by Will Stewart, HokieCentral.com, 11/2/00
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Tech Will Have to Work for the Sixth in a Row.
As game day approaches, it looks more and more as if Michael Vick will not play, and Dave Meyer will lead Tech against the Hurricanes. At first, that sounds like very bad news for Tech, until you consider that Michael Vick has never been the deciding factor in a Tech/Miami game.
The Hokies have won five in a row over the Hurricanes, and Tech's previous victories have been defined not necessarily by superior play at the quarterback position, but by superior defense and special teams ... and a plethora of Miami mistakes, both mental and physical.
Heading into what Hokie fans hope is a sixth win in a row, Tech would do well to remember that. With an inexperienced (but confident) Dave Meyer ready to take the controls, everyone from Meyer to Frank Beamer's cord-carrier needs to remember that if Tech is going to win this one, it will most likely be with the running game, defense, and special teams -- not from the efforts of Dave Meyer.
Mr. Meyer is encouraged to throw as many touchdowns and as few interceptions as he would like, but it is more probable that he will affect this game in a negative way (fumbles and interceptions) than in a positive way, provided the Hokies stick to their normal game plan and don't put the responsibility of winning this game on his shoulders.
It is a formula that has worked for five years in a row, and by late Saturday afternoon, we'll know if Tech can make it six.
With the exception of a road loss at Washington, the Hurricanes have had an impressive season. Fortunately for them, the loss came early in the year, and with a #5 BCS ranking going into this game, the Canes are still very much in the national championship hunt.
Of course, the big win for Miami was the home win over Florida State. In that game, the Canes jumped to a 17-0 half time lead and refused to wilt down the stretch when FSU took a 24-20 lead with 1:37 to go. Quarterback Ken Dorsey calmly led the Canes on a game-winning drive, going 6-7 for 73 yards and hitting tight end Jeremy Shockey for the winning TD with 46 seconds to go.
That win broke a 5-game Miami losing streak against Florida State and washed away the memories of the disappointing loss to Washington. It's the type of win that galvanizes a program and puts them on the road to a special season. And now the Canes feel they have another 5-game losing streak that is due to be broken: the one against Virginia Tech.
The Washington and Florida State games define Miami's season in different ways. The other games -- mostly blowout wins -- do not tell us much about Miami, other than the fact that they are having the type of year they were expected to have. The Louisiana Tech game should be ignored, because the Hurricanes freely admit it was one of their worst games of the year, and they weren't playing sharp, particularly Dorsey.
Virginia Tech is liable to see the same team that Florida State saw: a motivated, jacked-up, focused Miami team, playing in front of a sellout crowd and looking for revenge. They will not see the same team that Washington saw, or that Louisiana Tech saw.
Hokies to win, they must stay away from the mental mistakes that plagued the Seminoles in their loss to Miami. Behind
backup QB Dave Meyer (the most likely starter and liable to get the lion's share of the snaps), the Hokies must play
sharp, play hard, and take advantage of opportunities when they're presented.
The Hurricanes boast the top scoring offense in the country. They have a full arsenal of weapons and can score from
anywhere on the field in any way:
The Hurricanes boast the top scoring offense in the country. They have a full arsenal of weapons and can score from anywhere on the field in any way:
As you can see from the statistics, their offense is very well-balanced. Unlike Tech, they don't feature either the run or the pass to the detriment of the other.
The Canes are led by quarterback Ken Dorsey, a true sophomore who is a bit of a string bean (6-5, 200), but who has played unexpectedly well this year. Before throwing 1 touchdown and 3 interceptions against Louisiana Tech in the Canes' last game, Dorsey had thrown 13 touchdowns and just 1 interception this year. Combine that with last year's 10-2 ratio, and Ken Dorsey had totaled 23 TD's and just 3 INT's in his short career, until last week.
Even in the Washington game, a game where most observers agreed Dorsey was confused and played poorly, he threw no interceptions. And now that the Louisiana Tech debacle is over (a game that Dorsey called the worst of his career), he has 14 TD's and 4 INT's on the year, and he is the #15 rated passer in the country. For the season, Dorsey is 122-210 (58.1%), 1675 yards, 14 TD's, 4 INT's.
This is nothing new for the Hokies. They have been facing good quarterbacks all year long. Statistically, Dorsey is one of the best, and the whipping the Hokies laid on him last year is all but forgotten now by Dorsey. What defines him right now is the game winning drive against FSU.
By now, you know the rest of the offense -- it seems as if Virginia Tech has been playing against these guys for a decade:
But wait, there's more: tailback Clinton Portis, who has been out for a month with an injury but will return for this game, averages 9.7 yards per carry (35 carries, 339 yards).
And what Miami does with their fullbacks and tight ends in the passing game is remarkable: the tight ends have caught 17 passes, and the fullbacks, led by Najeh Davenport (12 receptions), have caught 29 passes this year (D.J. Williams has 9, and two others have 4 each).
