Editor’s note: The Roanoke Times is taking an early look at every game on Virginia Tech’s 2019 schedule. Check back every Tuesday and Thursday this summer for a new preview.
Miami is looking for stability in the wake of coach Mark Richt's decision to retire after three seasons at the helm.
Richt had a 26-13 in three seasons, but was 7-9 after the program opened 2017 with a 10-0 record. Richt’s final game was a 35-3 loss to Wisconsin in the Pinstripe Bowl.
The team handed over the reins to former defensive coordinator Manny Diaz, who successfully ran the defense during Richt's tenure. Miami was No. 4 in total defense in 2018. It was the second time in three years the Hurricanes finished in the top 20 in the category.
Virginia Tech can expect to face another stout defense when it visits Miami on Oct. 5, but the Hurricanes still have a long ways to go offensively.
Last year vs. Virginia Tech: Miami W 38-14
What happen? Virginia Tech’s 38-14 loss to Miami at Lane Stadium late in the season put the team’s bowl streak in serious jeopardy.
It was an ugly loss too.
The Hokies turned the football over twice in their own territory, missed a field goal and came up empty on nine straight drives. A special teams gaffe — Jeff Thomas ran a punt back for a 51-yard touchdown when Tech players mistakenly assumed he downed the punt — didn’t help either.
“I’m sure they’re upset,” Virginia Tech coach Justin Fuente said, of Virginia Tech fans. “They’re not more upset than I am. I promise you that. And we’re working every single day to continue to improve and I know we are. I’ve never been more confident in the future of this football program than I am right in this moment.”
Miami and Virginia Tech haven’t played many close games in recent years. The team’s are 5-5 against each other going back to 2009, but only one of those matchups was a one-possession game (38-35 in 2011).
Position(s) of strength: Miami had four defenders taken in the 2019 NFL Draft, but don’t expect the group to take a huge step back.
The Hurricanes remain rich with talent on the defensive side of the ball particularly at linebacker where the team returns its entire starting unit, a group that started 30 games together in 2018.
Senior linebackers Shaq Quarterman and Michael Pinckney are major playmakers for the defense. Quarterman, who has started every game for Miami since arriving in 2016, had 82 tackles (45 solo) with six sacks and 14 tackles for loss. Pinckney had 74 tackles (35) with 3.5 sacks and 11 for a loss.
Miami’s secondary lost the most talent — safeties Jaquan Johnson and Sheldrick Redwine along with defensive back Michael Jackson Sr. — but still have lockdown corner have Trajan Bandy ready to go. Bandy lead the team with eight pass breakups as a sophomore and tied for the team lead with three interceptions.
The Hurricanes will shuffle in some new faces up front as well. They need to replace sack leader Joe Jackson (nine sacks) and defensive tackle Gerald Willis. Defensive end Jonathan Garvin already proved to be a capable playmaker in 2018 putting up five sacks and 17 tackles for loss. The defense also welcomed Jahfari Harvey at mid-year. Harvey was the No. 12 defensive end in the 2019 recruiting class.
"I'm new here, so I don't know what it was like before – only from the outside looking in. Now, the energy is different,” Harvey said, this spring. “We're working towards changing the program, and I can see it. Even the older guys around me, they're saying they see it evolving."
Ch...ch...changes: Miami’s coaching search ended with a familiar face. The Hurricanes hired Diaz in late December less than three weeks after he took the head coaching job at Temple.
Diaz revamped much of the coaching staff including both coordinators. Diaz hired Dan Enos away from Alabama as the team’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. He hired away Louisiana Tech defensive coordinator Blake Baker in the same position.
"This is a process that you've got to see through. You're really not just hiring one guy," Diaz said, this spring. "You're hiring a group of guys. I've said all along that a football staff is not fantasy football. You don't just put guys together, put them in a room and expect stuff to happen. You want to make sure there's great alignment along the staff."
Lingering questions: Enos’ No. 1 priority will be turning around an offense that’s only averaged more than 30 points a game once in the last five seasons. His main focus will be on generating more production out of a passing game that finished 113th out of 130 teams (167.3 yards per game) in 2018.
N’Kosi Perry, who started six games last season, spent the spring competing with Jarren Williams and Ohio State transfer Tate Martell. Martell was granted a waiver by the NCAA making him eligible for next season. The three quarterbacks combined for 343 yards and four touchdowns with one interception in the team’s spring game.
"I thought there was good execution on both sides," Diaz said, this spring. "I was happy to see all three of our quarterbacks make plays. We believe all three of those guys can play. We go into the summer now knowing that all three guys can play."
The Hurricanes also landed two grad transfers that will figure into their 2019 plans — Buffalo wide receiver KJ Osborn and Butler offensive lineman Tommy Kennedy. Osborn had 882 yards and seven touchdowns last season. He gives Miami a formidable tandem at the position along with Thomas, who led the team with 563 yards last season.
Kennedy, who was a two-year starter at Butler, will be an important part of a Miami offensive line in flux. He made second-team all conference starting at left tackle. The Hurricanes only bring back two players with starting experience from last season.
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