With players finally healthy, Canes anticipate chance to clinch division

Photo credit: Josh White

The College Football Playoff committee, the ACC and even UM offensive coordinator Thomas Brown know it.

Saturday night is judgement day.

Miami may have a chance to clinch its first Coastal Division title in program history when it faces off against Virginia Tech in a primetime matchup. If Georgia Tech defeats Virginia early Saturday afternoon, the Hurricanes can seal the deal with a victory over the Hokies.

The undefeated Canes, who were placed No. 10 in the first CFP rankings of the year, wrap up homecoming week against the No. 13 Hokies.

Virginia Tech walks into Hard Rock Stadium with a 7-1 overall record and a 3-1 record in the ACC. Its only loss came to the reigning national champion Clemson Tigers.

UM has not had a convincing victory in weeks, beating its last four opponents by a combined total of just 18 points.

Going into the season, many thought the Florida State game in Doak Campbell Stadium would let fans know whether Miami had the potential to go far in 2017.

But Seminoles’ starting quarterback Deondre Francois suffered a season-ending injury in the team’s first game, forcing FSU to start a freshman under center. Fast forward several weeks, and the Noles are sitting three games under .500 – their lowest record since 1976.

Last weekend, the Canes were primed to dominate in Raleigh, North Carolina, against the 1-7 Tar Heels. Instead, the offense desperately struggled to find a consistent rhythm and barely escaped with a five-point victory.

“I think the whole game was a concern, if you watched us play on offense.” Brown said after practice Oct. 31. “Obviously the worst performance we have had this entire year, maybe, the worst one that we have had since we have been in Miami. It’s just a lack of focus, a lack of execution and we just got flat out outplayed, to be honest with you. It was embarrassing to see, embarrassing to be a part of coaching wise.”

With back-to-back games against top-15 opponents, Miami has its players healthy at just the right time of the season.

Other than players previously announced out for the season, no Hurricanes were listed on the injury report Nov. 2.

“You can tell some guys are really, really sore.” Miami head coach Mark Richt said after practice Nov. 1. “It’s the time of year that I think everybody is sore. It’s a physical game, but we are in good shape.”

Earlier in the week, there was concern for starting quarterback Malik Rosier’s shoulder, after he took several hits from Tar Heel defenders.

“He’s fine.” Brown said. “He’s sore. A lot of guys are sore. It’s a violent, physical football game. Obviously he runs the ball at times and does get hit, but we are all banged up.”

Virginia Tech will rely on the arm of redshirt freshman quarterback Josh Jackson to attack Miami’s inexperienced secondary.

“17 touchdowns and only four picks as a freshman – he’s over 2,000 yards already, a freshman record … You can’t say enough about him,” Richt said. “He has already become a very good runner for them as well.”

The Hokies’ defense, which ranks No. 14 in yards allowed, will look to capitalize on the inconsistencies of the Miami offense.

“It all starts up front with them – it does in most great defenses.” Richt said. “When your interior linemen are making all the tackles, it’s hard for your defensive backs to make a lot. When you get down to their defensive backs, they don’t have a lot of tackles – at least at the cornerback positions – because mostly their linemen and linebackers are getting them all.”

Kickoff is set for 8 p.m. Nov. 4 at Hard Rock Stadium.