After a thriller in Atlanta last Thursday night, the ACC is back for more. This time around, the show moves to Miami, where last week’s victors, the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets will visit the Hurricanes.
This is a crucial battle in the conference’s Coastal Division. Last week, North Carolina did not look like a team ready to challenge for the division title, while Virginia Tech will obviously be in the thick of things.
That leaves this game to decide who will be the Hokies premier competition in the division. The loser will have to catch plenty of breaks and most likely run the table the rest of the way to assure themselves a spot in Tampa this December.
Here are the keys to the game for both sides.
Air Control for Nesbitt
Last week, Josh Nesbitt’s lack of accuracy through the air nearly cost his team the game. This week, the Yellow Jackets will need much more consistent play from their quarterback when they need to pass. Part of the blame also falls on the coaching staff, which called way too many passing plays in the second half against Clemson last week, resulting in a late Tigers comeback that nearly cost Georgia Tech the game. Miami will take advantage of any such opportunity just as Clemson did, and this time, Tech might not be so lucky.
Win the turnover battle
Yes I know, when is this not a key for both sides? Georgia Tech has to capitalize on turnovers by the Hurricanes, and they cannot give Miami’s offense a short field. Florida State came up big with a couple interceptions that put them in position to win in week one against Miami, but two turnovers themselves evened the battle for the game. If Tech can take the ball from the Hurricanes enough, and keep Randy Shannon’s defense on the field as much as possible, they just might sneak out of south Florida with a win.
This is of the utmost importance for Paul Johnson’s crew. Miami showed against the Seminoles just how dangerous their offense can be. Jacory Harris looked perfectly comfortable tossing the ball around to his athletic wide-outs for 386 yards and two touchdowns. If Georgia Tech gives Miami shorter fields to work with, the Hurricanes will score in bunches. Keep an eye on Miami’s average starting field position. If it is better than their own 35-yard line over the course of the game, no doubt they win the game.
Keep up Harris’ air raid
Harris surprised a lot of people with his grit and potency against Florida State. When he was intercepted for a touchdown in the fourth quarter, he suffered a funny bone injury on the same play. He was on the field for the first play of the next possession, and proceeded to embark on a game-winning touchdown drive. Georgia Tech is not quite as fast on defense as Florida State, but they always have a good scheme. The Jackets performance was questionable at times against Clemson, but they undoubtedly heard all about how great Harris is now, and how people are ready for another 380-yard performance. Don’t count on it, but anything close to that stat line for Harris and Miami has to like their chances.
Don’t get beat early
Last week, the Yellow Jackets smacked Clemson in the mouth by scoring the game’s first 24 points. That won’t happen again, but the Hurricanes would be well served to take an early lead on Tech, and force them to play from behind. The triple option is not a come-from-behind offense, and if Nesbitt and company spot Harris’ offense 14 points or more, don’t count on a similar comeback story this Thursday night.
Jimmys and Joes, not X’s and O’s,
Last week, it was clear Clemson’s Dabo Swinney was outcoached in the first half, while Paul Johnson outcoached himself in the second half. Don’t count on that happening every week. Johnson brings a very prepared football team each week, and his teams never quit. Randy Shannon has been under lukewarm pressure as Miami’s coach coming into the season, which was alleviated to a degree with the FSU win. He needs to let his athletes dictate the game, and not try to out-scheme Johnson. Athletically, the Hurricanes are supreme, but Miami must prove it is the better executing team and the more disciplined team if it wants to move to 2-0 in the ACC.
Georgia Tech looked like a million dollars in the first half last week, then nearly blew it all away before two late field goals saved them from embarrassment. Miami also looked like a top-notch squad in its win over Florida State, then the Seminoles barely beat Jacksonville State five days later, so its hard to tell just how good the ‘Canes win was.
Odds are, these two teams will fall in with the rest of the conference as groups with potential, but terribly inconsistent effort week to week. Although Miami is not exactly a feared venue from visitors, playing at home should help the Hurricanes squeak by in this one.
Final Score: Miami 33, Georgia Tech 24.