After a disappointing 4-4 start to open the season, the worst by a Hokies team since 1992, one would think there would be little reason for optimism.
However, that sentiment has not been felt in the locker room, as the team is continuing to push forward to play for what matters.
“This time of year, you just want to be playing for something. We are and they are,” said Frank Beamer.
Beamer is, of course, referring to the Hokies and tonight’s opponent, the Miami Hurricanes.
The Hurricanes also enter with a 4-4 record, having lost their last three games to Notre Dame, North Carolina and Florida State.
Even in front of a half-empty Sun Life Stadium, Beamer and the Hokies know this is a game that everybody will be up for.
“It’s kind of like Monday Night Football for the NFL,” Beamer said. “You want to perform well. At this time of year, you want your games to be important, and this one certainly is.”
Miami, historically a strong program, has given the Hokies trouble in the Sunshine State. All time, the Hokies are just 5-10 when playing at Miami.
Over the past several years though, Sun Life Stadium has regularly failed to fill to capacity, making road games there less troublesome for opponents.
Logan Thomas gave his thoughts on “The U.”
“It’s a big stadium for any team and it’s, I guess, because the U is the way the U is now and not the old age, it’s not as full as it has been and used to be,” Thomas said. “I don’t know how to put it up against another stadium, but it still has some sound to it. But it’s not what you would expect a team that has a legacy like Miami to have.”
Both rushing attacks will be the primary area of focus in this game.
Bud Foster and the defense will be saddled with the task of slowing down the duo of Duke Johnson and Mike James, one of the ACC’s best two-headed rushing attacks.
Both Johnson and James enter with 400-plus yards on the season, with James edging Johnson in the carries department. Side-by-side, Foster thinks the defense will have its hands full.
“They’re big up front and have talented backs,” Foster said. “The one kid (James) can fly; he’s a legit speed guy. He’s a big physical kid; he runs behind his pads. You can’t arm tackle; you have to run through him. He’s a complete back and he’s played a lot of snaps. He’s a good football player.”
On the other hand, Johnson can be a headache for defenses with his speed.
“They do a lot of things to get him the ball out of the backfield,” Foster said of Johnson. “He seems to be more of their outside perimeter runner, but has speed and can put his foot in the ground. He’s got the ability to be a home run hitter as well, but he’s a young kid that doesn’t have great size but he’s big enough. I think he’s going to be a dynamic guy down the road as he gets stronger and gets a little bigger.”
On the other side, the Hokies are ironing out their running game as they head down to Miami. The Hokies rank 71st in the nation in rushing yards per game with 157, and only J.C. Coleman has over 300 yards rushing.
Beamer noted getting the running game clicking is a big key for the Hokies.
“I think that’s our No. 1 priority right now,” Beamer said. “I think if we can get that squared away, I think that will affect other things. We have our moments at times, but I think to consistently be able to do that is a key objective for us.”
Last season, David Wilson carried the ball in the neighborhood of 20 times per game on his way to a record-breaking season. This season, Coleman, Michael Holmes and Tony Gregory are all seeing time at running back, with limited success.
“Sometimes, you look at it and they could run better,” Beamer said. “Sometimes you look at it and we could block better. Sometimes you look at it and we get a block downfield by a wide receiver that would make the play better. So it’s not just one thing, and I don’t want to make it sound that way. It’s a little of this and a little of that.”
There will be other areas of importance in tonight’s game, but it is a good bet that whoever wins the line of scrimmage and the running game will also pull out the victory.