The Defining Five: Miami
The Virginia Tech Hokies were defeated 25-24 by the Miami Hurricanes on Saturday. The 9th ranked Miami squad continued its dominant run through the regular season while Tech has flipped their start to the season on its head, dropping three of their last four games.
This weekend was another chapter in the story of disappointment this season and encapsulated many of the gripes that fans have had as the Hokies, who were in control for a majority of the 60 minutes, failed to see out another close game yet again.
A lack of closing confidence from Quarterback Hendon Hooker and suspect fourth quarter play calling by the coaching staff plagued the team’s chances in the clutch after what had been an extremely impressive first three quarters. The running game had been diversified and well-orchestrated, the defensive pressure was helping to win the time of possession battle and “Big Play Tre” Turner was providing the spark that had seemed hard to come by this season.
Dax Hollifield, Jarrod Hewitt and Armani Chatman all had massive performances on the defensive side of the football. Hollifield and Hewitt were wreaking havoc behind the Miami line on seemingly every play of importance, and Chatman’s lockdown coverage and crucial deflections provided security in a secondary that has been under-the-radar elite this season.
The Hokies were forced to game plan with FBS all-purpose-yards leader Khalil Herbert serving a diminished role due to a hamstring injury suffered in the first quarter last weekend against Liberty. “Juice” did look lively, producing 56 yards in nine touches, but was used sparingly to avoid further inflammation of the hamstring.
Tech’s special teams did not set the world on fire today: Kicker Brian Johnson went one for two, converting a 38 yarder but missing from 54. Punter Oscar Bradburn had a net average of 39 yards per punt, 4.8 yards below his season average.
All of these stats can only tell so much, though: really, there were five key plays that shaped the way that this game was played and foretold of what was to come. So, here are those defining moments.
6:10 left in the first quarter
Hendon Hooker, flanked in the backfield by Hokies Tayvion Robinson and Jalen Holston, kept on a triple option to the strong side before cutting up the middle and bolting for a 53-yard touchdown, the first of the game. This score came directly after a pass interference call courtesy of a “free play” in which a Miami defensive lineman jumped offsides, triggered by a Hooker hard count. The Hokies had utilized the “hurry up” offense the three plays prior to the TD run, bringing Herbert into the action for his first appearance during this sequence, and were able to catch the Miami run defense napping after substituting Herbert off the field. 7-0 Hokies.
5:27 left in the second quarter
Miami's D’Eriq King lofted a beautiful pass to Dee Wiggins who toe-tapped his left foot at the Virginia Tech 10-yard line for a 20-yard gain. This throw was King’s best of the game, managing to squeeze the ball between the outstretched arm of Armani Chattman, playing the flat underneath, and the airtight coverage of Charmanni Conner, responsible for the deep half of a Cover 2 that Wiggins had infiltrated. The Canes then scored on a 10-yard run the next play via a D’Eriq King scamper down the right side of the field preceded by a fake screen pass to the left. This score marked the first real offensive impact that the south Florida-based team had on the game and brought them right back into the thick of the battle. 14-10 Hokies.
14:12 left in the third quarter
Jarrod Hewitt, who had declared the game to be “a personal one” due to a lack of recruiting interest by his native Florida universities, got his second third-down sack of the game, both of which resulted in 10-yard losses. Hewitt, lined up as a set defensive tackle, blew past Miami Left Guard Ousman Traore with a powerful rip move to the outside and snagged the shoulder of a scrambling D’Eriq King before ultimately wrestling him down to the turf. This play forced Miami to open their second-half with a three and out and gave the Virginia Tech offense the ball back early in the quarter, who then made good on Hewitt’s effort by adding another touchdown to their total via Jalen Holston’s second rushing touchdown of the afternoon. 21-13 Hokies.
6:05 left in the fourth quarter
D’Eriq King connected with receiver Mark Pope on a run/pass option with a quick slant across the middle of the field that had been open earlier in the game but fell victim to a misplaced pass. Pope caught the ball and had a free road to the endzone, having already gotten a step on his man to the inside, as the press coverage deployed by the maroon and orange meant that there was no high safety to protect the goal line. This score put Miami ahead for the first time in the ball game, 25-24. The Hurricanes attempted a two-point conversion to extend their lead to three but were unsuccessful. King was pressured on a rollout to the right by Robert Wooten and Max Philpott, forcing him to flip a pass to the half-yard line that was broken up by the active Dax Hollifield. 25-24 Hurricanes.
2:23 left in the fourth quarter
Hendon Hooker, fresh off of an interception the previous drive that forced the defense to make an impressive hold, dropped back to pass on 3rd and 15 and slipped in the pocket without being touched. Hooker had just thrown his worst pass of the day, mistiming a 15-yard crossing route to Tayvion Robinson and hitting the unmoving linebacker Bradley Jennings directly in the hands with a ball that was inexplicably dropped, and followed it up with one of the worst plays of his career. The Hokies’ hopes of a comeback were all but gone as they were forced to punt on 4th and 22 before later failing to score in their final drive of the game. 25-24 Hurricanes.
There were positive takeaways from this battle against a team that had only lost to #1 Clemson thus far, but the unfortunate truth of sports is that there is only one winner: that team was Miami.
Head Coach Justin Fuente stated after the game that “I feel better about our football team than at any point” and will be looking to build on the first three and a half quarters of outright superiority that the Hokies flashed at Lane Stadium.
Next up on Virginia Tech's schedule: the 4-4 Pittsburgh Panthers.