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Miami trying to solve the Tech hex
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Georgia Tech at Miami

When: 7:30 tonight


MIAMI — National championship possibilities in 2005. A four-game winning streak in 2006. Hopes of returning to the Top 25 in 2007. An opportunity to clinch a trip to the Atlantic Coast Conference title game in 2008.

Miami had them.

Georgia Tech wrecked them.

No team has been a bigger thorn in the Hurricanes’ side in recent years than the Yellow Jackets, who’ve won four straight in the series, including a 41-23, it-wasn’t-that-close romp a year ago, a beating that knocked Miami from the ACC race and sparked what became a season-ending three-game slide.

The 20th-ranked Hurricanes (1-0, 1-0) get another chance to atone tonight, when the 14th-ranked Jackets (2-0, 1-0) visit in Miami’s home opener and a game that will likely loom vital to both in the Coastal Division.

“Here’s how important this game is: We’ll see where we are as a football team,” Miami coach Randy Shannon said.

That probably isn’t hyperbole.

A win, and Miami would be 2-0 in ACC play for the first time since 2004, plus have a slew of momentum heading into a Sept. 26 game at Virginia Tech that would figure to give the victor total control of the Coastal Division. A loss, and the Hurricanes would already find themselves needing tons of help, plus spend another year wondering how to solve the Georgia Tech hex.

“It is a huge challenge this week going to Miami, a very talented team,” Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson said. “They have a lot of great athletes and a lot of history and tradition. Right now they are coming off a huge win for them where they played really well against Florida State. First road trip, first division game in the conference, it is a big game for us this week.”

Miami’s offense showed a slew of new wrinkles in the 38-34 win over Florida State, putting up 476 yards and hitting on 13 plays of at least 15 yards, which surely had the Jackets studying plenty of film this week.

Another perceived plus for Miami: Georgia Tech is playing for the third time in 13 days, including last Thursday’s win over Clemson. It’s only the second game for Miami, which hasn’t played since Labor Day night in Tallahassee.

“I’d rather have played Monday and had nine days,” Johnson said. “I think that would be more of an advantage.”

Georgia Tech’s offense, well, everyone in the stadium knows how the Yellow Jackets line up.

Johnson calls it the “spread option.” Most of Tech’s opponents call it the “triple option.” Argue the name, don’t argue the results: The Jackets’ multidimensional, keep-you-guessing running game piled up 472 yards on the ground against Miami last season, on the way to a 41-10 lead before two touchdown throws by Jacory Harris — then the Hurricanes’ backup — made the score a tad more respectable.

“There’s a lot of moments in that game we’d like to have back,” said Harris, now Miami’s starter and someone coming off a 386-yard showing against Florida State.

Harris didn’t have any tackles in that game.

It seemed the same could have been said about many Miami defenders.

They call it “assignment football,” the disciplined approach that teams use to contain Tech’s offense, which features speedy fullback Jonathan Dwyer, a quarterback in Josh Nesbitt who seems like more of a running threat than a thrower, and plenty of misdirection on almost every play.

A year ago, Miami blew tons of the assignments. Linebackers overpursued, defensive linemen were on the ground too much, the secondary was a porous last line of defense, and the result was a rout.

The Hurricanes laud Tech’s offense — “unbelievable,” Shannon even offered — but aren’t in awe of the scheme, either.

“If it was that great of an offense, every team would be running it,” Miami safety Randy Phillips said. “It’s unique, but it’s just assignment football. We have to do our job.”

Georgia Tech knows the stakes of a divisional game, too.

A year ago, the Yellow Jackets finished tied atop the Coastal Division, but didn’t go to the ACC title game because they lost the head-to-head tiebreaker with Virginia Tech. Much like how Miami still feels stung by last year’s beating in Atlanta, the Jackets still find themselves lamenting how the conference crown slipped away.

“It’s an important game,” Johnson said. “But the thing about it is, if you win, then the next one becomes more important. That’s the way it works.”

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