Here we are. After six months of articles asking the same age old question — Is Miami Back? — the Hokies finally have their shot at providing an answer for the national media and the few people in South Florida that care.
The Hokies may be favored in Vegas, but most people can't help themselves but to talk about Miami. Like the real life occurrence, the Canes capture people's attention. That's fine. Sage-like 18th Century author Christopher Bullock foresaw this frustration, noting, "Tis impossible to be sure of anything but Death and Taxes and Da U Not Being Back."
On to the (fake) lines!
Over/Under 3.5 times the announcing crew discusses whether or not Miami is back during the first half?
Brian: Want to hear an unpopular opinion? I'm taking the under.
The U beat Florida State and Georgia Tech — a traditional ACC power and one of the best teams in the Coastal — in dramatic, last second fashion. In back-to-back weeks. On nationally televised 3:30 games on ABC/ESPN. If that had happened any time during the Jacory Harris era, the Worldwide Leader would be walking around for months with #DAUISBACK boners. Because remember, they've been back before:
2009: The Hurricanes beat ranked FSU and GT squads to start the year, and shot up from unranked in Week 1 all the way up to #9 by Week 3. Randy Shannon had The U back for exactly one week, before getting smacked 31-7 in Blacksburg.
2010: Harris and Shannon had Miami at 5-2 with both losses coming to top-25 teams. They were back! And proceeded to lose four of the final six.
2013: After two straight mediocre years, Al Golden had Coral Gables on the map. They started 7-0 (sound familiar?), and found themselves in the top-10. They then proceeded to embarrass themselves on national television by losing to #2 Florida State 41-14, and followed that up with losses to the Hokies (again) and Duke (embarrassing). They ended the year an unranked 9-4.
2016: Golden got canned, and the prodigal son Mark Richt returned home to coach. The Canes won their first four, and were ranked once again in the top-10. After that brief appearance, they lost four in a row (to FSU, UNC, Virginia Tech, and an awful Notre Dame team) and again finished an unranked 9-4.
But now, after winning seven straight to open Richt's second campaign, it seems like everyone's starting to learn their lessons. In years prior, pollsters and pundits have been too excited to vault Miami higher than they probably deserved. If a 7-0 start happened in 2009, they'd be a top-four team for sure. But now there's skepticism. Now we're still all waiting for them to prove it, and I think Chris Fowler and Kirk Herbstreit will be hesitant to bring it up.
Pierson: Under. The Canes have started the season 7-0, but they've yet to beat — let alone play — a top-25 team. Plus it's not like this team is blowing opponents out of the water. The Canes have won their last four games by less than a touchdown. And while they are +93 in scoring margin for the season, that number is reduced to +43 against Power 5 teams. By comparison, the Hokies are +191 on the year and +79 against P5 teams. Those figures look really sexy when you're sporting the #2 scoring defense in the country.
As Brian mentioned, the question of whether or not Miami is "back" has been so overplayed (and repeatedly dismissed) that everyone is tired of it. How about this: Wait until the Hurricanes actually accomplish something before even broaching the subject. Sound good?
Who finishes with more rushing yards: Miami RB Travis Homer or Travon McMillian and Deshawn McClease (combined)?
Brian: I think this line is less about Homer and the pair of Hokies than it is about the defenses. Tech gives up 111 yards per game on the ground, good for 13th best in the country. Miami is below average, sitting 83rd at 180 rushing yards an outing. Coincidentally, the Hokie offense also averages exactly 180 yards on the ground.
So do we really think Homer will be such a big outlier against Bud Foster's defense that he'll outpace the entire Tech rushing attack? I don't buy it. Give me McMillian and McClease, and the 4-8 defense making things tough for Homer and the Hurricane offense.
Pierson: Since starting tailback Mark Walton went down for the season with an ankle injury, Travis Homer is averaging just over 100 yards per game. However, that stat line is a bit misleading. In his first start against Georgia Tech, Homer ran for 170 yards on 20 carries. He followed that up with 95 yards against Syracuse and then a comparatively paltry 40 yards last week against UNC. So which Homer can the Hokies expect to face on Saturday night? 40 yards against the 108th ranked rush defense is eye opening, to say the least.
As for the Mac Attack — or maybe it's the Mc Attck? — the two combined for 104 yards last week and form a complementary pair. The tailbacks are averaging 4.64 and 4.42 yards per carry, respectively, which is considerably lower than Homer's 6.32 ypc. As much as we'd love to point to the Tech duo's combined 25 carries against the Blue Devils, we all know not to look for consistency from the Tech staff. A questionable Steven Peoples could carry the ball 20 times against the Canes and we'd all just shrug our shoulders and toss it up to gamesmanship.
I'll be a non-homer and take Homer.
Brian: The nickname should be Run TMC/DMC. I hope this is settled for future generations.
