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Miami’s Running Backs Pose Big Threat

There are rich story lines about the Miami Hurricanes’ offense, from dazzling sophomore quarterback Jacory Harris to its dominating offensive line to its first-year offensive coordinator, Mark Whipple, who is the hot assistant coach in college football.

Perhaps easily lost in that discussion are Miami’s running backs. But with the dual threat of Graig Cooper and Javarris James, the No. 9 Hurricanes (2-0, 2-0 ACC) have talent in their backfield that could help drive their offense Saturday as No. 11 Virginia Tech (2-1, 0-0) has struggled to with its rush defense.

“It’s definitely a big point of emphasis for us to stop the run and make them pass,” linebacker Cody Grimm said.

The Hokies have historically been solid against the run; in recent years, they ranked 14th nationally in 2008, 5th in 2007, 11th in 2006 and 8th in 2005.

But this year is different. Virginia Tech is tied for 107th nationally in rush defense through three games this season, giving up an average of 200.33 yards per game. Poor tackling has been the culprit in allowing Alabama’s Mark Ingram to run for 150 yards, Marshall’s Darius Marshall to gain 109 and Nebraska’s Roy Helu Jr. to gain 169.

Defensive coordinator Bud Foster recently told reporters his unit’s performance against the run has been “embarrassing.” He has challenged his players to uphold Virginia Tech’s tradition of tough defense, and the team has done extra tackling drills in practice.

“You could definitely tell he’s a little frustrated,” Grimm said of Foster. “As a defense we’re frustrated, too, because we feel like we’ve been playing good defense but we haven’t been putting up the stats, giving up too many yards.”

Against Miami, Virginia Tech will meet two capable running backs that virtually split the workload. Cooper, a junior, has rushed for 124 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries. James, a senior, has run for 108 yards and two touchdowns on 25 carries.

“It’s a great 1-2 punch,” said Torrian Gray, the Hokies’ defensive backs coach. “It will be the best tandem of a punch we’ve seen at this point.”

The Hurricanes are apt to throw on first down, and they have had success doing so. That has backed off opposing defenses and opened up the ground game. With Cooper and James providing a counterbalance for its aerial attack, Miami has a scheme that has been difficult to defend in its first two games.

“We’ve got to stop the run, make them have to throw the football,” said Charley Wiles, the defensive line coach. “It’s a simple formula. We’ve got to stop the run and we can’t miss tackles."

By Mark Viera  |  September 24, 2009; 12:30 PM ET
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