Miami, Virginia Tech Headline Weekend Mega-Matchups

Miami, Virginia Tech Headline Weekend Mega-Matchups
Week 4 in college football is headlined by a matchup between No. 9 Miami and No. 11 Virginia Tech in Blacksburg.

This meeting has held some significance historically – when both squads were in the Big East, the winner, nine times out 10, decided the conference champion. Neither program was as dominant after the shift to the ACC in 2004, but back-to-back conference championships have helped the Hokies rebound faster.

Now, Miami is on the rise. After lackluster seasons from 2006 to 2008, the Hurricanes have regained the old swagger that kept them in the polls throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s.  Miami held a Georgia Tech offense that tallied 472 rushing yards in the school’s 2008 meeting to just 93 yards in the Hurricanes’ win last week. Couple that with Miami beating two ranked opponents in a season for the first time since 2005, and the Hurricanes definitely are well on their way to sitting among  the nation's elite.

Offense: Advantage – Miami
Miami has the slight edge here, despite having to play in Lane Stadium. Yes, Ryan Williams and David Wilson have done an excellent job filling in for Darren Evans and showing Hokies fans flashes of the "Untouchables" (Lee Suggs and Kevin Jones), but Tyrod Taylor has failed to complete 50 percent of his passes this season, and it will be a long day for Virginia Tech if it can't establish the run.

Jacory Harris, on the other hand, has emerged as one of the nation's top quarterbacks, despite concerns that he might not even be the best quarterback on Miami’s team to start the season. Harris has the ability to extend plays with his legs, but after completing 20 of 25 passes last week, and completing nearly 70 percent of his passes for the season, he’s gone from possible backup to Heisman hopeful.

Defense: Advantage – Miami
Once again, Miami has the slight edge. The Hokies always play tough at home, and they will challenge the Hurricanes early, but the key is to bring pressure to get Harris out of his rhythm. Once Harris settles in, he's as good as any quarterback in the country, and sets up too many options for a defense to stop.

Miami has the easier task: stopping the run. Taking this key dimension from the Hokies forces Tyrod Taylor to beat a team with his arm. Yes, Taylor can lead drives and make throws to provide balance to an offense, but he's not at the point where he can deliver throws that win games yet.

X factor: Ryan Williams and David Wilson
True enough, the Hokies’ defense will play an important role in the outcome of this game, but Williams and Wilson are the most important keys to a Virginia Tech win. Their success on the ground can cause Miami to over-commit defensively, which opens passing lanes for Tyrod Taylor and gives him the ability to make things happen as a scrambler.  Looking back at the Florida State-Miami game, Christian Ponder had a lot of success running the football because the Hurricanes had to account for so much defensively. If Taylor can run the offense without the pressure of having to win the game by himself, Virginia Tech can be put in position to win on the legs of Williams and Wilson.

Texas Tech at No. 17 Houston
This game will resemble an old-time Hollywood script, as "The Duke" meets "Dirty Harry" for a classic Texas shootout. It pits the nation's two most prolific offenses from 2008, and neither one has disappointed this year. In fact, both teams could combine for 800 yards or more of offense.

The spread-style pass attacks these teams have are built for 5,000-plus yard passing seasons for quarterbacks and numerous headaches for defensive coordinators. The Red Raiders have replaced Graham Harrell, the nation's most prolific passer from 2008, with Taylor Potts, who has already amassed 1,281 yards passing in three games this season. Houston's Case Keenum was the second-best passer in the nation and has returned for a junior season that's seen him knock off Oklahoma State.

Both teams have solid young receivers, a feature running back and a game-changing gunslinger. But at the end of the day, only one will be left standing.

Offense: Advantage – Houston
Case Keenum has experience on his side and is playing at home. Keenum will get his yards, as will Taylor Potts. The difference will be decision-making late in the game, and that's where Keenum's experience will play the biggest role. Potts played well against Texas last week, and adjusted well to the toughest defense he'd faced to that point. But he made crucial mistakes by not protecting the football that put the game out of reach. Adding the pressure of a defense that plays against the same style offense you run daily in practice, and any miscues offensively will prove costly.

