MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – For Miami and Virginia Tech, this week was not the time to lick wounds.
Sure, the Hurricanes could have lamented their rough trip to Florida State last weekend, where their undefeated start and star running back's season ended in a blowout loss to their archrival. And the Hokies could be fixated on missed opportunities from the last two weeks, a pair of losses that knocked them from atop the Atlantic Coast Conference's Coastal Division.
Much has been lost. All has not.
Either the 14th-ranked Hurricanes (7-1, 3-1) or the Hokies (6-3, 3-2) will be able to get their seasons back on track Saturday night, when they meet in a matchup that may factor big-time into deciding what team will represent the Coastal in the ACC championship game.
"In terms of where our mentality is and what we've got to do, we're going to have our hands super full on Saturday night with a Virginia Tech team that obviously has been the benchmark here in the Coastal Division (and) that's going to give us everything we can handle," Miami coach Al Golden said.
It could be argued that while Miami-Florida State — matchup of unbeatens, prime time, national television audience — was obviously a huge game, this one is even bigger for the Hurricanes, who lost 41-14 to the Seminoles and also lost Duke Johnson for the season with a broken right ankle.
Golden has said many times, the way back to prominence for Miami starts with winning a Coastal Division title. And since the ACC went to the divisional format, Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech have been the only Coastal representatives in the title game. Miami played for the ACC title in 2004 on the final day of the regular season, losing to Virginia Tech one year before the overall title game was born.
"Florida State has got to be a very, very, very talented football team," Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer said. "Because (Miami) is a very, very talented football team. So I think one more 'very' in there for Florida State."
A win keeps Miami in the Coastal drivers' seat. The Hokies know they can't afford another slip-up.
"We did lose two games to teams that we as a unit felt that we should have beat," Hokies wide receiver Josh Stanford said, referring to Virginia Tech's losses to Duke and Boston College. "So this week we're trying to get better from the last couple of weeks and improve so we can go down to Miami and play our best football — because nothing else is going to do it."
Here's five things to watch in this matchup:
REPLACING DUKE: While losing Johnson is a serious blow to Miami, there is this to consider: His backup is tied for second in the ACC with nine rushing touchdowns. Dallas Crawford has been outstanding when given opportunities this season for the Hurricanes, and assumes the role as the workhorse back. It wouldn't be a shock if Miami passed the ball a bit more; so far this season, the Hurricanes have had about a 4-to-3 run-to-pass ratio.
SLIDING HOKIES: Virginia Tech has had only one three-game slide in conference play since joining the ACC — and that was last year. Prolonged slumps aren't part of the Hokies' DNA, and they know that any realistic chance of keeping some sliver of Bowl Championship Series hope probably hinges on winning this game. And Beamer has Miami's number, having won seven of the last 10 games in the series.
QUARTERBACK PLAY: Miami's Stephen Morris and Virginia Tech's Logan Thomas have combined for 14,675 yards and 88 touchdowns in their careers. It's fairly obvious by now that when one plays well, his team is tough to beat. When Thomas beat Miami in 2011, he completed 23 of 25 passes and three for three touchdowns. When Morris beat the Hokies last year, he was only 13 for 28, but had two TD throws and no interceptions.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Ah, the obligatory "Beamer Ball" reference when talking about Virginia Tech. So maybe the Hokies aren't as vaunted in special teams as they once were, but since four of the last nine meetings between the clubs have been decided by a touchdown or less, it's not a stretch to think that the kicking game will play a big role. And Miami will adjust its special-teams lineups because of the loss of Johnson.
NEED BALANCE: Thomas has either thrown the ball or run it himself 173 times in Virginia Tech's last 226 plays. He can't play 1-on-11 against a vastly improved Miami defensive front.