Virginia Tech doesn’t have long to lick its wounds after a surprising loss at Syracuse, but the Hokies could hardly ask for a better motivator to get back to work. They face longtime rival Miami on Thursday night.
The former Big East rivals have played 33 times, with Miami winning 20, including three of the last four. The Hokies (4-2, 2-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) were 21-9 in Thursday night games under former coach Frank Beamer but were 0-3 against the Hurricanes (4-2, 1-2). Miami has lost two straight, to Florida State and North Carolina.
In the now wide open Coastal Division race, the game likely qualifies as a must-win.
“It’s very critical,” Hokies defensive end Ken Ekanem said. “Any ACC opponent is like a championship game, so I think we can’t just hype up in our minds. We have to just take it one game at a time, like I said before. We’ve just got to focus on going 1-0. Any ACC opponent, especially Miami — a big rival of ours — is a big game.”
Virginia Tech is a half-game behind North Carolina in the Coastal standings but holds the head-to-head advantage against the Tar Heels after a 34-3 victory two weeks ago in Chapel Hill. Pittsburgh also is 2-1 in the division and will host the Hokies next Thursday night.
The Hurricanes spent much of the early part of the season in the Top 25 before their recent slide, and with every team in the division having at least one loss, they are far from eliminated in the division championship race.
“We’ve got to just recuperate and just focus in and hone in on the game plan,” quarterback Brad Kayaa, who is in his third season as the Hurricanes’ starter, said this week. “It is a short week, so it’s time to get going.
“Can’t dwell on the last two losses. Just got to get going and get this thing on the road.”
Running back Mark Walton was not as diplomatic.
“Right now, it’s all or nothing,” he said. “We’ve got to try to win out and get our groove back, man.”
Miami won its last visit to Lane Stadium, on a Thursday night two years ago, 30-6.
Both programs are in their first seasons under new coaches, with Mark Richt calling the shots in Miami and Justin Fuente in Blacksburg. Fuente is eager to experience the atmosphere of a Thursday night home game.
“I’m looking forward to taking part in it. I’m confident our kids will be ready to go, but we’ve got a long way to go and a short time to get there and a lot of work to get done this week,” Fuente said Monday.
Ekanem, meanwhile, wants his teammates to remember the Hurricanes’ last visit.
“You can’t make it bigger than it actually is. You’ve got to keep everybody’s head really level, so I think we definitely owe them and we’ve got to be able to bring it on Thursday,” he said.
Getting everyone on the same motivational page will be critical, quarterback Jerod Evans said.
“We have to bring our own energy, our own emotion, and this is a very team-oriented sport,” he said. “We have most guys bringing it and some guys not, and that can lead to certain things. As far as bringing our own stuff, we as a unit didn’t bring it all the way. That was kind of the case for Syracuse.”
AP Sports Writer Tim Reynolds in Miami contributed to this report.
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