Maybe there’s no elixir for Virginia Tech’s offense. Perhaps a patchwork offensive line, rookie tailbacks and unproven receivers have rendered the Hokies terminally average.
But if there is hope for Tech, it figures to emerge Thursday night at Miami.
Statistically, this is the Hurricanes’ worst defense ever. In year-by-year records that date to 1960, Miami has never allowed so many yards (499.1 per game) or points (32.4).
Prefer your numbers with context? Among 120 teams nationally, the Canes rank 119th against the rush, 116th in total defense, 95th in scoring defense and 83rd against the pass.
There are mitigating circumstances. Miami’s defense starts only one senior, cornerback Brandon McGee, and has faced quality quarterbacks such as Kansas State’s Collin Klein and Florida State’s EJ Manuel.
Thursday’s stakes are significant: The winner seizes control of the ACC’s Coastal Division and the race to qualify for the conference championship game.
For Miami (4-4, 3-2 ACC), that’s a big deal, pedestrian record notwithstanding. The Hurricanes have never, difficult as it is to fathom, reached the ACC title game.
“We know this division has gone through Blacksburg, and we’ve never won the division,” Miami coach Al Golden said Wednesday. “Clearly, if you want the opportunity, you have to beat Virginia Tech.”
But for Tech, playing that first Saturday in December has become routine — five times in seven years. With their worst eight-game record (4-4, 2-2) in 20 years, is Dec. 1 in Charlotte, N.C., a large-enough carrot to motivate the Hokies?
Coach Frank Beamer can only hope.
“At this time of the year, you want your games to be important, and this one certainly is,” he said. “You want to be playing for something, and we certainly are.”
Cynics, including some Hokies faithful, would counter that Tech’s offense is the cure-all for Miami’s defense. The Hokies don’t rank among the nation’s top 50 in any offensive category and matched their season-lows in points and turnovers (four) in their most recent game, a 38-17 loss at Clemson.
Tech quarterback Logan Thomas rushed for a career-high 99 yards on 21 carries against the Tigers, and Golden expects him to run even more Thursday.
“If I’m over there … I would probably run Logan a little more than he’s running or than he has run,” Golden said. “He’s tough when he gets going, like Manuel and Klein. I think Logan does a great job with the read-option, he does a great job with the power-read, and he can make all the throws. This is an excellent quarterback, and one that is going to be a great challenge. We can’t let him get going.”
How kind of Golden to offer Tech advice, right? But Hokies offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring and play-caller Mike O’Cain would be better-served to lean on their tailbacks, at least early.
Here’s why: Opposing tailbacks have bludgeoned the Hurricanes.
Kansas State’s John Hubert rushed for 106 yards, N.C. State’s Tony Creecy 120, Notre Dame’s George Atkinson III and Cierre Wood a combined 241, North Carolina’s Gio Bernard 177, and Florida State’s Devonta Freeman, James Wilder and Chris Thompson a combined 166.
Surely J.C. Coleman, Michael Holmes, Martin Scales or Tony Gregory can find some running room. And if Miami is forced to honor the rush, then Thomas will have the time and space to throw effectively.
It’s not that Tech is incapable of such balance. The Hokies ran for 150-plus yards and passed for 240-plus against Cincinnati and Duke.
But the effort against Cincinnati was doomed by late defensive lapses, and even the victory over Duke included early breakdowns on both sides.
In short, Tech has yet to play anything resembling a complete game against a credible opponent. If the Hokies are capable, they’d better start now.