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Hokies Face Stiff Test in Hurricanes' Quarterback Harris

After missing the past two games with a left knee injury, cornerback Stephan Virgil, left, returns to the lineup against Miami on Saturday and along with Rashad Carmichael, right, will attempt to slow down Miami's high-octane offense.
After missing the past two games with a left knee injury, cornerback Stephan Virgil, left, returns to the lineup against Miami on Saturday and along with Rashad Carmichael, right, will attempt to slow down Miami's high-octane offense. (By Kevin C. Cox -- Getty Images)

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By Mark Viera
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 24, 2009

BLACKSBURG, Va., Sept. 23 -- Two games into this young season, Miami quarterback Jacory Harris's name has entered the Heisman Trophy discussion.

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Harris, a sophomore, has led the No. 9 Hurricanes (2-0, 2-0 ACC) with poise, precision passing and protection from his offensive line. No. 11 Virginia Tech (2-1, 0-0) hopes to rattle Harris on Saturday and slow down a multifaceted offense that has flourished under Mark Whipple, Miami's first-year offensive coordinator.

"He's been thrashing teams when he's had some time," Hokies linebacker Cody Grimm said of Harris. "So it's going to be important to get some pressure on him."

Harris ranks third nationally in passing efficiency (184.07) and has completed 69.5 percent of his passes. He has completed 75 percent of his passes on first down, a situation in which Miami regularly throws the football.

Harris showed moxie in a 38-34 win over Florida State on Sept. 7, leading Miami to a thrilling victory with a late fourth-quarter touchdown drive. On Sept. 17, Harris threw three touchdown passes in a 33-17 win over Georgia Tech.

Harris has benefited from great protection, having only been sacked once. With three starters listed at 6 feet 7, Miami's offensive line is physical. The Hurricanes sometimes have seven men in protection, a numerical mismatch for a four-man rush. They also have an unbalanced line so two tackles can double-team their opponent's best pass rusher.

"I haven't seen him get touched, really," Charley Wiles, the Hokies' defensive line coach, said of Harris.

It will be key, Wiles said, for the Hokies to make Miami one-dimensional by stopping the run and then winning one-on-one battles with pass-rushing defensive linemen.

Virginia Tech has a quick but relatively undersized defensive line. Although they did not have any sacks in Saturday's 16-15 win over Nebraska, the Hokies pressured quarterback Zac Lee into quicker throws and hit him 10 times.

Torrian Gray, the Hokies' defensive backs coach, said Harris "is hitting every single throw that appears. He's playing at an extremely high level."

In defending Miami's passing offense, the Hokies should benefit from the likely return of cornerback Stephan Virgil. If Virgil is healthy against Miami, he should bolster the Hokies' defensive backfield. He is Virginia Tech's best and most experienced cornerback.

After missing the past two games with a left knee injury, Virgil is expected to play field cornerback.

Rashad Carmichael has continued to work at Virgil's boundary cornerback position, often matching up against the opposing team's top wide receiver.

"I heard him say on TV after a game he doesn't think anybody could stop their offense," Gray said of Harris. "That's the way they're feeling, the way they've been going up and down the field right now. We'll take that as a challenge."


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