Over/Under 19.5 completions for Miami QB Malik Rosier?
Brian: Want to hear something crazy? The Hokie defense has given up 102 completions all year. That amounts to just under 13 a game, which is especially crazy considering Will Grier nearly tripled that in Week 1.
Rosier is going to throw. It's something we've seen from Miami all year. When things get tight, Richt is going to put the ball in his quarterback's hands and have him make a play. He did it against FSU (44 attempts), Georgia Tech (37), Syracuse (43), and UNC (38). In case you were wondering, those are also their last four games.
Rosier's completions in those games? In order: 19, 23, 26, and 16 (a startling 52% success rate). I'll put my faith (and fake money) behind Adonis Alexander, Brandon Facyson, and Greg Stroman and take the under.
Pierson: Brian's absolutely right: Expect Rosier to throw the ball a ton. Without Walton, the running game consists of Rosier, Homer and the homeless dudes security lets into Hard Rock Stadium to fill seats.
Miami's offensive line hasn't been particularly stellar this season. They're allowing close to 5 TFL and 1.86 sacks per game (#12 and #39, respectively), so if the Hokies front seven continues wreaking havoc up front, it should go a long way towards making Rosier that much more one dimensional.
Rosier's rushing ability will no doubt allow him to make plays, but his inconsistency throwing the football keeps him from being truly terrifying. If anything, it's more the spectre of his potential than a proven track record that makes you nervous. Rosier's 52.7% completion percentage against Power 5 teams (#81) looks even juicier when you consider the Virginia Tech defense is surrendering a measly 44.9% on the year.
West Virginia (Will Grier) is the only team to complete more than 14 passes against the Tech defense. Rosier is arguably better than anyone else the Hokies' other seven opponents can field at QB, but he doesn't come close to Grier's talents. The Hokies defense is rolling right now. I'll take the under.
Which number is higher: Total punt return yards by Miami or total rushing yards by Coleman Fox?
Brian: The hidden yardage provided by Oscar Bradburn and the rest of the punt team has been invaluable, especially for a team whose offense struggles to score at times. Through eight games, Tech has only given up four yards on four punt returns, good for fourth best in the nation. But Bradburn will have his hands full with Braxton Berrios, a 5'9" burner who averages 16 yards per punt return. He's incredibly dangerous, and I'm sure James Shibest has stressed as much in practice this week.
While we're here, can we talk about what the deal is with Fox? He plays well in garbage time in September, earning him a little bit of action against Clemson. For some reason, that earned him time late in the third quarter against Boston College. He had five straight carries inside the red zone, couldn't score, and we never saw him again.
He didn't get in until mop-up time against UNC, but then plays the second series of the second half against Duke. After a five-play drive, he didn't see the field. I'm not advocating Fox getting more carries (there's no way you can convince me that he's better than any of the four guys ahead of him). I'm also not against it (at this point, the run game is basically a giant shrug emoji anyway). But why do it with such sporadic timing?
Why take a series away from McMillian or McClease, especially if Fox won't play again? It just doesn't make any sense to me. Either play him, or don't. Don't waffle between decisions. I also don't think he plays against Miami, so I'll take Berrios and the Hurricane punt return unit.
Pierson: Miami's Braxton Berrios has proven throughout his career to be a dangerous player with the ball in his hands. In 2017, he's made the most of his chances returning punts, averaging more than 16 yards per return on only 9 chances. Oscar Bradburn and the rest of the Tech punting unit have been stellar this season in coverage. Something's got to give.
Ultimately this line comes down to whether or not Coleman Fox gets some run against the Canes. In a game that showcases two talented defensive fronts, Berrios is likely to get a couple of cracks at a return or two. Fox, on the other hand, may not even see the field. With Steven Peoples' inclusion on the injury report, Fox's chances increase slightly. Yet he still finds himself behind the Mc Attck and Jalen Holston on the ol' depth chart. These two defenses are too good for this game to result in a blowout, limiting Fox's chances at some garbage time backdoor cover yardage. I'll take Miami's punt return unit.
Which team finishes with more yards of total offense?
Brian: Dude, who knows. I have absolutely zero handle on how well the Hokie offense will play on Saturday. You want to know something surprising, though? Tech has the 32nd best offense in the country, from a total yards per game perspective. Jackson and company average 446.5 yards a game, while Rosier's Hurricanes average 465.6. Not nearly as much of a discrepancy as I thought there'd be.
I want to take the Hokies, again because I trust the lunchpail defense more than any other unit in the game. I really don't feel great about it, though. I know French has talked about the young Miami linebackers that can frequently play themselves out of position, but can Jackson take advantage of it? I'm unsure.
Pierson: Statistically, these two teams get similar production from their offenses but do have their differences. Josh Jackson has been considerably more efficient than his Miami counterpart, while the Canes running game has been more effective on a per carry basis than the Hokies (close to 1.5 yards more per tote).