Defense: Advantage — Texas Tech
Texas Tech’s performance last week against Texas gives the Red Raiders the slight edge. With all the injuries up front entering the game, they were able to rotate defensive tackles to defensive end, and still got solid pressure on Colt McCoy. With this side of the football being the most experienced, they'll be dangerous once they get healthy. The most important thing they can do to keep Houston off the scoreboard is to pressure Keenum and force him into mistakes. He's very poised, but in this game, a mistake can be the difference in a win or a loss.

X factor: Texas Tech offensive line
In Texas Tech's toughest test thus far, the offensive line was average. Normally, when a quarterback throws for 420 yards, it’s successful. But considering he had minus-54 yards rushing because of sacks — bringing the team total down to minus-6 yards rushing for the game — it's pretty self explanatory. The offensive system alone will yield 370 or more yards passing to Taylor Potts, but no matter the system, any team that throws the ball 62 times in the game with no rushing yards isn't going to win.

Though Houston isn't as talented as Texas defensively, the Cougars will bring pressure. The key for Texas Tech is to exploit overpursuits and get the running game going instead of sending running backs wide to defenders off the edge. It all starts up front. If the Red Raiders get the time to establish balance up front, they can definitely come out on top in this shootout.

Arkansas at No. 3 Alabama
Alabama is making the most of its preseason ranking, and the Crimson Tide are one of three teams atop the list to take the SEC West. They entered the season with a strong receiving core, but a need to replace quarterback John Parker Wilson and running back Glen Coffee.

Enter Greg McElroy and Mark Ingram. McElroy is a lot like Wilson and utilizes the talent around him to manage the game and spark the Tide's scoring drives. Ingram provides balance to the offense. He tallied 150 yards in the season opener against Virginia Tech, and has caught 10 passes for 120 yards and two scores this season.

But the Tide are in for a tough matchup this weekend. After leaving the Atlanta Falcons and a modest year at Arkansas, Bobby Petrino finally has his quarterback. Ryan Mallett transferred from Michigan with the arrival of Rich Rodriguez, and has proceeded to be the nation's top quarterback in 2009. Couple Mallett with a productive crop of young receivers and Michael Smith (the successor to Darren McFadden and Felix Jones), and the Razorbacks have one of the most prolific offenses in the country.

Offense: Advantage – Arkansas
Simply put, Mallett has one of the best arms in the country. Both teams have talent at the skill positions and are really good up front, but when it comes down to it, Mallett makes key throws in tough situations. Putting this type of talent in a Bobby Petrino system gives Alabama an enhanced version of what it faced against Utah, because the Hogs can score and score quickly. 

Defense: Advantage – Alabama
The Crimson Tide returned every key component to a solid defense from 2008. Alabama is currently ranked third in total defense, and is coming off a performance in which it allowed 61 rushing yards to a North Texas team which used seven ballcarriers.

The Tide will neutralize the Razorbacks’ running game, but Mallett is one of the few quarterbacks who can beat teams with the pass. Look for Alabama to pressure Mallett and, more importantly, disguise coverages to try and bait Mallett into turnovers.

X factor: Ryan Mallett
Yes, Mallett has lot of weapons and an offensive-minded coach. And yes, he has the tools to carry a team to victory. But this is his first tough road test against an SEC opponent. Mallett played really well against a quality Georgia defense last week, but going into Bryant-Denny stadium is a daunting task for a player’s first career SEC road game.

The earlier Mallett can get into a rhythm, the more pressure it puts on an inexperienced Greg McElroy to keep up. Alabama wins if it effectively runs the ball and lets McElroy spread the ball around, but if Arkansas can turn the game into a shootout, don't be surprised to see the Razorbacks come away with an upset.

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