Miami Hurricanes: Four Keys versus Virginia Tech Hokies

Oct 15, 2016; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Miami Hurricanes teammates take to the field behind Miami Hurricanes mascot Sebastian before the game against the North Carolina Tar Heels at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

After two straight losses, the Miami Hurricanes look to regain confidence for the rest of the season when they travel to Blacksburg, Virginia on Thursday Night for a massive road game against the Virginia Tech Hokies.

Virginia Tech  (4-2) (2-1 in the ACC) lost Saturday to the Syracuse Orange 31-17. Both teams need a win to stay in the race in the ACC Coastal Division.

The Hurricanes need to improve their offensive efficiency against one of the best defenses in the country Thursday night. The Hokies are only allowing an average of 291.5 yards per game. The ‘Canes averaged 16 points per game in losses to North Carolina and Florida State.

Miami leads the series all time 20-13 against the Hokies, but they will need to improve significantly in certain categories for a chance to be VA Tech. What can the ‘Canes do ensure victory on Thursday?

Oct 8, 2016; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Miami Hurricanes quarterback Brad Kaaya (15) drops back to pass during the first half against the Florida State Seminoles at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Better Pass Protection

With Under two minutes remaining against North Carolina and chance to tie the game, the ‘Canes offensive line gave up a crucial sack that led to a turnover. Ironically, Miami ranks 24th the in the nation in sacks allowed at 1.17 per game. That doesn’t take into account how many times a quarterback gets hit or pressured during each game. Brad Kaaya has taken a beating the last two weeks.

The power run blocking needs to be better for Miami to succeed. Mark Walton and Joe Yearby are only averaging 3.43 yards per carry combined in conference play. On run, pass option plays, the opposing defense is giving up numbers inside the box to defend the bubble screen. The offensive line needs to dominate when using the spread formation.

Virginia Tech will likely implement the same blueprint as North Carolina and Florida State defensively. The Hokies are only allowing 3.1 yards per carry on the ground this year which does not bold well for the ‘Canes offensive line.  Miami will need to stretch the Hokie defense out to take the safeties out of the box.

Oct 8, 2016; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Miami Hurricanes wide receiver Stacy Coley (3) hauls in a touchdown catch in front of Florida State Seminoles defensive back Tarvarus McFadden (4) during the second half at Hard Rock Stadium. FSU won 20-19. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Third Down Efficiency

Miami’s wide receivers struggled last week to get open in press coverage against UNC. Stacy Coley had two catches for 12 yards a week after being named the ACC Receiver of the Week. Freshman Ahmmon Richards had two catches for 55 yards.

Defenses are beginning to key in on Richards and Coley. The ‘Canes need more production from their other receivers like Braxton Berrios, Malcolm Lewis, and Dayall Harris. Tight Ends David Njoku and Chris Herndon IV came up big against UNC, combining for six catches for 137 yards.

Dropped passes have also been an issue this season:

Miami needs to do a better job of catching the ball for the offense to maintain a rhythm.  The ‘Canes face a stiff challenge on Thursday Night with Virginia Tech’s pass defense that is country.

Oct 15, 2016; Syracuse, NY, USA; Virginia Tech Hokies quarterback Jerod Evans (4) rolls out in his endzone during the second quarter in a game against the Syracuse Orange at the Carrier Dome. Mandatory Credit: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Limiting the Virginia Tech Offense

The Miami Hurricane defense has proven to be a force this year. They just had two impressive performances against North Carolina and Florida State’s high-powered offenses. Through six games, Miami ranks 14th nationally in total defense and allows just  4.2 yards per play.

Miami will focus on Hokies Quarterback Jerrod Evans who poses as a threat through the air and on the ground. The junior stands 6’3 and is 238 pounds. Evans has 319 yards rushing and two touchdowns this season. The task becomes similar to facing Florida State’s dual-threat Quarterback DeAndre Francois.

Virginia Tech will test Miami’s secondary. Miami gave up 299 yards through the air against North Carolina. The ‘Canes will have to lock down All-ACC wide receiver Isiah Ford, who averages 14.3 yards per catch. The Hokies show a variety of formations that are similar to North Carolina and will utilize the uptempo offense to wear down Miami’s defense.

Oct 15, 2016; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels wide receiver Mack Hollins (13) makes the catch over the defense of Miami Hurricanes defensive back Sheldrick Redwine (22) during the first half at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Third Down Efficiency

Another key factor hurting the Miami Hurricanes is third down on both sides of the ball. Miami sits at 38.2 percent (26-68) – 81st in the country offensively on third down. Miami has not able to sustain drives and put points on the board.

The Hurricanes offense needs to do a better job converting on third down to keep the depth limited defense off the field. The ‘Canes defense has given the offense endless opportunities to get the team back in the game. Miami’s offensive line must execute better and Richt needs to dial up more creative plays to sustain drives.

The defense has struggled on third downs in crucial situations despite their impressive performances. Opponents have converted 35.6  percent (36-110) on third down this season. In losses to Florida State and North Carolina, the defense gave up crucial third downs continually that was the difference in the game.

Richt can only ask so much of his defense. The offense needs to do a better job of converting on third downs, to give the defense a chance to get off the field. That’s going to be a tough task against the Hokies. Virginia Tech ranks 5th nationally in third down defense. Teams are only converting 25.5 percent of the time.

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