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Five Things to Watch: Miami Hurricanes @ Virginia Tech Hokies


1. Can the ‘Canes stop the run? 

This is going to be the burning question every week until they do it. Miami let up 151 rushing yards to Maryland, 174 yards to Ohio State, 265 yards to Kansas State, and 219 yards to Bethune-Cookman. It’s good enough to make Miami the 105th ranked rushing defense in the country, and the rush defense is off to its worst statistical start since 1995. Now Miami faces the biggest test yet against David Wilson, who is seventh in the country with 127.8 yards per game.  Making matters worse, the Hurricanes are down tackle Marcus Forston and linebacker Ramon Buchanan for the year, and end Jalen Grimble and tackle Curtis Porter will miss this weekend’s game. Adewale Ojomo was listed as a co-starter with Forston at tackle before the latter was injured. The bright spot here is that the depth at defensive end is there, and safety Ray Ray Armstrong will be back this week. Head coach Al Golden said he expects about 30 plays from Armstrong. Nonetheless, if the front seven doesn’t step up, it won’t matter. It’s not the end of the world if Wilson goes for over 100, but the ‘Canes can’t let it get much higher than that. If the Hokies are able to run with ease there’s no way Miami comes home with a win. And don’t forget about quarterback Logan Thomas, a 6-6, 245-pound converted tight end with a good arm who has shown he can run the ball, too.

2. Will the tight ends be more involved in the passing attack?

This is another question that’s been burning for a few weeks. The ‘Canes have ample talent at the position, but so far the production from the bunch hasn’t been there in the passing game. Chase Ford leads the way with three catches for 34 yards, followed by Clive Walford with three catches for 19 yards, and Asante Cleveland with one catch for six yards. That’s it. Before the Bethune-Cookman game quarterback Jacory Harris noted that the tight ends are a part of the offense, but opposing defenses have done a good job covering them up. Against a very good rushing defense like the Hokies (they’re second in the country allowing 58.2 yards per game), getting the tight ends involved is big.

3. Will Hokies DT Antoine Hopkins‘ absence open up the middle?

The Hurricanes are not the only team without their best interior defensive lineman. Hopkins tore his ACL in the loss to Clemson last weekend and will miss the remainder of the season. “That’s a tough loss because he really could hold the fort in there,” head coach Frank Beamer said in a press conference on Wednesday. “He’s a strong guy, athletic guy, and had been taking a lot of snaps. It’s a big loss, and right now Corey Marshall is probably going to start there Saturday.” Even with Hopkins out, the Hokies can bring it against the run. And that’s going to be the difference in this game: running the football. Lamar Miller is a phenomenal back, but it starts on the offensive line. They need to make enough room to allow Miller to pick up the tough yardage to keep the ball and the chains moving. Wilson and Miller will get the most air time, but the real battle, as it often is, will be in the trenches.

4. Will Jacory Harris face a more hostile crowd in Blacksburg than he did in Miami?

Probably, but maybe not. Harris has played well this season. He hasn’t been Heisman-worthy, but you could do a lot worse than 570 yards with a 6:3 touchdown-to-interception ratio and a 69% completion percentage. He has seemed noticeably more comfortable in the new offense, which fits him well. I’m not a believer in booing your own team, but that’s just what a lot of Hurricanes fans have done with regards to Harris. Nonetheless, he’s proven his resiliency over the course of his career, and garnered praise from his head coach. “We talk about our team and our program and our family, and Jacory’s a great example of resiliency and mental toughness,” Golden said according to the Miami Herald. “He’s provided a great example for our team, regardless of what the circumstances are. Just to continue to execute and get better. So, I’m excited about Jacory. He is our quarterback.”

5. Will Virginia Tech or Miami play with more hunger?

Both teams are 0-1 in ACC play this year. Both fell to an Atlantic Division rival. Both are very much alive in the division race despite the 0-1 start. But both need a win. Who’s going to come out stronger in the first quarter? That’s been one of Miami’s problems this year, save for the Ohio State game. They haven’t “thrown the first punch,” as Sean Spence put it the week after the Kansas State loss. The ‘Canes have struggled to sustain momentum, too.