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Memo to Miami: The road to the ACC title goes through Blacksburg

A solid hour after the last of his 34 carries last Saturday, Ryan Williams sat on a folding chair, talking about how much gas he had left in the tank. "I could've gone for another 20," said the Hokies redshirt freshman tailback, who finished with 150 yards in Virginia Tech's rain-soaked beatdown (RECAP | BOX) of No. 9 Miami. Flecks of Lane Stadium turf were still stuck in his dreadlocks, on his cheek, in his beard. Welts and abrasions covered his arms. "I was bleeding all over the place," he went on, "but I didn't realize it. People had to tell me. I was having fun out there."

Neither Williams nor his teammates got this week's memo -- the one proclaiming that Miami was back; that Hurricanes quarterback Jacory (The Savior) Harris had begun the process of restoring the 'Canes to their former glory.

What the Hokies did get -- the defensive players, at any rate -- was a brusque communiqué from Bud Foster, the program's highly regarded defensive coordinator. That note was waiting for them in their stalls when they arrived at the football facility on Tuesday. After reminding his charges of Virginia Tech's proud tradition, the author pointed out this unit currently ranked an unacceptable 107th in rushing defense. "It is your responsibility," he concluded, "to uphold that tradition."

They upheld it early and often in a comprehensive butt-kicking that saw the home team -- a tad embarrassed after last week's ragged victory over Nebraska -- dominate in every phase. Miami wasn't the first Top 10 team to leave Lane Stadium wondering what on earth just hit it. No shame in that. But it was the way the 'Canes succumbed that proved so stunning. An obscene chunk of Tech's rushing yards came after initial contact with a defender. "Bad," replied 'Canes head coach Randy Shannon, when asked about his team's tackling. "I'm being honest. It was bad."

For long stretches, the home team had a monopoly on passion, on intensity, nastiness -- qualities that Miami was supposed to have been stockpiling. After nine days of hearing about how these Hurricanes were ready to reprise the feats of the great Miami teams of the recent past, it was Williams who ran like Edgerrin James, junior defensive end Jason Worilds who came off the edge like Jessie Armstead.

Behind Williams, backup tailback Josh Oglesby and slippery, underrated quarterback Tyrod Taylor, the Hokies outrushed the Hurricanes 272 yards to 59. Getting up in Jacory's grill like no team had all season, Foster's charges made sure the sophomore was miserable all afternoon, sacking him three times, harassing him ceaselessly and forcing him into a number of poor throws, one of which was intercepted.

"You didn't hear a lot about Virginia Tech this week," noted Hokies head coach Frank Beamer, trying to sound matter-of-fact and not quite succeeding. "You heard a lot about Miami."

When he wasn't composing notes to put in their lockers, Foster was reminding his guys that since Tech joined the ACC five years ago, they'd won its championship three times, including each of the past two seasons. Just because the team from Coral Gables was 2-0 and the darling of the national media didn't change the fact, Foster told his guys, that "the road to the ACC championship still goes through Blacksburg."

He did his part by devising some dastardly pressure packages, including an all-out, eight-man blitz on Miami's fifth play from scrimmage. Coming off the edge unblocked was senior rover Dorian Porch, who stripped Harris of the ball in the process of sacking him, then devoured the fumble. Williams was in the end zone four plays later, and the rout was on.

Harris, who'd been sacked once in two games coming into this one, had his world rocked again in the second quarter when Worilds -- who'd been feeding right tackle Matt Pipho a steady diet of outside moves -- bullrushed the senior then used him as an orange and green welcome mat enroute to the quarterback.

"We'd seen him make some great throws," said Worilds, "But how would he respond under duress? The goal was to get in his face, let him know we'd be around all day. I think that made him a little uneasy."

More than a little. Harris completed just nine of his 25 passes, for 150 yards and no touchdowns. That said, the sophomore had his moments. He looked razor-sharp on Miami's first possession of the second half, leading a five-play, 46-yard touchdown drive that turned down the volume in the stadium. Harris looked no less impressive on the next possession -- until 6-foot-8 tight end Jimmy Graham, a converted forward from the 'Canes hoops team, dropped a pair of passes to kill the drive.

Those drops, Shannon agreed, were "crucial." The coach then emphasized that this loss was not on Harris alone. "You gotta point to the whole entire offense, and the whole entire defense." We agree.

It was a cold, wet, miserable reality check for the Hurricanes, who, it turns out, weren't quite ready for prime time, despite all those breathless proclamations to the contrary. (Mea culpa: I've been talking them up all week, myself).

It wasn't long ago that the gregarious Harris confided that he and his teammates would still prefer to be "considered underdogs."

Careful what you wish for, kid. After a dismal afternoon that had some Hurricanes fans wondering whatever became of Robert Marve, Miami should be at least a one-touchdown 'dog to Oklahoma when the Sooners come calling next Saturday.

In the end, Virginia Tech didn't care that Miami was back. As cornerback Rashad Carmichael put it, "We never left."

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