Hokies, Canes fight for Coastal lead

There’s nothing pretty about the ACC’s Coastal Division race this year -- no dominant team, no ranked teams and one very good ineligible team.

What the division lacks in power, it makes up for with parity, which is why there is still plenty left to play for when Miami (4-4, 3-2 ACC) hosts Virginia Tech (4-4, 2-2) at 7:30 p.m. ET (ESPN) in Sun Life Stadium.

Even Duke has something at stake Thursday night. (Duke fans new to this race: You’re cheering for Miami.) Miami and Virginia Tech, though, are the only two teams in the division that can clinch a berth in the ACC championship game by winning their remaining conference games.

“I think the reality of it is that whoever wins this is the lead in that,” said Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer, whose team also has to play a Thursday night game next week against ACC favorite Florida State. “It’s the same for both of us. That’s the reality. At this time of the year, you want your games to be important, and this one certainly is. You want to be playing for something, and we certainly are.”

It’s baffling, considering both teams have four losses.

Virginia Tech was picked by the media in July to win the Coastal Division, but the program has been one of the ACC’s biggest disappointments this year, falling out of the Associated Press Top 25 after Week 3’s loss to Pittsburgh. Miami has been a young, erratic team with thrilling wins over Georgia Tech and NC State, but the Canes enter this game on a three-game losing streak. Three of their four losses this season have come against ranked opponents, including national title contenders Kansas State and Notre Dame, and No. 9 Florida State.

Virginia Tech, meanwhile, has lost to Big East teams Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. The Hokies have struggled to run the ball consistently, but the Canes have been one of the country’s worst at stopping the run. Virginia Tech’s defensive line has made strides in recent weeks, recording 10 sacks in the past two games.

Defensive coordinator Bud Foster said the rushing defense has been the key, and it will again be the priority against the Canes.

“I think a big part is being able to stop the run and make the offense one-dimensional,” Foster told Hokiesports.com. “When you do that, it gives you an opportunity to pin your ears back and get after the quarterback. That’s going to be a key for us.”

Despite the Hokies’ struggles this year, they are still a model of consistency in the ACC. Virginia Tech has a 25-2 record in ACC November games since joining the league in 2004. The Hokies are 2-4, though, in Sun Life Stadium. Still, this will be arguably Miami’s toughest game this month, as it also has to face Virginia (2-6), South Florida (2-6) and Duke (6-3).

“We're not talking about the next four games,” Miami coach Al Golden said. “For us, we're just trying to concentrate on this game. This team we're playing has done what we're trying to do. They've been to the championship game, they've won the division, they’ve won the ACC championship. That's our only focus right now, on the Virginia Tech Hokies and what we have to do to play well. The bye week was long overdue for us -- we got some guys healthy, got some guys some reps and some experience we desperately needed last week. And now we need to turn our attention to Virginia Tech.”