need a foot whisperer to work with him to shave those 12 inches off of 40 yard plus kicks. He’s just pushing things by a few degrees. I hope things don’t come down to making that choice.
Okay! Enough talk of more things than going 1-0 against the Miami Hurricanes.
What’s it going to be? (No picking winners and losers, just the character of the game.)
This poll is closed