The Miami offensive line is experienced, led by a couple of guys who started every game last year: right guard Martin Bibla, and right tackle Joaquin Gonzalez. The Canes lost guard Richard Mercier and center Ty Wise from last year's team, as well as tight end Bubba Franks, but it doesn't appear to have hurt them too much. They average 5.0 yards per carry rushing the ball, and Miami quarterbacks have been sacked just 6 times all season, including none against FSU.
In short, this offense is talented, versatile, and run by a QB who is having a heck of a year. Tech has encountered some good offenses this season, but not one that uses all of its weapons as effectively as this one does.
The Miami defense, which was expected to be dominant this year, has been somewhat average, at least statistically. Here's the breakdown:
To give you some perspective, the Hokies outrank the Canes in every one of those statistical categories except one: scoring defense, where Tech's 20.8 ppg given up is only good enough for #39 in the country.
Where the Canes are really getting beaten up is in the passing game, where they rank almost last amongst Division 1-A teams in yards surrendered per game. But Miami also has 16 interceptions, just three behind Virginia Tech's NCAA-leading 19 picks.
The Florida State game was very representative of Miami's defense. The Canes gave up a lot of yards (496) but picked FSU's Chris Weinke off twice, both in critical situations near the Miami goal line.
Miami tackling statistics were not available on-line, either from their web site or their game notes, so I don't know who their top tacklers are. But I do know who their best defensive players are: linebacker Dan Morgan and tackle Damione Lewis.
Morgan is a superb combination of toughness, speed, instincts, and class. He plays hard and plays well, and reminds me of former Tech linebacker George Del Ricco with the way he is always around the ball. He is only 14 tackles shy of the all-time tackle record at the University of Miami, set by George Mira, Jr. with 490. He has started 38 straight games.
Lewis has started 37 games and is a great run-stopper, but observant Hokie fans will remember him as the #92 that laid a blind-side hit on Michael Vick early in last year's game. The hit (a clean one) rattled Vick, who took a while to recover and didn't have a very good game.
Like most of UM's defensive line, Lewis has been hampered by injuries this year. A look at the Miami depth chart released on their web site shows that Lewis will start at tackle alongside William Joseph (who was projected as a starting DE going into the season).
If the Canes have a defensive weakness, it is at defensive end. Projected starter Quincy Hipps has been hurting, and Joseph has been moved down to tackle, leaving the ends as Jamaal Green and Cornelius Green. C.Green is a JUCO transfer, and J. Green is a sophomore who was supposed to backup Hipps. In a combined 7 starts, the two Greens have racked up only 3 of the Hurricanes' 21 sacks.
At the defensive back positions, Miami is very experienced. Safeties Ed Reed and Al Blades, a junior and a senior respectively, have 55 starts between the two of them, and cornerbacks Mike Rumph (junior) and Leonard Myers (senior) are long-time starters, as well.
All in all, the Miami defense is talented and experienced at almost all positions, with the exception of defensive end, a position the Hokies should try to exploit.
Sophomore placekicker Todd Sievers, who redshirted last year, is pretty good. He is 8-12 on field goals, but the telling stat is that he is just 1-5 from 40 yards and beyond.
Punter Freddie Capshaw is a sophomore and a good one. He averages 41.9 yards per punt, good enough for second in the Big East, not to mention that his average is over 6 yards better than the 35.5 yard average of Tech's Robert Peaslee.
Longsnapper Chris Harvey is a redshirt freshman, and it's worth noting that the Canes have not had a punt blocked since 1998, on their last trip to Syracuse's Carrier Dome.
The real item of note on Miami's special teams is, of course, Santana Moss. At 20.2 yards per return, Moss is running a close second in the Big East to Tech's Andre Davis (22.0 average), and his 3 touchdowns match Davis's total.
And lastly, in kickoff returns, the Canes once again have an advantage over the Hokies. Miami's Daryl Jones averages 28.6 yards per return, first in the Big East, compared to the 19.2 yard average of Tech's Andre Kendrick, last in the Big East. Jones splits the return duties with Andre Johnson, who averages 22.5 yards per return.
Miami is ranked 22nd in the country in turnover margin at +0.86 per game, compared to Tech's ranking of 45th at +0.25 per game. The two teams are very similar: they like to intercept the ball, and they fumble a lot.
As I said above, Tech has 19 interceptions and Miami has 16. In the fumble department, both teams have lost 14 fumbles, second in the NCAA (or next to last, however you view it) to the 15 fumbles lost by Kansas. Fumble statistics by individuals are not readily available, but a subjective observation is that Vick is the primary fumbler on Tech's team, and the running backs, perhaps Davenport, are the primary fumblers on Miami's team.
