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Gameday Preview: UM at Virginia Tech

BLACKSBURG, Va. -- With less than 24 hours before the Canes and Hokies start hitting each other at Lane Stadium in a crucial ACC Coastal Division showdown, fans in South Florida seem to be panicking over the expected stormy forecast. According to Weather.com there is a 90 percent chance of rain for the game, which means UM and Virginia Tech will likely be playing in slop by the fourth quarter.

UM coach Randy Shannon told us Thursday he’s not worried about any rain and feels his team is well prepared for it after having played one of their scrimmages during fall camp in a “monsoon.”

REWIND: The Canes won last year’s tilt 16-14 in a defensive struggle at Land Shark Stadium. But the last time they were in Hokieville, Virginia Tech laid the Canes out 40-14. UM has won twice at Lane Stadium (2005, 2001) this decade and has split their previous 10 meetings overall at 5-5 with the Hokies.

FAST FORWARD

UM > UM wins because…

Quarterback Jacory Harris doesn't get rattled, the Canes protect the football and UM’s defense and special teams don’t give up many big plays. One thing Harris has had plenty of is time to throw the ball and easy passing lanes to find open receivers. Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster is bound to try different ways – zone blitzes and zone coverages – to make Harris feel uncomfortable. If UM’s offensive line provides sound protection and the running game keeps the Hokies defense on its toes, Harris and offensive coordinator Mark Whipple will figure out how to strike for the big passing play.

Virginia Tech

> VT wins because…

Defensive end Jason Worilds leads the charge of getting pressure on Jacory Harris, Tyrod Taylor plays his best game of the season and the Hokies’ run defense – off to a horrible starts – regains its form and shuts down Javarris James and Graig Cooper. Worilds will be a handful for senior Matt Pipho, who stepped up to his challenge last week against Georgia Tech’s Derrick Morgan. Worilds and the VT defense have to accomplish what Morgan couldn’t and not only disrupt Harris’ flow, but do a good job containing the run. Taylor, meanwhile, won’t light up the scoreboard. But if he can keep the Hokies defense off the field with a few sustained drives and runs of his own, he’ll make it really hard for UM to win this game.

> My pick: UM 27, Virginia Tech 17. The final score won’t represent how close I expect this game to be. Playing at home as underdogs in the rain, makes the Hokies a dangerous team. Defensive coordinator Bud Foster is too good not to find ways to slow UM’s offense down. But what I think doesn’t happen for the Hokies is that Taylor and and the team's anemic offense find its groove. Taylor hasn’t been an effective passer for most of his career and enters with loads of pressure on his back. I think UM’s defense will rattle him enough under the spotlight and create turnovers late to help turn a close game in into an impressive road victory. In the end, UM will demonstrate it can win games with big plays on defense too.

WHO WILL GET THE GAME BALLS?

> Offense: Miami’s offensive line. I expect them to struggle a little at first playing in a loud environment against a hungry team. But they will rebound in the second half and be the key to give Harris time and Cooper and James running lanes.

> Defense: Brandon Harris. He should have had a pick last week, but it was wiped away by a penalty. This week, I’m calling for Harris to take a pick back to the house and for UM’s secondary to come up with a few big plays when Taylor starts flinging the football.

> Special Teams: Travis Benjamin. The punt return game has been suspect. But I’m calling for Benjamin and UM to break out of the funk with a few nice returns to give UM important field position.

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