Hokies, Hurricanes seek Thursday night magic
Virginia Tech and Miami are accustomed to meeting late in the season with championships on the line.
That won't be the case on Thursday night in Blacksburg, Virginia, where two conferences losses each find the longtime rivals playing for relevancy even before November arrives.
The Hokies (4-3, 1-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) took a step back in the Coastal Division with a loss at Pittsburgh last Thursday night, while the Hurricanes (4-3, 1-2) are coming off a bye.
Both are hoping their history of success in Thursday night games gives them an edge.
Virginia Tech leads all ACC schools with 20 victories in Thursday night games and will be making its 29th appearance. The Hurricanes have the league's best winning percentage (.850), having won 17 of 20.
Hokies quarterback Michael Brewer, who transferred from Texas Tech, said the prospect of playing on the national stage of a Thursday night game was one of the selling points when he picked Virginia Tech.
''I've heard a lot about Thursday nights here, even from when I was being recruited,'' Brewer said. ''I've heard that it's pretty awesome, that one of the best atmospheres in college football is a Thursday night football game here in Lane Stadium, so I'm really looking forward to that. It's going to be fun for our fans to get to see us play a team of Miami's caliber and it's going to be really fun for us, too.''
The Hurricanes got their offense cranked up in a 55-34 victory against Cincinnati in their last game, compiling 621 yards of offense, including 335 yards on the ground, but will be facing a better defense.
''They're very aggressive. They have outstanding coverage guys on the perimeter. They make it tough for you to win one-on-one out there and beat them for explosive plays,'' Miami coach Al Golden said. ''If you do catch it, they do a good job tackling. We have to be creative and find ways to run the ball.
''When we do hit plays, we have to make them pay.''
I many seasons, this would have been a compelling matchup, but even with the stakes, Hokies coach Frank Beamer expects a long history in the series to help his team be ready for a difficult test.
''I think we have a great respect for Miami and the type of program it is and the types of athletes they have on the team and how good they've been over the years,'' Beamer said. ''I think out of respect that probably helps us play well against them, so I think that's kind of the situation there.''
Here are some things to watch for when Miami plays at Virginia Tech:
RUN, MARSHAWN, RUN: Virginia Tech was without an every down-type running back in the loss to Pittsburgh and its offense struggled as a result. Marshawn Williams' return from a sprained right ankle should give them that workhorse option again, providing the line can creates holes for him.
THE DUKE: Miami ranks only 66th nationally in rushing offense, averaging 162 yards, but tailback Duke Johnson has been on a roll, topping 100 yards in his last three games. He also has breakaway speed, and needs only to get loose once or twice to have a huge impact on the Hurricanes' chances at victory.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Miami is one of the teams that appeared to follow Virginia Tech's lead and begin to emphasize special teams play in all directions more than a decade ago. Those plays can tip the balance in a hurry in a game between evenly matched teams. If either teams makes one here, they likely win.
BIG STAGE FROSH: Miami freshman quarterback Brad Kaaya makes his Thursday night debut in a tough place to play, but he's not new to a prime-time showcase. Miami opened the season on Monday night, Sept. 1 at Louisville, and while they lost 31-13, Kaaya's numbers place him among the nation's top quarterbacks.
STAKES: The Hokies and Hurricanes are two of the league's most successful in these Thursday night showcases. Virginia's Tech's 20 wins leads the conference, and Miami's .850 winning percentage (17-3) is the best. With both battling to stay in the Coastal Division race, something's got to give.
Follow Hank on twitter at: http://twitter.com/hankkurzjr