As I talk about below, the two defenses are the key here and the Hokies have the edge. The secondary has been stingy since the season opener and the unit has really battened down the hatches in the red zone. Since surrendering 592 yards in their win over WVU, Tech is ceding a ridiculous 240.6 yards per game. Sure, the competition has been subpar — with the exception of FCS Delaware, the other six teams have a combined average rank of #85 in total offense, with four teams ranked 95th or worse — but even bad offenses can manage the occasional chunk play and/or rack up garbage time yards.
Where the Hokies have really excelled since the opener is controlling the football and getting off the field. Opposing offenses are converting a mere 24% on third down (#3 in the country), while the Canes are conceding 40% of the time (#71). Opponents are running 69 plays per game against the Canes, while Tech's foes are managing 64.5 (61 since the opener). Furthermore, Tech's defense has surrendered nearly 1,000 less yards than Miami despite having played an additional game. All but one of Miami's opponents has racked up 400 or more yards against them, while 5 of Virginia Tech's 8 opponents have been held below 300 yards and only WVU has topped BC's 344 yards.
Gimme the Hokies.
Matchup Over/Under: 50
Brian: Over, and I didn't think twice about it. This game will go one of two ways:
- Either Fuente and Cornelsen have schemed a great plan for Tech to take advantage of the Miami aggressiveness, and pop multiple big plays. Remember, last year both McMillian and Jerod Evans were able to break off chunk plays on the ground, and Sam Rogers broke loose for a 52-yard gainer off a well-designed play action pass. Or,
- Both defenses play really well, and each give their offenses enough chances to score with advantageous short fields.
Either way, give me the over.
Pierson: This is one of those games that sucks you into the under because you see how high each defense is ranked in the major categories.
- Scoring Defense: Virginia Tech (#2); Miami (#20)
- Passing Defense: Virginia Tech (#14); Miami (#35)
- Total Defense: Virginia Tech (#39); Miami (#52)
- Sacks: Miami (#17); Virginia Tech (#37)
- Tackles for Loss: Virginia Tech (#11); Miami (#13)
- Turnover Margin: Miami (#6); Virginia Tech (#19)
I omitted the rushing defense stat out of fairness, since Miami has played Georgia Tech and the Hokies haven't. What can I say? I'm a nice guy.
You say to yourself, "I don't feel particularly confident in either offense, but boy do I know that these defenses are for real. How can I not take the under?" That may or may not have been what went through my head a few moments ago. I'm going to be horribly wrong here, but screw it, I'll take the under.
Spread: Virginia Tech (-2.5)
Brian: It makes me incredibly uncomfortable how comfortable everyone is about this game. I know their ranking doesn't mean much, but Miami is still currently the ninth best team in the country. And not only are fans not worried, but apparently Vegas isn't either, making The U a home underdog. I hate it.
I won't bet it. I refuse. I know that the Hokies have been on a bit of a heater since the Clemson game, but they haven't played anyone close to the ability of Miami. And yes, Rosier hasn't played super well against good defenses, but he's still come through when needed most.
And no, Hard Rock Stadium isn't exactly a fearsome place to play, but this is the most important game of the year for both teams. It's basically the Coastal Division championship, and if either group rolls into Charlotte without losing, they'll have national aspirations. This isn't a game you want to have on the road, no matter where you're playing. The more I think about it, the more a bad feeling just creeps into my stomach.
I have no reason behind it, the Tech defense should be the best unit on the field. Jackson's aversion to turnovers keeps the Hokies alive even when they're not moving the ball. The special teams (outside of the field goal team) have been superb. But why do we think that this won't be another stupid win in a season full of stupid wins for Miami? I can't give a reason other than my gut instinct, but I just really don't feel great about this game.
I'll take Miami to win, 28-25.
Pierson: Backstreet's back. Shady's back (tell your friends). Guess who's not back? Da U.
Miami is enjoying a fresh taste of success despite eeking out four consecutive wins by less than a touchdown. The Hokies, on the other hand, are cruising into
Joe Robbie Stadium Pro Player Park Pro Player Stadium Dolphins Stadium Dolphin Stadium Land Shark Stadium Dolphin Stadium (again) Sun Life Stadium Hard Rock Stadium having outscored their last three ACC opponents 106-20. Miami may be undefeated, but Virginia Tech feels like they have the momentum. This Hokies team is on a mission to avenge their lone loss to Clemson in the ACC Championship Game (*provided the Tigers cooperate).
In other words, the Hokies are Jack Parkman and the Canes are Rube Baker.
Give me the Hokies (-2.5). Let's Gooooooooooooo!
Disclaimer: Some of these are real betting lines, but many of them are fake and none of this is real advice that should be taken seriously.