Miami has been looking pretty good on paper for a while, but the Hurricanes looked good on television last night, too. Meanwhile, Virginia Tech grows more directionless by the day.
In the F/+ ratings, there had been six defenses that had separated from the pack: Alabama, Clemson, Ole Miss, Stanford, Louisville, and your No. 1 F/+ defense, Virginia Tech.
Duke Johnson and Gus Edwards combined to rush for 364 yards on that defense in a 30-6 Miami win Thursday night. And while Miami quarterback Brad Kaaya wasn’t asked to do much (5.8 yards per pass attempt in just 16 attempts), he was easily the best quarterback in the game unless you count Virginia Tech backup Mark Leal, who did well late.
At 26th overall, ahead of LSU, Stanford, and Arizona, Miami was a bit of a “WTF?” standout in the ratings. Needless to say, after Thursday night’s romp in Blacksburg, the Hurricanes will probably grade out even better next week.
Here are three thoughts.
1. Yep, this Virginia Tech team beat Ohio State. So?
We’re bringing up a lot of the wrong kinds of streaks right now. Virginia Tech hadn’t been shut out since a 16-0 loss to Cincinnati in 1995, and it looked like that 19-year streak was going to end until a garbage-time touchdown with 90 seconds left.
Tech hadn’t lost three home games in one season since 1992; cross that one off the list. Now, with Tech at 4-4, there’s another 22-year streak we have to mention: Virginia Tech hasn’t missed the postseason since that same 1992 season.
Here’s Tech’s remaining schedule: Boston College, at Duke, at Wake Forest, Virginia. Wake is a win, which means the Hokies have to simply go 1-2 in the other three games — two at Lane Stadium — to reach a bowl game. That’s likely, but it’s not a slam dunk, not with the way the Hokies played on Thursday.
Teams change. That’s something we frequently forget. When Texas A&M got destroyed by Alabama last Saturday, we talked about the way that impacted our view of Mississippi State’s win over A&M, A&M’s win over South Carolina, etc. It’s natural to do that, and in a lot of ways, it’s useful. But it ignores that teams really do improve and regress over time due to injuries, development, confidence, or an overall lack thereof.
Virginia Tech’s 35-21 win over Ohio State in Columbus was a catalyst in a lot of ways. For one thing, the same Buckeye offense that looked listless, confused, and inefficient has been a killing machine ever since. The young Buckeyes tasted their own blood and responded, and they have looked like a Playoff-caliber team (yes, against mostly bad competition) ever since.
Virginia Tech, meanwhile, either gave a false impression in that game or simply took advantage of a poor Ohio State performance. The Hokies’ offense gained timely yards but averaged just 4.2 yards per play in Columbus and leaned on turnovers and timely defense to steal the win.
Since then, the timeliness has vanished, leaving only a bad offense. Tech has averaged worse than 4.5 yards per play in four of the last six games (and now five of eight for the year), and while the defense continues to keep the Hokies in most games, they’ve lost all three of their one-possession decisions. Quarterback Michael Brewer, who made key plays against Ohio State, has produced a passer rating better than 121 just once in his last seven games.
On Thursday, everything bottomed out. Tech gained just 26 yards while falling behind 24-0 in the first half, and when the Hokies began moving the ball in the third quarter, they lost fumbles on three consecutive possessions.
They can’t run when they need to, Brewer has as many interceptions as touchdown passes, and Frank Beamer’s hire of offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler looks as iffy two-thirds of the way through Year 2 as it did before Year 1 began. Loeffler was hired to improve an offense that ranked 75th in Off. F/+ in 2012. In 2013, the Hokies ranked 85th. Heading into Thursday, they ranked 87th in 2014. That probably isn’t going to go up when the new rankings are out next week.
2. False impressions vs. new impressions
Over the last couple of years, Miami has chosen the wrong times to lay eggs. Against Florida, Miami, and Louisville last year, the Hurricanes averaged 14.7 points per game and 4.0 yards per play. Against Louisville in this year’s season opener, they scored 13 points and averaged 4.4.
In every other game since the start of 2013, Miami has averaged 37.2 points per game and 7.4 yards per play, awesome numbers considering the Hurricanes’ generally average tempo.
The story has been mostly the same on the defensive side of the ball. Miami has been lit up just enough to throw people off of the scent. The Hurricanes allowed 17.7 points per game and 4.9 yards per play through seven games last year, then allowed 37.3 and 6.7 yards per play down the stretch. In 2014, they allowed 41 points and 6.8 yards per play against Nebraska but have otherwise allowed 19.4 points per game and 4.1 yards per play. They haven’t allowed greater than 5.2 yards per play once this season, outside of Lincoln.
There are a lot of numbers in these paragraphs. Here’s the words-only version: Miami has suffered just enough visible breakdowns to convince you that the Hurricanes aren’t very good. But when you haven’t been looking, they have been putting the pieces together quite nicely. They are still only 5-3 in 2014, but each loss makes sense in a vaccuum.
- Brad Kaaya’s first start came against one of the five best defenses in the country; it predictably didn’t go very well, and Miami lost to Louisville, 31-13.
- He threw a couple more interceptions against Georgia Tech, and the Yellow Jackets were just efficient enough on offense to move the chains on third down, play keepaway, limit Miami to 44 snaps and seven possessions — that’s less than one half of work for Baylor — and win, 28-17.
- Nebraska’s actually a very good football team, and the Huskers needed a fumble return touchdown to build space and eventually win, 41-31. Yardage was almost dead even, but Miami committed one extra turnover.
Heading into Thursday, Miami had recovered only 10 of 25 fumbles, and defenses were holding on to a disproportionately high number of defensed passes. You generally have one interception for every three to four passes broken up, and Miami defenses had one INT for every 1.5 PBUs.
Miami was unlucky and had the record to prove it, but on Thursday in Blacksburg, they both dominated (yards per play: Miami 6.6, VT 4.4) and got the bounces (fumble recoveries: Miami 3, VT 0). That tends to result in a pretty lopsided final score.
In the ACC Coastal race, Duke still leads Miami in the loss column. So do Pitt and Virginia, for that matter. But Miami holds the tie-breaker over Duke and plays UVA and Pitt in the coming weeks. That’s an encouraging sign, but thanks to the simple fact that Miami plays Florida State and Duke doesn’t (Duke doesn’t play FSU, Clemson, OR Louisville, actually), Miami is still a bit of a division longshot.
But that only matters so much. Titles and rings are nice, but 2014 is thus far bringing proof that, despite handing the keys to a true freshman quarterback, Miami is taking another step forward under Al Golden. It was true on paper, and on Thursday night it looked true on television, too.
3. Project 4-4 lives
In Wednesday’s ACC win projections piece, I mentioned that the national dream of a seven-way Coastal Division tie, with every team finishing 4-4, was a longshot at best. Until Duke loses a couple of games it shouldn’t, this remains a pipe dream. But otherwise, Thursday’s result didn’t hurt its chances much.