Longtime rivals Miami and Virginia Tech look to get their season headed back in the right direction when they square off Thursday night in an Atlantic Coast Conference matchup.
The Hurricanes (4-2, 1-2 ACC) have lost two in a row and have fallen out of the Top 25, but have never lost to the Hokies (4-2, 2-1) in their previous three Thursday night games.
Virginia Tech has also tumbled out of the Top 25 after a 31-17 loss at Syracuse last Saturday.
The Hokies have long embraced the opportunity for the exposure a Thursday night game offers. They played 30 Thursday night contests under Frank Beamer, second only to Georgia Tech’s 32, but this will be the first under new coach Justin Fuente.
“I always enjoy the challenge every week, but the short weeks are certainly different,” he said. “I told my wife when I got home, ‘It’s going to be a long, short week.’ That’s just the way it is, but we’ve got two hungry football teams that are going to play out here. They’re very well-coached, obviously have a fine tradition and history.”
The challenge also is new for first-year Miami coach Mark Richt.
Southeastern Conference teams play some Thursday night games, but his former school, Georgia, does not. Richt said it was administration policy, and if he had his way, college teams wouldn’t play on such short rest.
He also said he doesn’t like the idea of Miami getting home around 5 a.m. Friday.
“The five-day turnaround, in my opinion, I don’t think it’s very good even though both teams are doing it,” Richt said. “If you have one team with an open date, and one team with five days, that’s not fair. As far as what makes sense for TV, I’m sure it makes sense for TV. But what makes sense for the student-athletes?
“I don’t think it’s a good idea. I think it’s a bad idea.”
Here are some other things to watch when Miami visits Virginia Tech:
STAKES: The ACC’s Coastal Division is a wide open race at this point with every team having at least one loss, the Hokies having beaten current leader North Carolina (3-1) and with games against the Hurricanes and Pittsburgh (2-1 in the division) still ahead. The next two weeks will likely help sort the contenders and pretenders.
FRESHMEN STARTERS: There’s a chance that Miami could have five true freshmen starting on defense against the Hokies. Shaquille Quarterman, Michael Pinckney and Zach McCloud are the starting linebackers, and because of a rash of injuries, Miami might be forced to start Joe Jackson and Pat Bethel on the defensive line as well. “It’s been an unusual year, there’s no doubt, with guys being in and out of the lineup,” Miami defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said. “But we’ll see. We’ll have 11 the first play of the game Thursday night.”
NUMBERS GAME: Miami has the edge both in scoring average (36.7 ppg to the Hokies’ 35.7) and defensive scoring average (14 ppg allowed to the Hokies’ 18.2), but the Hurricanes also didn’t play a Power Five conference school until the fourth game of the year, which could skew the numbers. Miami has won the last two meetings, and three of the last four, and is 3-0 against their former Big East Conference rival when they meet on Thursday night.
PASSING FANCY: Since fumbling three times in a loss to No. 18 Tennessee, Hokies quarterback Jerod Evans has been very good about protecting the ball. For the season Evans has 17 touchdowns and just two interceptions, and he’s the fourth-rated passer among Power Five schools. Miami’s Brad Kaaya is 2-0 against Virginia Tech, but still working his way back from a shoulder injury that caused the Miami coaches to shut him down for a few days.
COMMON GROUND: Richt and Fuente have plenty in common — they are both quarterbacks successfully recruited out of high school by Howard Schnellenberger. Richt played for Schnellenberger at Miami, and Fuente signed with Oklahoma to play for Schnellenberger (though the coach resigned after Fuente’s redshirt season there).
AP sports writer Tim Reynolds contributed to this report
Online: The AP’s college football page: http://collegefootball.ap.org