Saturday, 26 September 2009

Virginia Tech Puts Damper on Miami’s Title Plans


BLACKSBURG, Va. — The Atlantic Coast Conference will not reclaim some of its national stature until one of its teams can break through to the championship game of the Bowl Championship Series and challenge the Southeastern Conference, Pacific-10, Big 12, or Big Ten. The A.C.C. has had its share of bowl wins and players who have gone on to the N.F.L., but it needs a powerhouse with talent and swagger.

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Don Petersen/Associated Press
Virginia Tech’s Dorian Porch sacking Miami’s Jacory Harris, who completed 9 of 25 passes for 150 yards.

Related
No. 15 T.C.U. Edges Clemson to Stay Unbeaten (September 27, 2009)
East Roundup: Rutgers Wins at Maryland With Help of Five Turnovers (September 27, 2009)
National Roundup: Oregon Pummels No. 6 California (September 27, 2009)

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Miami looked to be that candidate. Until Saturday.

The No. 9 Hurricanes had impressive victories over nationally ranked Florida State and Georgia Tech. Instead of improving its standing going into next week’s game with Oklahoma, Miami slipped in a big way.

No. 11 Virginia Tech seized momentum early with a blitzing defense and bashed the Hurricanes, 31-7, in a drenching rain before a capacity crowd of 66,233 in Lane Stadium.

It was a startling end to a week in which Miami’s return to national prominence was trumpeted from coast to coast. The Hurricanes, who have won five national championships, appeared to be back on stage, good news for the A.C.C., which has not had a team in the national championship game since Florida State lost to Oklahoma on Jan. 3, 2001.

“We came out here and kind of reversed the media and all the Miami talk and kind of used it for fuel to keep the fire going for 60 minutes,” Virginia Tech defensive back Rashad Carmichael said. “We feel like the A.C.C. has to come through us, being back-to-back champs.

“We wanted to show the world Tech never left. Miami might be back, but we never left.”

It has not been a good week for undefeated teams in the top 10 of the Associated Press poll. On Thursday night, No. 4 Mississippi lost to unranked South Carolina, 16-10, and on Saturday, No. 6 California was clobbered by unranked Oregon, 42-3.

“We’ve got to take this loss in the right way,” Miami offensive tackle Jason Fox said. “It was tough, we had all the highest expectations to come up here and win and now that we didn’t, we have to look at this game and learn from it. This is our third game, hype doesn’t matter, we still have to win games.”

After losing to No. 3 Alabama, 34-24, in the first game of the season, the Hokies have won three straight and appear to be on their way to their third consecutive A.C.C. championship. They have recovered from the season-ending injury to the star tailback Darren Evans and have discovered a new standout in the red-shirt freshman tailback Ryan Williams, who gained 150 yards on 34 carries.

Meanwhile, Miami (2-1) has to find a running game to take the pressure off its passing game, which was quiet for the first time this season. Quarterback Jacory Harris was sacked three times and completed just 9 of 25 passes and threw an interception.

Harris came into the game having completed 69 percent of his passes, but the Hokies took him off his game on the first series with an eight-man blitz on a second-and-11 play from the Miami 31-yard line.

Dorian Porcher hit Harris from behind and he fumbled. Porcher recovered at the Miami 11 and the Hokies scored in three plays.

On its next chance, Miami tried to run with the ball against a Virginia Tech defense that was ranked No. 107 against the run, having allowed 200 yards per game. That was also unsuccessful for the Hurricanes. Miami rushed for 59 yards and had 209 total yards when it had been averaging 465.

Harris tried to fake-snap the Tech defense into showing where the blitzes were coming from in the first half, but the Hokies stayed in place. They bluffed blitzes in the first three games of the season because teams were starting to expect it, but Saturday they cut loose.

“We may have given pressure away once,” linebacker Cody Grimm said. “Today, that might have totaled our amount of blitzes in the first three games.”

Down at halftime, 21-0, the Hurricanes still tried to make a game of it. After a 39-yard kickoff return by Graig Cooper put Miami at the Virginia Tech 46-yard line to start the third quarter, the Hurricanes scored in five plays and trailed, 21-7.

The Hurricanes forced a punt and started moving the ball again, reaching the Hokies’ 33. Then, abruptly, their momentum was gone with two dropped passes. Miami was not heard from after that.

“We talked about what this program is about; we have a lot of pride in this program,” Virginia Tech Coach Frank Beamer said. “You didn’t hear a lot about Virginia Tech this week. You heard a lot about Miami this week and rightfully so. But I am proud of our guys.”

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