Outside of Virginia Tech’s annual battle for the Commonwealth Cup with Virginia, there’s an argument to be made that Miami is the Hokies’ biggest rival in the ACC. The two schools have faced each other every year since 1992, when Virginia Tech joined the Big East.

Off the field, they’ve also become foes on the recruiting trail. The Hokies have turned Atlantic High in Delray Beach, Fla. — about an hour north of Miami’s campus — into a pipeline, plucking former stars like wide receiver David Clowney, cornerback Brandon Flowers and cornerback Jayron Hosley from there. The current roster includes seven players from the state of Florida, but the past two years Virginia Tech has seen recruits Robert Lockhart and Jawand Blue renege on their commitment and sign with Miami.

It only seems appropriate, then, that both get a chance to salvage seasons that haven’t gone as planned. The winner of Thursday night’s clash moves into the driver’s seat to win the ACC’s Coastal Division, so here’s a few things to keep an eye on.

Will Virginia Tech run on Miami’s defense?

The Hurricanes have a historically bad defense. They’re giving up the second-most rushing yards in the country and, barring a drastic turnaround, there’s a good chance this will go down as the worst defense in Miami history. Then again, Clemson had a woeful defense as well, and that didn’t seem to help Virginia Tech’s inconsistent offense in a 38-17 loss on Oct. 20.

The Hokies’ issues this year revolve around their inability to sustain drives, and a big part of that has been the lack of a bonafide threat in the backfield. Thursday would seem to be Virginia Tech’s best shot at fixing that. It appears running backs JC Coleman and Tony Gregory will receive the bulk of the carries, and their success will be paramount. Because if Virginia Tech can’t run on Miami, whom can they run on?

Also keep an eye on Virginia Tech’s interior offensive line, which returned to health thanks to the bye week. Sophomore Caleb Farris will get the start at center and senior Michael Via, redshirt junior David Wang and redshirt sophomore Brent Benedict will rotate at the two guard spots.

Can the defense keep its momentum?

Though Virginia Tech gave up 38 points to Clemson in its last game, the total disguised what was a stellar effort by the Hokies’ defense. The Tigers were held to a season-low 295 yards and Virginia Tech’s defensive line again put tons of pressure with just a four-man rush for a second straight game. But the Hokies will have their hands full again with Miami’s skill players.

The Hurricanes haven’t won a game or scored more than 20 points since quarterback Stephon Morris threw for 566 yards and five touchdowns in a win over North Carolina State in September, with Morris and dynamic freshman running back Duke Johnson nursing injuries. But like Virginia Tech, Miami is coming off a bye week and limiting big plays from its plethora of rested playmakers will be key for Bud Foster’s defense. The Hurricanes have two running backs averaging 4.7 yards per rush and five wide receivers averaging at least 10 yards per catch.

Notable numbers

Virginia Tech is on a six-game losing streak away from Lane Stadium (last year’s ACC championship game, the Sugar Bowl and four games this season) for the first time since 1990-91. But the Hokies have won five of their past six matchups with Miami and are 25-2 in ACC games during the month of November.

The deciding factor for me, though, is quarterback Logan Thomas. Last year’s win over Miami remains the best performance of his college career. He completed 23 of his 25 passes for 310 yards and accounted for five touchdowns, one week after a dreadful showing against Clemson. Sound familiar?

My prediction: Virginia Tech 27, Miami 21

What do you think? Can the Hokies take control of the Coastal Division? Or will Miami leave Virginia Tech with little more than bowl eligibility to play for over the final three weeks of the regular season? Vote in the poll below and let me know how you think this game plays out in the comments section.

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