Virginia Tech exploited all of Miami’s weaknesses during their 31-7 victory over the ‘Canes, putting the team in a very unfamiliar situation.
Head Coach Larry Coker must compose his team after his first regular season loss at UM and get them prepared for an important game with No. 18 University of Tennessee.
The loss throws the ‘Canes into a pack of one-loss teams hoping to finish second in the BCS and grab a birth in the Sugar Bowl. The Hurricanes are currently fourth in the BCS rankings behind undefeated Oklahoma, USC, and Florida State, who the ‘Canes beat in October.
Coker knows that the important thing at this juncture is to win the rest of the games and let the computer rankings fall where they may.
“I was a little surprised we were ranked as high as we were [in the BCS],” Coker said. “The thing we’ve got to do is regroup, play well and beat Tennessee.”
The Hurricanes’ opportunistic defense has contributed greatly to their success this season, scoring five defensive touchdowns, but the Hokies took that away from by running 41 times and passing just eight times. With senior quarterback Casey Clausen, the Volunteers will try to pass on Miami’s defense.
“He’s a big kid and he tends to win games for them,” Coker said. “Casey can control the ball and they have some good receivers.”
The ‘Canes’ secondary will take the field without their best cornerback, Antrel Rolle, who was suspended for a retaliation punch thrown at Virginia Tech’s DeAngelo Hall.
V-Tech spent Saturday night consistently putting pressure on quarterback Brock Berlin, who made two bad decisions that led to touchdowns. Despite Berlin’s 12:9 interception to touchdown ratio, Coker said that “nothing warrants” a quarterback change.
Berlin and the offensive line had trouble with persistent blitzing against the Hokies. Coker said that while Tennessee may not blitz as much as the Hokies, they play a very physical game.
“If you ask our players, the most physical team we played last year was Tennessee,” Coker said.
“Last year was a hard hitting affair,” offensive lineman Eric Winston said. “We’re going to have our hands full Saturday.”
If facing a Top 25 team the week after their first regular season loss since the 2000 season and losing their top cornerback to a suspension doesn’t seem daunting enough, then add in the fact that two of their top defensive tackles will miss the game with injuries.
Orien Harris, who Coker said is playing as well as anyone on the team right now, and backup Santonio Thomas, who missed most of last season with a torn pectoral muscle, both injured their legs in last week’s game.
Coker declined to comment on the extent of the injuries, saying that they would both miss “a period of time.” However, Coker did say that the injury to Thomas happened on a dirty play by Virginia Tech center Jake Grove.
“It was a late hit, the official didn’t see it,” Coker said. “The play was over. The offensive center took about a 10-yard run and just cut him from behind.”
Coker sent the tape of the play to Big East officials, but doesn’t expect that they will do anything about it.
“It’s not my judgment to make. It’s the conference’s call to make,” Coker said. “I don’t expect them to do anything, to be quite honest. It’s a situation where the official missed it.”
The ‘Canes will start Kareem Brown next to Vince Wilfork on the defensive line and defensive end Baraka Atkins could see some time inside as well.
“If they want to take those cheap shots, that proves what kind of people they are. And it’s not going to change,” Winston said. “If that’s the way they want to be portrayed, then let them. They’ll have to face the consequences down the road of their actions. Everything comes around full circle.”
If Miami can sustain the emotion they showed while retaliating against Virginia Tech’s cheap shots and regain the composure that they lost in the process, then Tennessee will have a long Saturday afternoon.
Nate Johnson can be reached at NPJ44@aol.com