Early Analysis: Virginia Tech vs. Miami

Virginia Tech at Miami
Thursday, 7:30 p.m. ESPN
Line: Virginia Tech -1.5

It certainly isn’t the heyday of the Virginia Tech-Miami rivalry like we saw in the early 00’s, but make no mistake, Thursday’s matchup between the Hokies and Canes is important. Both teams still control their own destinies in the ACC Coastal division, and we all know that if either team can just find their way to Charlotte for the conference championship game, anything can happen there.

So what should we expect when the two teams get together Thursday night?

For Virginia Tech to Win: They need to stop turning the ball over! For a team which has made their reputation over the years waiting for the other team to make a mistake, it is instead the Hokies who are giving the ball away at an alarming rate this season.

In 2012 the Hokies have turned the ball over in 16 times in just eight games, a staggering number when you consider that they gave the ball away just 18 times in 14 games during the entire 2011 season. Worse off, the Hokies No. 1 turnover culprit is quarterback Logan Thomas, who has thrown 10 interceptions on the year.

On the road, Virginia Tech needs to take better care of the ball. And that starts with Thomas, their best player.

For Miami to Win: They need to establish the run game, and need to do it with running back Duke Johnson.

Johnson was one of the early revelations of the college football season, and started the season rushing for at least 70 yards in three of the first four games of his career. However since then, Johnson hasn’t rushed for more than 47 yards, and in a related story, Miami has lost their last three.

Now in Johnson and Miami’s defense, some of that can be equated to simply playing a tougher schedule; two of the Hurricanes last three games have come against Notre Dame and Florida State, two of the best teams in college football.

Still, Johnson and the run game need to be better. With a bye week to rest, that’s exactly what Al Golden and his staff are hoping for.

Key Player, Virginia Tech: The simple truth is that Miami’s secondary is the weakness of their entire defense, meaning that the key player for the Hokies could end up being wide receiver Marcus Davis.

On the season Davis has been fantastic, averaging over 19 yards on his 33 catches, numbers which should only approve against a Miami defensive backfield which gives up an average of 249 yards per game through the air.

Key Player, Miami: Speaking of passing, the key for Miami to get a win Thursday night undoubtedly remains quarterback Stephen Morris.

As much as Morris has been maligned through his career at Miami, he has actually been pretty darn good in 2012, throwing for 2,214 yards and 10 touchdowns. At the same time, Morris has struggled the last few weeks, going against the best defenses he’s faced this season. In the last three games Morris has three interceptions and just one touchdown. Not surprisingly, all three of those games have ended in a Miami loss.

So which Stephen Morris will we see Thursday? It’s the question Miami fans are asking themselves as they enter this huge showdown.

Key Stat: 0, which is the number of Coastal Division titles that Miami has won since joining the ACC. It also goes without saying that if you can’t win your division you can’t win the conference title either, meaning that now in their seventh year in the ACC, the Canes have still yet to win a conference title.

It’s been a long fall to the bottom for one of college football’s premiere programs, but it does appear as though they’re on their way back to the top.

Winning Thursday night would go a long towards proving that “The U” is on their way back.

For all his opinion, insight and analysis on sports, please follow Aaron on Twitter @Aaron_Torres.

About Aaron Torres

Aaron Torres works for Fox Sports, and was previously a best-selling author of the book 'The Unlikeliest Champion.' He currently uses Aaron Torres Sports to occasionally weigh-in on the biggest stories from around sports. He has previously done work for such outlets as Sports Illustrated, SB Nation and Slam Magazine.