Trip to Blacksburg starts tough ACC road

Senior linebacker, Sean Spence, takes out a member of the Bethune-Cookman team during last Sunday's game. Natalie Edgar//The Miami Hurricane

As Miami travels to Blacksburg this Saturday to take on No. 21 Virginia Tech, the Canes will be playing the team responsible for ending their conference title dreams in 2010. Miami gave up 31 points last season in a home loss to the Hokies, killing their shot at the ACC Coastal Division title.
This game begins what head coach Al Golden is calling the “ACC tournament.”
If their early season performances are any indicators, a role reversal for these two teams is hard to imagine. But luckily for the Canes, one key mid-season addition will make a turnaround possible. With his four-game suspension now complete, safety Ray-Ray Armstrong has been reinstated and should be ready.
“Ray-Ray’s kind of a bucking bronco,” Golden said. “He’s a wild horse and we’ve got to get him saddled. But what I don’t want to do is saddle his passion, his energy for the game, his willingness to be tough and play reckless, but we’ve got to marry that with the technique. You want to harness that, but you never want to suppress it.”
Golden plans on utilizing both Armstrong and Vaughn Telemaque at the free safety position, letting Armstrong play for roughly 20 snaps in his season debut.
“It’s tough for him and it’s tough for us,” Golden said. “All the coaching points that you’ve made for five weeks, he’s seeing it for the first time. It doesn’t matter how good you are or how talented you are, it’s a matter of practicing it and seeing it for yourself.”
Offensively, Virginia Tech offers a nearly perfect balance of production on the ground and through the air. The Hokies have rushed for 990 yards and passed for 999 on the season with a combination of both pro-set and spread-option formations, the latter of which consistently gashed the Miami defense in the previous two matchups.
Junior David Wilson is the team’s leader in all-purpose yards, and his speed at both running back and kick returner allows head coach Frank Beamer to utilize him in many ways, much like Golden does with Lamar Miller.
“We’ve just got to stay in our gaps and execute; I think that’s been our problem the last couple of weeks,” said Adewale Ojomo, who was moved to defensive tackle this week and is listed as a co-starter with Marcus Forston. “Just not executing and staying in our gaps, those are fundamentals of the game. It’s lack of discipline more than anything.”
Ojomo’s move to the interior of the defensive line lets freshman Anthony Chickillo and senior Marcus Robinson cement their positions at the ends, but Ojomo’s lack of size – or “girth,” in Golden’s words – is concerning. Listed at 265 pounds, his unique combination of strength and agility at the position will have to compensate for the weight differential.
“My thing is more of a mentality more than anything, I think I’ve got the edge on quickness and speed,” Ojomo said. “The fastest way to the quarterback is a straight line and I’m right there going against slower guards, so it’s much easier for me to beat them.”
After playing briefly in last week’s game against Bethune-Cookman, Seantrel Henderson will make his debut likely starting at right offensive tackle. Until last week, Henderson missed all live action dating back to summer training camp, spending most of his time maintaining his weight on a stationary bike while recovering from off-season back surgery.
During a workout back in April, Henderson said he felt his leg “go dead,” on his last rep of squats.
“I didn’t know exactly what it was; I thought I pulled a hip muscle or something like that,” Henderson said. “I didn’t get an MRI until the day before we had our last spring game.”
The addition of both Henderson and Armstrong will surely help remedy some ills on their respective sides of the ball. However, while Henderson has the ability to help control Virginia Tech’s pass rush and open running lanes for Miller, attempting to continue his 100-yard rushing streak against a defense which has yet to allow a player to reach that mark this season, the play of the offensive line has not been an issue thus far for the Canes.
For Armstrong, his contribution may be less tangible while he splits time at safety with Telemaque. What he brings in talent and energy will be only in sporadic bursts, yet must somehow mask the flaws of a defensive unit still in flux.
All of this, it must be noted, will be done in front of 66,233 Hokie faithfuls.
“You have to control the variables you can control,” Golden said. “You can’t control the noise, but you can control your shifts and motions and checks. We’re going to find out how mentally tough we are. We’re going to find out whether we’re unified or not.”