Thursday, November 6, 1997

Hurricanes in the Forecast

This is what it's all about, folks - big games in November in Lane Stadium.

I said last year after the Hokies beat the Hurricanes that Miami was the type of team you could beat ten times in a row, and if they beat you on the eleventh try, they would sneer at you and say, "Told you we're better than you!"

Most of the time that's true, but it has been a humbling season for the Hurricanes. They currently stand at 4-4, with losses to Arizona State, Florida State, Pittsburgh, and WVU. Their victories have come over "lowly" (as the saying goes) Baylor, Temple, Arkansas State, and Boston College, four teams with a combined record of 9-26 (don't ask me to do the same analysis for the Hokies).

Fans are deserting in droves, and attendance at the Orange Bowl is plummeting. The average attendance for the Hurricanes has been only about 32,000 per game for four home games this year, including "crowds" of just 26,351 for Temple and 20,559 for Arkansas State.

The Hurricanes backs are to the wall, and the wagons are circled (and here at HokieCentral, it's Cliche City). It's amid this setting that Miami travels to Blacksburg for a 6:00 game on Saturday night. Up next is everything you need to know to get you ready.

The Statistics

More telling than Miami's record are the stats behind the Hurricanes' season, and their current injury situation. I checked into Miami's national rankings in various offensive and defensive categories, and the numbers reveal some very un-Hurricane-like performances.

Category Statistic NCAA Rank
Rushing Offense
169.4 38
Passing Offense
226.8 37
Total Offense
396.1 38
Scoring Offense
28.1 39
Rushing Defense
194.5 91
Pass Efficiency
some weird
Total Defense
385.3 78
Scoring Defense
25.3 63

The number that jumps out at you is the rushing defense. Miami ranks a staggering #91 out of 112 division 1-A teams in rushing defense at 194.5 yards per game. Against Arkansas State last week, the Canes gave up 173 yards on 56 carries. This is the same Arkansas State team that the Hokies held to (-28) yards on 29 carries.

In all, amongst their four common opponents (Temple, Arkansas State, Boston College, and WVU), Miami surrendered 888 yards rushing, while the Hokies gave up just 453. That will give you some idea of the relative strength of the two rushing defenses.

I have been watching the Hurricanes' message board most of the year, and the consensus is that Miami is extremely weak (read: young and small) on the defensive line and in the linebacking corps. Most teams have obviously had success running on them. I thought the Hokies would unveil a passing game in an effort to beat Miami, but now I think the Hokies are going to try to line up and stick it to the Hurricanes.

When the Hokies have to go to the passing game, the Hurricanes aren't fearsome there, either. They are ranked 63rd in the country in pass efficiency defense, and are dead-last in the Big East in sacks. That's right - behind Temple and Rutgers.

Due to Miami's recent rushing success, which includes three-straight 300+ yard games against BC, Temple, and Arkansas State, the Hurricanes think they can run on the Hokies. I'm not so sure. Good games against mediocre competition do not make you a great team, and against the Hokies' stingy rushing defense, which only gives up 101 yards rushing a game, the Hurricanes will have to go to the air if they want to win. Ryan Clement has struggled this season and does not appear in the Top 50 in the country in passing efficiency, while Virginia Tech's Al Clark is ranked 23rd, one slot ahead of Payton Manning.

The Intangibles

You can throw statistics around all you want, but I think the intangibles are in Tech's favor, also. I have listened to the Miami fans who predict that we'll lose to the Canes, and the arguments are all the same - Tech has a terrible offensive line, Al Clark isn't a good quarterback, and Tech's defense isn't that great.

I can shoot down every one of those arguments. Those who criticize the offensive line don't realize that the missing ingredient - offensive line coach J.B. Grimes - is back. The Tech offensive line will play better, as it did against UAB, and the Hurricane's defensive front isn't good enough to take advantage of our offensive line, anyway.

As for Al Clark, when he's not injured and when he's not flat on his back, he's a pretty decent quarterback. His flaws are that he holds the ball too long in the pocket, and his long-ball accuracy is spotty. His pass efficiency rating proves that he isn't prone to throwing the ball to the other team, whereas Ryan Clement is, if you apply a little pressure on him.

And yes, Tech's defense is great, when John Engelberger is healthy. And he is.

And one more intangible: Lane Stadium, 53,000 fans, and a temperature in the 30's or 40's.

The Injury Outlook

At this point, Coach Beamer is saying that Al Clark, Michael Stuewe, and Angelo Harrison will all play, or at least, that's what I saw in the paper. I look for Stuewe to play and be moderately effective, and I think Harrison will play a little, but not much. Call it a gut feeling. As for Clark, if he's hobbled, Miami won't be able to pressure him consistently enough for it to matter. This is one game where Clark will be able to stand in the pocket and deliver a pass.

On the Miami side of the ledger, they lost their starting strong safety Dennis Scott for the year to a knee injury in the Arkansas State game, and Butch Davis said he was a great run-stopper. When you lose a run-stopper on a bad run-defense team, that's not a good sign. Linebacker Dan Morgan (knee) and defensive end Denny Fortney (hamstring) are questionable as well. The Hurricanes can't afford to lose three players off of a mediocre defensive team and still hope to stop the Hokies' running attack.

My Prediction

You know I don't like to make predictions. I think this is my first one since the Syracuse game last year, although I did half-heartedly predict that Tech would beat Nebraska in the Orange Bowl.

I think Miami is in for a rude awakening on Saturday night. Yes, they have flashy receivers and some good skill players, but they can't hold a candle to the Hokies in the trenches, where the important stuff happens. Tech's offensive line will be able to do a good job on Miami's front seven, and the Hokie defense will pin their ears back and come after Clement, who is a favorite whipping boy of Virginia Tech defensive linemen.

Miami's skill players might be able to make some big plays, but it won't be enough to unseat the Hokies, who have better, healthier offensive and defensive lines and will be playing in front of 53,000 crazed fans. And I didn't even mention the kicking game, where Tech has two of the best in the country.

Score: Virginia Tech 24, Miami 10.

Tailgate Plans

I don't have anything big planned for Saturday, folks, but I will be in the usual spot - Lot #9, behind Litton-Reaves/Animal Science - and I'll have the usual, easy-to-find vehicle - a 1981 Chevy Impala Wagon, brown and gold two-tone paint, and license plates that say HKI CNTL.

I should get there around 2:00-3:00 in the afternoon. If the weather is rainy, though, all bets are off, and I'm not sure what I'm going to do.

See you there!


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