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Virginia Tech vs. Miami: Even in down year, Hokies control their destiny

By Mark Giannotto,

BLACKSBURG, Va. — Virginia Tech Coach Frank Beamer doesn’t want to sound like he’s making excuses. But he’s still not sure how he ended up at this point, with his team 4-4 for the first time since 1992 and struggling to extend the program’s 19-year stretch of playing in a bowl.

“It’s just kind of been unusual,” he said this week. “We’ve done some uncharacteristic things that doesn’t normally happen to a Virginia Tech football team.”

Like watching a player suffer an injury at the one position in which the Hokies lacked depth (junior cornerback Kyle Fuller hurt his shoulder Sept. 15 vs. Pittsburgh). Or taking the lead against Cincinnati with less than two minutes to go, only to watch Virginia Tech’s ballyhooed defense crumble in a last-minute meltdown. Or giving up a touchdown on a kickoff return for the first time in 237 games at North Carolina, ending the nation’s longest active streak. Or losing four consecutive games away from Lane Stadium in the same season for the first time in 20 years.

But perhaps the strangest twist of all is that, despite its struggles, Virginia Tech could end the regular season in the same position it has the past two years: atop the ACC’s Coastal Division. Virginia Tech remains in control of its destiny in the conference race.

And a win Thursday night at Miami (4-4, 3-2) would cement the Hokies as the favorites to represent the Coastal Division in next month’s ACC championship game.

“I don’t think anything would make up for [the 4-4 start], but it would definitely be something that would make us feel better about the season,” quarterback Logan Thomas said this week. “We’ve kinda got a sour taste in our mouths and we don’t like it, but getting to the ACC championship would be something huge for us, and we know we can do it if we just play well.”

Virginia Tech’s position is primarily a reflection of how one-sided the ACC is this season. The only ranked teams (No. 9 Florida State and No. 10 Clemson) are in the Atlantic Division, and North Carolina (6-3, 3-2) is serving a one-year postseason ban levied by the NCAA.

The Hokies (2-2 in ACC play) also own tiebreakers over Duke (3-2) and Georgia Tech (2-3) based on victories earlier this season, and the Blue Devils still must play Clemson on Saturday night. Combine the ACC race with the spotlight of a nationally televised Thursday night game, and defensive coordinator Bud Foster contended that Virginia Tech’s latest matchup with the Hurricanes is “as big as any of them as we’ve had when we were 11-1 or 10-2.”

“All the other college teams and coaches are watching you. It’s a big stage. You just want to perform well in the big stage,” said Beamer, who compared the experience to “Monday Night Football” in the NFL.

To get past Miami, which has lost three straight games, the Hokies will need to take advantage of a historically bad Hurricanes defense.

Miami is giving up 249.3 rushing yards per game, the second-worst mark in the country.

Yet Virginia Tech spent much of its bye week trying to sort out its own backfield situation. Beamer would not divulge who his starting running back will be, but it appears freshman J.C. Coleman and redshirt junior Tony Gregory will receive the bulk of the carries.

But even without an NFL-ready running back or a sterling record like the past few years, Beamer is just glad to be facing a familiar rival — Virginia Tech and Miami have played every season since 1992 — with familiar stakes.

This week, he thought back to the inaugural ACC championship game in 2005, when a Florida State team with three conference losses upset then-No. 5 Virginia Tech. He’s hoping the Hokies can be on the other end of that sort of karma this year, and the journey begins in earnest Thursday.

“This time of year, you want your games to be important, and this one certainly is,” Beamer said. “You wanna be playing for something and we certainly are.”

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