In my opinion, the following items are keys to a Virginia Tech victory. I freely admit that some of these are keys to victory in any game, but nonetheless, they must be included here:
Run the Ball Well. Tech always tries to do this. The Hokies never like to have to pass to win a football game, and they really don't want to in this one. Frankly put, Emmett Johnson and Ernest Wilford looked terrible against Pittsburgh. They are physically skilled and can make plays, but they read defenses poorly, don't communicate well with the quarterback, and don't run good routes (to their credit, they're darn good run blockers). If the Hokies have to lean on the passing game, Tech is in trouble, unless Johnson and Wilford step it up. Meyer may or may not be ready for it, but I don't think Johnson and Wilford are.
I have been told that Andre Davis is "fine" and will play, but I question how effective he'll be with his lingering bursitis. So the Tech passing game could be severely compromised. More so than ever, a big game from Lee Suggs, who is a better grass player than Andre Kendrick, is a must if Tech wants to win.
Don't Get Rattled. Sure, Tech has won on the road at Miami, but they have never won in a full Orange Bowl. Their most recent game there, in 1998, only had a crowd of about 40,000, far below the Orange Bowl's capacity. This time around, it will probably be full or near-full, and that place can rock when it fills up.
FSU had a ton of trouble running their offense in the Orange Bowl. They racked up some delay of game penalties, communicated poorly, and generally suffered a lot of problems from the O-Bowl crowd. And FSU's Chris Weinke is one of the coolest veteran quarterbacks around.
In addition, Miami has a recent history of taking the lead early in their games against Tech. In 1997 the Canes led 13-3 (Tech won 27-25); in 1998 they led 13-3 (a 27-20 Tech victory); and in 1999, they led 10-0 (the final was 43-10, Hokies). It usually takes Tech about one quarter to get used to Miami's speed and get their heads in the game, and the key is not to lose their composure if it happens again.
Win the Special Teams Battle. I think you can see from the notes above that Miami is at least even with the Hokies in the special teams battle. They have a better punter and a better kickoff return average. Santana Moss is Andre Davis's equal in punt returning, and the Canes block kicks almost as often as Tech does. Tech's only advantage may be at the placekicker position, where Tech's Carter Warley is probably a better kicker than Miami's Sievers.
Given that they're facing a great offensive team, and Michael Vick is probably out for this game, the Hokies must crank it up a notch on special teams and win the battle there. If points are exchanged on special teams, the Hokies need to score more than the Canes, and if kicks are being blocked, Tech needs to be the team doing the blocking.
Prevent the Big Play. With Vick out and Andre Davis hurting, the Hokies are not likely to have many big plays offensively (maybe in special teams), and they need to make sure that Miami doesn't, either. If Santana Moss or James Jackson uncorks a long TD, it will get the home crowd fired up.
Don't Turn the Ball Over. If the Hokies turn the ball over more than once or twice, they're meat. The good news is, Vick is the big fumbler, and he might not play. Dave Meyer has had his own turnover problems in the past, primarily with fumbled snaps, and he must eliminate that.
Ignore the Woofin', and Don't Commit Stupid Penalties. One area where the Hokies have a decided advantage is in team discipline, which manifests itself statistically in penalty totals. Miami averages over 9 penalties and 80.7 penalty yards per game, whereas the Hokies average just under 7 flags a game, and only 55.6 yards per game.
Miami will do all they can to get into Tech's collective head. Nate Webster, their primary thug ringleader from last year, is gone, but as you can expect in any big game, there will be trash-talking aplenty in this one. Tech needs to keep a cool head, let their performance do their talking, and avoid dumb penalties. This means you, Ronyell Whitaker.
Capitalize on the Coaching Advantage. Once the ball is kicked off, Frank Beamer is ten times the coach that Butch Davis is. He keeps a much cooler head and makes better game decisions. For Tech to win, Beamer must outcoach Davis and his assistants once again.
I said at the beginning of the year that Miami would win this time around. They have more team experience, they're playing at home, and as the years go by, the law of averages tells us that the Canes will finally win one.
Since I made that prediction, the following has happened:
To the plus side, Lee Suggs has turned into a heck of a running back, Carter Warley is having a great season, the blocked kick has returned to Tech's arsenal, and the Tech defense is playing about as well as a young defense can play.
But I don't see a Tech victory in the cards. Can it happen? Sure -- I gave you all the keys up above. Do I want it to happen? Absolutely -- not only for the obvious reasons, but also because there's no way that I want to stay up until 2 a.m. Saturday night, shooting down obnoxious Canes off the message board (not to mention the inevitable thoughtless Tech fans that will rip the team and coaches when they drop their next game).
But this is a stiff challenge here, and I'm going with my head instead of my heart, which desperately wants Dave Meyer and Lee Suggs to lead the Hokies to the win:
Miami 28, Virginia Tech 23.
I hope I'm wrong. I would gladly be wrong, because if the Hokies win this one, it will be one of the biggest wins in
Tech football history.