QB Harris bringing swagger back to Hurricanes
BLACKSBURG, Va. (AP) -- Jacory Harris is talking like he has it covered.
The Miami quarterback will lead his team into Lane Stadium on Saturday for a game against No. 21 Virginia Tech, and the stakes are already high for the longtime conference rivals.
The Hurricanes (2-2, 0-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) have lost two in a row against the Hokies (4-1, 0-1), and the loser will have a steep hill to climb to get back into the ACC race.
Harris is climbing the career passing lists at Miami and in the ACC. His 56 touchdown passes tie him with Houston's Matt Schaub and Atlanta's Matt Ryan for 13th in league history. He's not inclined to shy away from the importance of the matchup, even on the road.
"It's like playoff mentality. We can't lose this game," he said.
The one thing the Hokies have been able to count on this season has been their defense. It ranks fourth overall nationally, and second against the run. Virginia Tech leads to ACC with an average of three sacks per game, and has at least one interception in 12 straight games.
Harris, though, seems to be bringing that old swagger back for the Hurricanes. His six touchdown passes are twice as many as the Hokies have allowed this season, but Miami's pro-style passing offense still ranks dead last in the ACC, managing just 199.8 yards per game.
"There's some good players, pretty decent athletes," he said of the Hokies defense. "We've got to go out there and play our brand of football, beat them using the things we've learned."
A fast start to quiet the crowd wouldn't hurt the cause, either, said linebacker Jordan Futch, who will move into the starting lineup in place of the injured Ramon Buchanan.
"They do the turkey noise, fans rattle their keys, they make a lot of noise and they play Beamer Ball," he said of the rivals they once battled seemingly annually for Big East supremacy.
"So we've got to bring it -- 110 percent. They're going to slam you, they're going to throw a lot of nasty comments at you. You've got to take all the punches and keep rolling," he said.
The Hurricanes aren't the only ones coming into the game brimming with confidence.
Two years ago, the Hokies rattled Harris early with a sack that caused him to fumble, and he finished 9 for 25 for 150 yards with an interception as Virginia Tech rolled at home, 31-7.
Harris missed last season's game with a concussion.
Cornerback Jayron Hosley, who leads active players in the conference with 12 career interceptions, said he thinks Harris' comfort in the Miami offense sometimes betrays him.
"I think his mistakes come where he feels he knows it too much and he trusts his receivers to be there, and sometimes they're not always there," Hosley said this week. "He sometimes throws the ball a little blindly, he gets a little reckless sometimes when under pressure."
With three interceptions already this season and a goal of getting two more in each of the Hokies' remaining games, Hosley said facing a quarterback like Harris, who also has thrown 42 interceptions in his career, has him expecting the chance to have an impact on the game.
"You're going to be licking your chops, waiting on an opportunity to get a pick," he said.
While the Hokies defense seems ready, the offense remains a work in progress. Virginia Tech failed to score a touchdown at home for the first time since 1995 in last Saturday's 23-3 loss to No. 8 Clemson, and quarterback Logan Thomas said Miami's defense looks as strong as ever.
"We expect for the strongest Miami team that is possible to be out there on the field on Saturday. They're a great team, extremely athletic. I think they're a lot more disciplined underneath the coach that they have now, which will make it even tougher to beat them," he said.
With a shoulder that was sore earlier in the season now better, Thomas may be able to help soften the defense with some designed runs, and by throwing the ball downfield more often.
The Hokies also will rely on tailback David Wilson, who leads the ACC in rushing at 128 yards per game, and may actually hope their punting woes continue. Virginia Tech is last in the ACC with a 31.2-yard punting average, and has allowed negative return yardage as a result.
The Hurricanes' Travis Benjamin leads the league with a 21.2-yard punt return average.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)