It didn’t take long for Virginia Tech to find out how thin the margin for error is in the ACC this season.
Just a week after collecting a key road win over North Carolina, the Hokies stumbled at Syracuse last weekend in a classic trap game.
Due to tiebreakers, Justin Fuente’s squad still controls its own destiny in the ACC’s Coastal Division, but one more loss could knock the team right out of the division’s driver’s seat. That’s not ideal for Virginia Tech, given that a Thursday night showdown against Miami is next on the docket.
The good news for the Hokies, though, is that they catch the Hurricanes at the perfect time.
While the loss to the Orange dropped Tech out of the AP Top 25 poll, few teams in college football have fallen harder than Miami over the last two weeks. The ’Canes opened up the season 4-0 and climbed as high as No. 10 nationally, but Florida State and North Carolina have since traveled to Hard Rock Stadium to bring Mark Richt’s group back down to earth.
The Hurricanes’ most important player — junior quarterback Brad Kaaya — hasn’t been the same since taking a beating against the Seminoles on Oct. 8. In that contest, Kaaya took hits that left him with an injured shoulder and a lost tooth. The effects were evident against the Tar Heels as he completed 16 of 31 passes (51.6 percent) for 224 yards and no touchdowns versus a shaky UNC defense.
Kaaya isn’t the only player who’s banged up. Defensive lineman Chad Thomas is listed as questionable for Thursday with a hand injury, and others — including starting linebacker Shaq Quarterman — are below 100 percent as well.
With a handful of key players dealing with injuries, a five-day turnaround will be a challenge for the Hurricanes. It represents an opportunity for the Hokies to put a significant nail in the coffin of Miami’s Coastal Division hopes.
The ’Canes currently sit at fifth in the division with a 1-2 record in ACC play. They’re already behind Virginia Tech, North Carolina, Pitt and Virginia, and another loss would make it virtually impossible to recover.
But that’s not the only factor working against Miami right now. Historically, the program has been plagued by long-lasting hangovers after losses to FSU.
The Hurricanes have lost seven straight matchups against their in-state rival. During that span, Miami’s teams have gone 15-16 after those meetings.
That, again, leaves Richt’s team in a vulnerable spot entering Thursday night.
Virginia Tech, on the other hand, has its wake-up call out of the way. Following a two-game road stint, the Hokies are back in Blacksburg with Saturday’s loss fresh on their minds. The defense, which ranks No. 3 nationally in opponent completion rate at 44.7 percent, has to be salivating at the thought of going against a beat-up Kaaya and an offensive line that hasn’t been able to block much of anything the last couple of weeks. The offense, which scored a season-low 17 points in the Carrier Dome, is looking to get back on the right track against Miami’s thin defensive front seven.
Tech has a chance to bounce back strong from its Week 7 misstep. Don’t expect the Hokies to sleepwalk into Week 8.