Wright showing he has right stuff for Miami

Kyle Wright didn't play the last time the Miami Hurricanes were in Blacksburg, Va., for a game against Virginia Tech.

But for Wright, a true freshman quarterback at Miami in 2003, the game is memorable nonetheless.

"Standing on the bench, we were losing 31-0, and it was like, you know what, we've got to remember this feeling and really grow from it," Wright said of the Hurricanes' eventual 31-7 loss, the worst in coach Larry Coker's five seasons. "We've got to soak everything in. It was an awfully long bus ride back to the Roanoke airport and a long flight back to Miami. We definitely don't want to feel that again."

That, in large part, will be up to the strong-armed Wright, whose impressive play this season has the fifth-ranked Hurricanes (6-1, 3-1 ACC) in national title contention heading into Saturday night's showdown with No. 3 Virginia Tech (8-0, 5-0) in Lane Stadium.

Aside from a forgettable performance during a 34-16 victory last week against North Carolina, Wright has proven that he's as good as his résumé would suggest. He's led the Hurricanes to six straight victories after a season-opening loss to Florida State and has rejuvenated the quarterback position at Miami after two rocky seasons under Brock Berlin's direction.

Only FSU's Drew Weatherford (14) and Virginia Tech's Marcus Vick (11) have thrown more touchdown passes than Wright's 10 in the ACC, and only Vick has his team in a better position to take advantage of any slip-ups by top-ranked Southern California or No. 2 Texas.

"[Wright has] shown the type of player that he is," said Miami tight end Greg Olsen, who has become Wright's favorite target. "He can get so much better, which is kind of scary. He came in with a lot of hype and a lot of potential and he's really getting about as close as you can get to matching that."

Wright, ranked by SuperPrep as the nation's No. 1 high school player in 2002, has been the most consistent part of Miami's offense despite spending much of the season unsuccessfully avoiding pass rushers while also watching his receivers drop countless passes.

Before improving recently, Miami had struggled mightily with pass protection. The Hurricanes have allowed 22 sacks -- including a school-record nine in the opener against Florida State -- which is a number surpassed only by North Carolina (24) and Duke (26) in the ACC.

Wright hasn't received much help from his wide receivers, either. Drops dogged the Hurricanes early in the season and inconsistency has been a problem all year. Lance Leggett, who led Miami with 20.5 yards per catch last season, has been plagued by dropped passes and is averaging only 8.8 yards on 11 receptions. Ryan Moore and Sinorice Moss, whose 92-yard touchdown catch from Wright against Temple Oct. 15 was the second-longest in school history, have been both outstanding and invisible.

But neither the failings of his teammates nor those of his own have appeared to frustrate Wright, a third-year sophomore. After his three-interception, 111-yard performance last week against North Carolina, Wright handled himself with the maturity of a veteran instead of the first-year starter that he is.

"Guys are going to make mistakes," said Wright, a native of Danville, Calif. "Go along the line of every quarterback who's ever played the game of football, and they're going to have bad games. That type of stuff is just going to happen, but it's how you respond to that."

Coker said he doesn't worry about his quarterback's being thrown off his game by one bad outing.

"I think it's a little bit of the Jim Kelly mentality," Coker said, referring to the former Miami and Buffalo Bills quarterback. "I don't assume to know Jim that well, but Jim is a guy that I've seen make some horrendous mistakes on Sunday afternoons on TV in front of national audiences and he knows that the next play is going to be a good one. I think that's a lot like Kyle. He believes in himself. He has confidence. It's not a facade. It doesn't get shaken. I think it's why he has a chance to be a special player."

Wright will get to prove that Saturday. The Hurricanes have lost four of their last five games in Blacksburg and have dropped two straight to the Hokies, including last season's 16-10 defeat in the Orange Bowl. That game decided the ACC championship and ended with Virginia Tech players hoisting banners and dancing on Miami's home turf.

"Yeah, that's definitely an ill feeling, when you see a team running out on your field and celebrating at midfield," Wright said. "That's definitely something that's in the back of your mind, but this year is a new year … we want to go celebrate on their field."

Jorge Milian covers the ACC for The Palm Beach (Fla.) Post.