The Jackets will take the field on Saturday, Nov. 13 at Bobby Dodd Stadium after a close loss last Thursday to the Virginia Tech Hokies. This week, Tech will face off against another ACC rival, the Miami Hurricanes. Tech comes in to the game with a 5-4 (3-3 ACC) record and is fourth in the Coastal Division. The Jackets look to hand the Hurricanes their third ACC loss and put an end to their ACC title hopes. The three keys for the Jackets to win on Saturday are playing to manageable third down distances, containing the Hurricane’s athletic players and forcing Miami into committing penalties.
Tech has emphasized converting third downs throughout the season. In Head Coach Paul Johnson’s system, every down matters, and in the 2010 season, third-down conversions have been especially important. This season, on third downs of five yards or less, the Jackets have converted 51 percent of the time. But on third downs of six yards or more, the percentage drops to a meager 24.5 percent. This gives Coach Johnson two very important decisions to make on first and second downs to put the team in a position to succeed when Tech has a chance to keep the drive alive.
It is no secret that Miami recruits stellar athletes. Miami’s team speed is nearly unparalleled along with the team’s intimidating size. Senior cornerbacks Mario Butler and Dominique Reese will have to match up against the hyper-talented likes of Miami senior wide receiver Leonard Hankerson and junior wide receiver Travis Benjamin. These two alone account for 65 percent of Miami’s touchdowns through the air.
The last key for a Tech victory will be to force the Hurricanes to commit penalties. Miami is the second most penalized team in major college football. Miami has racked up 83 penalties for 698 yards, an average of just over nine per game for 87 yards. Those 87 yards could mean the difference between a Jackets’ win and loss.
The Hurricanes sit in second place with a 6-3 (4-2) record and are looking to put together back-to-back wins after defeating ACC foe Maryland last week at home. The Hurricanes will have to execute in three key areas if they want to take down Tech on Saturday: working in many of their talented running backs, taking advantage of Tech’s thin secondary and stuffing the run on first down.
Miami must take advantage of their superior athletes and use them against a Tech team that looks very average. One particular area where the Hurricanes could excel is in the run game. Miami has four extremely talented running backs who play and could start anywhere in the country. Not only do they collectively have years of experience, but the coaching staff consistently deploy each to maximize the specific players’ talents. The Hurricanes’ stable of backs includes runners with 115 yards, 294 yards, 377 yards and Senior Damien Berry, leading the team with 690 yards and four touchdowns.
In addition to the Canes’ advantage at running back, Miami will look to abuse Tech’s thin secondary early and often. This job falls to the Hurricanes wide receivers. Hankerson, who is sixth in the country in receiving touchdowns, has snagged 10 touchdowns this season. Tech’s defensive backs will have to keep an extra careful watch on Hankerson which could leave other players open.
The last key for Miami will be to stuff the Jackets’ offense on first down. With little or no gain on first down, Johnson will feel the pressure on second and third downs. This could lead the Jackets to throw the ball, something they have struggled with this season.