The national media has officially put the Hurricanes on upset watch, providing us all with a lofty set of expectations against a very talented Miami team with plenty left to prove. The days of Brad Kaaya are over after a tumultuous few years of Hurricane football and his replacement, junior quarterback Malik Rosier, has the team on an upward trajectory following a quick 4-0 start to the season. Let’s take a look at what’s in play this afternoon as Tech looks for an all-important third ACC win.
- Will Miami get caught sleeping? The Al Golden era hardly gave us a large sample size of how Miami performs after big wins, but last week’s upset of Florida State will surely give us a good indication of how Mark Richt’s team keeps momentum. There’s been plenty of talk about the emotional nature of the win over Florida State a week ago, but whether or not that’s a legitimate concern for the Canes remains to be seen. If I had to guess, I’d say that Richt will have the team ready to go. And speaking of Mark Richt...
- Can Mark Richt continue his mastery of Georgia Tech? For the uninitiated, the Richt era at UGA was very unkind to the Jackets. There was hope that the talent drop-off from UGA to Miami would help Tech catch up last season, but Miami walked out of Bobby Dodd Stadium with a two-possession win over what would become a 9-win Tech team. This is a winnable game, but only if Paul Johnson is ready to outduel Richt in the coaching game.
- A loss would be just short of a death sentence for Tech’s ACC Championship hopes. Clemson just lost to Syracuse on national television, and here’s a relevant news flash: they almost certainly won’t lose again. If Tech can’t pull out a win this afternoon, the team’s ACC Championship outlook would be foggy with Virginia Tech, Clemson, and plenty of potential trip-up games remaining on the schedule. The road for Miami, meanwhile, looks much easier if they pull off a win today.
- Miami is dealing with major injuries. The Canes lost starting halfback Mark Walton for the season during the Florida State game, leaving a huge gap in the Miami offense that will simply not be filled by anyone else on the roster. Injuries are always sad and disappointing, but Tech will need to take advantage of the absence of Walton and others (including defensive backs Dee Delaney and Shedrick Redwine plus offensive lineman Navaughn Donaldson). Wide receiver Ahmmon Richards, meanwhile, is a gametime decision.
- Watch the weather. It’s supposed to rain all day long in Miami, a development that hardly lends itself to clean offensive gameplay. I go back and forth with myself over whether the rainy weather will be worse for Tech or Miami, but the bottom line is that nothing develops as quickly in Paul Johnson’s option scheme with bad conditions. We saw it last season against Boston College in Ireland when field conditions slowed the development of Tech’s plays, especially to the perimeter. That’s something we can’t afford against a top-15 Miami team.
- Get ready for the feel of a neutral-site game. This thought is only compounded by the weather conditions, honestly. Miami plays in a stadium that’s way too big relative to the number of fans that the team draws, even during a successful season like this one. The atmosphere likely won’t provide the Canes with too much of a home-field advantage, giving Tech a nice opportunity to communicate in a way that won’t be possible in a couple of weeks in Death Valley.
All things considered, no one knows what’s going to happen. Vegas is pretty confident in the Canes, but the simple truth is that weather, Tech’s bye, Miami’s win over Florida State, and plenty of other factors will combine to make this a nearly unpredictable game. Both Tech and Miami are talented teams which will likely have success in the coming weeks, and the winner of this game very well could determine who comes away with the Coastal crown. Happy gameday, everyone!