All but eliminated from a chance at winning the Atlantic Coast Conference championship, the University of Miami will host No. 23 Virginia Tech on Saturday with their pride on the line.
The team held a players-only meeting on Tuesday where running back Javarris James said their spirit is far from crushed.
“We’ve got a lot of things that we can still work for,” he said. “Right now, we’re just playing for ourselves.”
When these two teams met in Blacksburg, Virginia last year, it was the then-No. 5 ranked Hurricanes who ended then-third ranked Hokies’ hopes for a national title. This year it is a different story for 5-3 Miami and 6-2 Virginia Tech.
The ‘Canes have to win their four remaining games while Coastal Division leading Georgia Tech must lost two of their final three ACC games.
With Miami and Virginia Tech essentially battling it out for a chance at second place and the Toyota Gator Bowl, the Hurricanes hope to eviscerate their offensive problems prior to taking the field against the nation’s third-ranked defense.
Exploiting a young secondary-Virginia Tech starts two sophomores with a pair of freshmen backing them up-will be crucial for the Miami offense.
“We hope to [throw deep] and we’d like to catch some of them too,” Head Coach Larry Coker said. “We’re going to take our shots.”
The return of wide receiver Ryan Moore should help the Hurricanes passing game, as well as their ability to make the ‘big play,’ a characteristic that James said has been sorely lacking this year.
“We don’t have that big play like we used to,” James said. “We’ve got to get that back.”
Miami also needs to protect quarterback Kyle Wright and cut down on penalties as well.
Virginia Tech ranks fourth in the conference with 21 sacks while the Hurricanes have allowed 18 sacks, including six against Georgia Tech last week, one of which caused a costly fourth-quarter fumble.
When Wright is not being hit by opposing defenses, the most penalized team in the ACC is putting themselves in a hole with costly errors. This week’s practice devoted a great deal of time to focusing on cutting those penalties down.
“Coaches are getting real strict on penalties,” James said. “We’ve been playing pretty good in almost all aspects of the game except for our penalties.”
While the Miami offensive struggles-their total offense ranks 63rd nationally-their defense has been solid.
Miami enters the game having held opposing teams to less than 100 yards rushing in their last eight games. Their rush defense will have to play big to stop Brandon Ore, who leads the ACC in rushing while averaging more than 117 yards per game and 140 all-purpose yards per contest.
But the game will likely hinge on Miami’s ability to score on the Hokies.
“Something’s got to give,” James said. “We’ve got to solve something.”
Brian Yates may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.