A Power Struggle

No. 3 Virginia Tech puts its unbeaten mark on line vs. No. 5 Miami, which put the Hokies on the map

November 05, 2005|By DON MARKUS | DON MARKUS,SUN REPORTER

BLACKSBURG, Va. -- The rivalry between Virginia Tech and Miami began a decade ago when the Hokies, 0-2 to start the 1995 season after being shut out by Cincinnati, beat the Hurricanes for the first time in school history.

"It was kind of an ugly game," Miami coach Larry Coker, then an assistant under Butch Davis, recalled of Virginia Tech's 13-7 win. "Tech went on to have a great year, and from there they built and built and kept building."

The Hokies didn't lose again that season, finishing a 10-2 campaign with their first Big East championship and a victory over Texas in the Sugar Bowl. It led them on a road that now includes six more wins over the Hurricanes in nine subsequent games.

Fair to say, Virginia Tech made its reputation as one of the nation's elite programs with its success over Miami. The Hokies, now ranked third, will try to enhance that status tonight when they meet the fifth-ranked Hurricanes in a nationally televised game at Lane Stadium.

As important as the other wins over Miami have been, the first one proved to be the impetus for Virginia Tech becoming one of the top teams in the Big East and now the Atlantic Coast Conference.

"They were certainly the [best] team in the Big East, and for us to beat them that day probably jump-started our program a little bit," said Frank Beamer, who was then in his ninth season in 1995 as Virginia Tech's head coach.

As happened in several encounters between the teams in recent years, much will be at stake for both programs tonight.

Virginia Tech (8-0, 5-0 ACC) will be trying to keep its unbeaten season going and its chances for a berth in the ACC championship game - not to mention a potential Bowl Championship Series bid - alive.

Having lost to Florida State in its season opener, Miami (6-1, 3-1) needs to win to have any chance of making it to Jacksonville, Fla., next month for the league's first-ever championship game and possibly to a BCS game.

The Hokies can lock up the Coastal Division with a win, while the Hurricanes can put themselves back in the division hunt. It marks the first time in ACC history that a matchup of top 5 teams doesn't include Florida State.

"For us, it's something of a litmus test," Coker said. "There are some games - Florida State is one and now Virginia Tech - that you have to be at your best to have an opportunity to win."

For whatever reason, that hasn't happened for the Hurricanes when they've played the Hokies the past two years.

Miami was 7-0 and ranked second when it faced No. 10 Virginia Tech in Blacksburg in 2003. But a slew of turnovers by the Hurricanes and big plays by the Hokies - including a long touchdown pass from backup freshman quarterback Marcus Vick - led to a 31-7 romp for Virginia Tech.

Last season, Miami had already lost to North Carolina and Clemson by the time the Hurricanes met the Hokies in the regular-season finale at the Orange Bowl. Virginia Tech, ranked 11th, beat No. 9 Miami, 16-10, to secure its first ACC title.

This year's matchup between two of the country's top defensive teams could come down to which is able to execute the best offensively. Vick, who sat out last year's game while on suspension from school, is one of the top-rated quarterbacks in the country.

The experience he received against the Hurricanes two years ago could help Vick tonight.

"It was great for me my freshman year to get a lot of reps against those guys," Vick said earlier this week. "Knowing that this is what the speed is down there in Florida. We're just going to come out Saturday and try to adapt to it."

It was the speed of the Hurricanes that Beamer knew he had to match if the Hokies were going to have any chance to compete with Miami for a Big East title a decade ago. Virginia Tech wound up winning three league championships before moving to the ACC last season.

The rivalry has grown quite a bit since that 1995 game, and still has a ways to go in terms of national exposure.

"I don't know if it has [caught on] in the country. It's still somewhat under the radar," said Coker. "You have all these traditionalists with Oklahoma-Texas, Michigan-Ohio State, Florida State-Miami. From our perspective, it's become one of those because of our respect for what Frank has done."

don.markus@baltsun.com

No. 5 Miami@No. 3 Virginia Tech Tonight, 7:45, ESPN Line: Virginia Tech by 6 1/2

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